Who knows where we get the ideas for the things we cobble together on weeknights, right? Well, maybe you do know. I mean, sometimes inspiration is obvious – a bookmarked recipe page, a post on a blog, a family staple, or the fact that it’s midweek which very frequently means spaghetti. Other times, the places ideas come from are misty and obscure, like magical islands in distant oceans. This dinner most definitely came from the latter. And, it might have required seven-league boots or a ride on a magical eagle to make its way to my kitchen.
I’ve been calling it spanakopita-rice, which sounds kind of goofy, but really pretty much sums up what it is. All the spinachy goodness of spanakopita filling without the trouble of phyllo dough (which I like to call phyllo d’oh, even though a certain husband of mine says that if I keep doing so, I probably won’t have any more friends soon. But it’s totally funny, right? Right?). And, I think that’s vaguely where the idea came from. I had feta cheese to use up from those yummy muffins, and I figured I would make one of my standard Greek-y tomato-y sauces for chicken and sprinkle feta all over it. But then a vague notion of spanakopita crept into the recesses of my mind. Mmmm. I do love spanakopita. The notion became stronger when I remembered that I had leftover spinach as well. But no phyllo dough, because who just keeps phyllo dough around when you’re not planning a party with fancy hors d’oeuvres? So, then I thought I would make some filling and toss it with pasta. But, somewhere in the process of chopping onions, I started thinking about paella as well. And how I’d never made a paella. And how I wasn’t going to make paella that evening, but maybe I could use rice in place of pasta with my spinach-feta mix.
Great ideas come while you’re chopping. Maybe it’s because it can work you into a somewhat meditative trance. On a tangential note, I was thinking about chopping while I was chopping as well, and you really have to be okay with chopping a lot of onions and garlic if you’re going to cook. That or almost completely deprive the vast majority of dishes of their flavor potential. I actually strongly dislike chopping onions and garlic (I like using a garlic press even less. They never seem to work for me). It’s tiresome, and it makes your fingers smelly, and sometimes it even makes you cry (which some friends and I even wrote a play about in 4th grade – a sort of Just So story about why onions make you cry. It was awesome.). So, I was trying to figure out how I finally came to terms with it. And you know what, I don’t think I have. It still pains me every time I put my onion and garlic cloves out on my cutting board and start whacking. I think I just did it enough that I got so I could at least do it really quickly and not think about it (this has potential drawbacks in the form of losing the tips of your fingers to the knife – I’m trying to be better at not confusing “spacing out” for “not thinking about it”). And focus on what it will get you, because within just a few minutes, those self same obnoxious bulbs will be sizzling in olive oil or butter and smelling so wonderful they remind you why it is we were even made with noses!
But, that’s a total digression from the wonderful ease and fabulous flavor of my lovely, almost one pot, spanakopita rice. I think it’s actually the nutmeg that especially pulls the dish together. It’s pungent aroma is a playful counterpoint to the earthy spinach, creamy cheese, and fluffy rice. I added in chicken pieces for the extra protein and a little added heft. But you could also make it without and still serve it as a main dish, or you could have it as a side. Either way, it’s a wonderful simple supper for a weeknight!
Spanakopita-Rice (serves about 4)
- 1 cup uncooked rice (I used plain, but you could also definitely use brown rice and just adjust for the longer cooking time.)
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 1/4 tsp. nutmeg, plus an extra sprinkling for the spinach
- 3 Tbs. butter, divided
- one large or two smaller yellow onions, peeled and chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- about 6 cups spinach, washed and coarsely chopped
- 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
- 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan (optional)
- salt and pepper
- 2 cooked chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch pieces, or shredded (optional)
- In a pot, combine the rice, broth, 1 Tbs. butter, and 1/4 tsp. nutmeg. Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to very low and cook covered (or just mostly covered as I find that whenever I leave the cover completely on the pot reliably boils over) for 20 minutes, until the rice is tender. Use a fork or spoon to fluff the rice.
- In the meantime, heat the remaining 2 Tbs. butter in a large frying pan over medium heat until bubbling. Stir in the onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes, until softened. Stir in the spinach and cook for about 3-5 minutes, until totally wilted. Stir in a dash of nutmeg and the chicken, if using and cook for another couple minutes to heat the chicken if it is cold. Otherwise you can take the pan off the heat immediately.
- Add the rice and the cheese to the frying pan and stir it all up until well combined (or you can do this in a serving bowl if you are choosing to be more elegant than I was!). Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve.