borani-e-esfenaj: spinach and lentils with yogurt

i had to bring a dish to my book club meeting a few nights ago, and in thinking about a good option that would travel well, i remembered one of my favorite foods from childhood: borani-e-esfenaj. this is one of those timeless recipes that are passed down in families keeping the generations connected. i called my mom for the recipe, and she began enthusiastically explaining how her grandma, bada joon, used to prepare it. i vaguely remember her (bada joon), mostly because of the way she made me feel completely loved with her warm hugs and intensely kind (beautiful almond shaped) eyes. my mom tells me that bada joon used to add good home made beef broth and celery to her borani for added flavor. “do you have celery?” she asks. “make sure to add only the most tender stalks and leaves from the middle like bada joon used to.” chopping the tender light green celery for my borani,  i smile thinking about the generations of women who have prepared this very same dish, and how much i love them all. i close my eyes and send them a big warm mental hug, near and far.

borani-e-esfenaj: ingredients for 6-8 servings:

  • 1/2-3/4 cup dry small lentils (cook the lentils in water or broth until tender)
  • 1 small onion (or shallot), finely minced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 4-5 cups fresh organic spinach
  • 1 and 1/2 cup greek style or drained yogurt (2% fat is good)
  • sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup chopped tender celery stalks & leaves
  • 1-2 chili peppers (or 1 tsp red pepper flakes) -optional for spicy
  • 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

1. in a deep skillet fry the onions (in heated olive oil) until almost golden brown, then add the garlic and (optional) chili peppers, and fry for another 2-3 minutes until garlic is tender and just golden.

2. add the cleaned (dry) spinach to the hot skillet, and allow it to soften while you carefully stir-add sea salt and pepper to taste, then slightly reduce the heat and cover the skillet (no need to add any water) for a few minutes until the spinach is fully reduced and cooked and there is no liquid left in the skillet-you may have to remove the lid and allow the liquid to evaporate. set the cooked spinach aside to cool down.  *optionally you can also steam the spinach separately by putting in a pan on high heat for 5 minutes until wilted and draining out the liquid before adding to onions and cooking together for 2-3 minutes*

3. in a bowl combine the cooled spinach mixture, chopped raw celery, cooked lentils, and yogurt. taste and adjust for salt & pepper. you may need to add a little more yogurt. allow the borani to rest (preferably refrigerated) for at least an hour before serving. here i drizzled mine with a touch of good quality extra virgin olive oil.
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