Monday, 29 June 2015

Naciye Nene’s Cookbook: ıspanak (spinach and meatballs)

Prep Time: 1.5 hours         Cooking Time: 2 hours         Total Time: 3.5 hours

Currently in season, spinach is a versatile, tasty and highly nutritious plant that can be found in numerous Turkish dishes, from soups to börek. This comforting homemade spinach and meatball stew is a Naciye Nene speciality.

There are numerous Turkish variations to this ıspanak dish: many omit the meatballs and instead use rice. Naciye Nene opts for golden brown nuggets of meat that are nestled among the lush green leaf all bobbing on a light tomato sauce.

When shopping for spinach, pick bunches that have crisp, bright green leaves with no yellowing or bruised patches, and store in a plastic bag in a cool dry space or the refrigerator for a maximum of three days. Prepping fresh spinach takes considerable time, but you can really taste the difference between this and frozen or pre-cut spinach.

Use fresh spinach with crisp green leaves

Ingredients – serves 6:

5-6 bunches of fresh spinach
500g minced beef
1 x medium onion
5 tbsp sunflower oil
2 tbsp tomato purée
Salt, pepper

Süzme (strained) yogurt
Turkish bread


1.       Spinach grows in sandy soil beds and its hollow stems often retain the soil, so it is vital to wash the leaves carefully to ensure all the dirt and sand are removed.

2.       First wash: chop off the plant roots, then run your thumb up the groove of each stem, to open them out and rinse under warm water. Cut each leaf and stem into 3 cm long pieces and place all in a big bowl of clean water.

3.       Gently wash the cut spinach as if washing clothes, turning the leaves over in the water a few times. Drain the leaves and put in a large high-sided tepsi (tray). Wash out any dirt in the big bowl and repeat.

Chop spinach leaves & stems into 3cm long pieces
4.       Boil water and pour over the cleaned spinach leaves and stems in the tepsi – enough to cover them - and leave for 4-5 minutes so the leaves can wilt (it also helps kill off the bitter taste from any mature leaves).

5.       Heat the sunflower oil in a large pan and add in the finely chopped onion. Fry until soft, then add in the tomato purée. Mix together.

6.       Drain the spinach and add into the pan a large handful at a time. Cook the leaves over a medium-high heat.

7.       When the spinach reduces, add cold water – enough to cover all. Stir in 1 teaspoon of salt.

Always wash fresh spinach thoroughly to remove all soil/dirt trapped in leaves & stems
8.       Rinse minced beef under water (to remove any blood), drain and place in a mixing bowl. Season the meat with a large pinch of salt, pepper and cumin, then knead all like dough, so mince binds together. Take a pinch of mince into palm of hand and roll into small meatballs – no more than 2cm in diameter.

9.       When all meatballs are done, drop them into the pan one at a time, starting from the outside edge forming concentric circles as you work your way into the centre. If there are still more meatballs to add in, using the back of a wooden spoon, gently push down on the existing meatballs, then drop in the remaining meatballs over the top. Prod all protruding meatballs so they are immersed in the tomato stew – even if the bob back up.

10.   Cover and simmer over a low heat for an hour. Check to ensure the pan does not dry out. Add in half-cup of cold water if so and stir all gently.

11.   Serve hot with lashings of thick, creamy süzme yogurt and hunks of Turkish bread on the side, and tuck into a delicious, healthy meal. Afiyet olsun!


Naciye Nene’s Cookbook: humus14 Dec. 2014 

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