I’m really into “nibbles” right now. Ooh, doesn’t that just sound shee-shee and a little obnoxious when I say it?! “Why yes, dah-ling, I’m ever so posh, and I just adore nibbles. Don’t you?”…Oh well. So be it. Because I am. First off, I love the way the word sounds. It’s so much more fun than “hors d’oeuvres” (which is nearly impossible to spell, anyway), and way more fun than “small-plates.” I suppose I could go with “tapas”, but I just like “nibbles” better. And, of course, I also love eating them. In my mind nibbles are dishes that are small but immensely satisfying. Bites that explode with flavors and textures in your mouth! And because they are just little mouthfuls, you can have a wide variety of them in one meal, giving you a chance to sample a bit of this and a bit of that without finding yourself bursting your belt buckle by the end of the evening.
Because of this, lately I’ve frequently been finding myself creating meals that feature a spectrum of nibbles rather than a single coordinated main dish with sides. Especially for parties (which there was a rash of lately. What’s that about??! Joking.). You can coax your nibbles into a lovely unified theme, if you wish. All Italian or Eastern Asian, perhaps. But, because you eat each piece separately you can also give in to the desire to have a profusion of flavors with morsels representing cuisines from across the globe, or maybe just from your imagination.
These spinach pancakes suit my definition of nibbles perfectly. I first made them for our New Year’s Eve party (these are the ones I promised I’d tell you about when I wrote about the apple cake) and have since had them a couple more times because they were so fabulously scrumptious! I got the idea when I was flipping through one of my mother’s recipe books and saw a recipe for broccoli pancakes. Vegetable pancakes, what a fabulous idea! Not a new one, but still fabulous to be reminded of. I decided, however that I wanted to use spinach instead. Why not? Then I remembered that we had a whole bunch of fresh mint that was starting to look droopy because no one had followed through on whatever their original plan was for using it. Mint is such a wonderful, aromatic herb, it pains me to see it go to waste, so I figured I’d turn it into a mint-yogurt sauce (with a splash of lime – a la mojito, yum yum). And with a sauce like that it seemed abundantly clear, to me at least, that I needed to lace the pancakes with some warm, earthy South Asian spices. So that’s what I did, with phenomenal results!
These pancakes are good for more than just nibbles though. You could use them as a side dish for grilled or pan seared fish, or a chicken that you rubbed with tandoori spices and grilled (or roasted, being that it’s winter). They even make a wonderful, light vegetarian main dish.
Spinach pancakes with mint-lime yogurt sauce (makes about a dozen pancakes)
- 1 1/2 cup plain Greek-style (thick) yogurt
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1/2 teaspoon lime zest
- 1 clove of garlic, very finely minced
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
- 11 ounces or so, of fresh spinach
- 3/4 cups finely chopped onion
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2/3 cups all purpose flour (I’m guessing that using half whole wheat flour or a gluten-free flour blend would also work in these, but I haven’t tested it.)
- 2 medium, free range eggs
- 1/3 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- olive oil for frying
- In a small bowl, combine the yogurt, lime juice, lime zest, and mint leaves. Put in the refrigerator – allowing flavors to combine – until you’re ready to serve the pancakes. You may need to give the sauce a little stir before serving, as the lime juice likes to separate out.
- Wash the spinach and if necessary remove some of the stems. Then put the spinach in a large sautee pan with a sprinkling of water, cover, and cook over medium heat (stirring a few times) until the spinach is wilted. This will only take a couple of minutes. Plop the cooked spinach into a colander and let it cool down so you can handle it.
- Once it is cool, use your hands and squeeze out as much of the liquid from the spinach as possible. Then chop the spinach up well and set aside.
- Heat your tablespoon of butter in a sautee pan over medium-high until it is foaming. Stir in the chopped onion and cook until it has gotten nicely browned. Then turn the heat down very low and allow to cook for about 3-5 more minutes, stirring occasionally, to get them a bit caramelized.
- In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, eggs, milk, 2 Tbs. olive oil, cumin, coriander, salt, and pepper. Stir in the spinach and onion until all combined. This should give you a rather thick and quite green batter. (For fluffier pancakes, you can separate the eggs, whisking in the yolks with the other ingredients, then beating the whites until stiff and folding them in as the last ingredient after everything else is combined. I like the pancakes both ways.)
- Pour enough olive oil into a large sautee pan to coat the bottom. Heat over medium-high heat until the oil is shimmering. Drop heaping spoonfuls (about 2 Tbs.) of batter into the pan, then press each mound down with a spatula to make smallish, flat pancakes. Cook until the bottom sides have turned golden brown, then flip and cook another couple minutes. Transfer the pancakes to a serving platter (if needed, keep warm in a 200F oven) and continue frying – using more olive oil as needed- until all the batter is used up. Serve the pancakes accompanied with the mint-yogurt sauce for generously smearing them with.