Although I am not a vegetarian, since moving to Thailand, I’ve gravitated to cooking solely vegetarian meals at home. Because of the convenience and low cost of eating local food, we probably eat out one meal per day, at least lunch or dinner. Very few Thai foods are vegetarian, so out of convenience and need for protein, I find myself eating chicken and fish with more frequency than I did in America. My husband eats pork more frequently than he ever did. So in an effort to counter-act the meat consumption while dining out, the meals I do make at home now are vegetarian about 95% of the time. The hubby is a really good sport: he appreciates that I try to keep us balanced. He honestly doesn’t mind if a dish has meat or not, is vegan or not, as long as its absolutely delicious, makes him feel full, and is packed with flavor. And that’s how it should be.
I really only blog about things that I make and enjoy myself. Whether that is vegan, gluten free, and dairy free (as in the case with this recipe) or full of cream, eggs and sugar (see one post back: Thai coffee crepe cake), the one thing I can guarantee you is I’m always sharing something that we find delicious. Period. But hopefully there is something for everyone here.
The story for this recipe goes back a few years. When I was single, I was living in Portland, OR and decided to head up to Orcas Island, WA for the weekend to see my friend Kim. She showed me all the loveliest Pacific Northwest island sights there were to see and as we strolled through the Saturday farmer’s market, we ran into a couple she knew. We made introductions, and immediately after they invited us to dinner that night because they had a boatload of fresh caught Dungeness crab. To which question there is only ever one answer and that is a resounding “Yes. Yes, we just met, but I can most certainly help you eat your boatload of crab.”
Later that evening, we did sit down to the loveliest of dinners and a true lesson in hospitality: all the crab I could eat with my own personal vat of melted butter. But here’s the part where I get to my point. The couple who had invited us over was also entertaining their own off-island guest, and she was a vegan. In my head I thought, "fine by me, that’s a higher crab-to-person ratio with her out of the game," but then something interesting happened.
The ultimate hostess, Gretchen, made this vegan girl her own dinner, and you guessed it, it was THIS recipe.
Once I tried it, I COULD NOT STOP EATING IT. I was busy literally tearing into my favorite meal of all time, and yet was so impressed by this vegan side dish that I was also stealing as much as I could of this poor girl’s only food. Not my proudest moment, but what I’m trying to say is, not much could normally distract me from cracking into an endless pile of Dungeness crab legs and essentially drinking the accompanying melted butter, but somehow this humble vegan stew served over sweet potatoes stole my attention to the point where it made an equal impression on me.
When I did a google search for the recipe to make it for myself some months later, I found a recipe from TheKitchn.com that seemed to contain all the ingredients I’d remembered fondly from that first encounter. I’ve adapted the recipe over the years to suit my own preferences, but the core ingredients are still there. They aren't necessarily ingredients you automatically pair together at first thought, but trust me they work.
These braised chickpeas are very hearty, with a rich creaminess from the coconut milk that is balanced by the zing of fresh grated ginger and lemon zest, earthy smokiness from sun dried tomatoes, as well as a lingering heat from the crushed red chili. The chopped spinach adds that lovely leafy heft that only stewed greens can, but cooks down so quickly that this stew is ready to serve in less time than it takes to roast the potatoes accompanying it--making it the perfect meatless Monday or weeknight meal. So I recommend getting those potatoes in the oven ASAP, before you start on the chickpeas so they aren’t holding you up at the end. It’s also lovely spooned over brown rice, should you prefer that as a bed for your braised chickpeas instead. Although the toppings of cilantro and toasted coconut flakes are technically optional, in my mind they are not, they really make the perfect toppers.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
1/2 Tbs coconut or olive oil
1 small yellow sweet onion, diced
5 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1.5 Tbs fresh (finely) grated ginger, from a peeled 3-4 inch piece
1/2 cup chopped sun dried tomatoes
1 large lemon: all the zest from it + 1 Tbs juice
2 (15 oz) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 bunch of spinach (stems removed) or 1 (6 oz) bag of baby spinach, leaves roughly chopped
1 (14 oz) can full-fat coconut milk
1/2 tsp crushed red chili flakes (optional)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Roasted sweet potatoes or steamed brown rice
Cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted
WHAT YOU’LL DO
Heat the oil in a medium-large skillet, wok, or pot over medium heat. Add just your onions and cook, stirring occaisionally until starting to brown, about 5 mins. Add in the grated ginger, garlic, lemon zest, sun dried tomatoes, and red chili flakes (if using). Stir often, and cook for another 3-4 minutes. The grated ingredients will start to stick to the bottom of the pan and brown a bit, but don’t worry.
Add in the chickpeas and cook on medium-high heat for another 3-4 minutes, until the chickpeas are darkening in color and coated in the garlic and ginger.
Toss in the chopped spinach leaves. You may need to do it in two batches, waiting for the first half to cook down to make room for the rest of it. After all the spinach is combined and wilted, add the coconut milk, along with the lemon juice, 1 tsp of salt, and a pinch of pepper.
Bring to a simmer, stirring with a spatula to make sure all the bits stuck to the bottom are incorporated into the sauce. Once simmering, turn the heat to medium low and cook for 10 minutes more, until chickpeas are softened and the coconut milk has thickened. It should be a lovely stew-like consistency.
Taste for seasoning and adjust, adding perhaps more salt or lemon juice if you feel it's needed.
Slice open your whole roasted potatoes and scoop the chickpeas into the center, then top with cilantro and toasted coconut. Serve warm.
Serves 4-6, depending on the size of your potatoes.