Amy Scattergood's Carrot and Pomegranate Soup
Marlena Spieler's Chickpeas with Chilies

Nevin Halici's Sour Spinach

Sour

It felt like divine comedy when, after an entire week of cooking absolutely nothing, the one thing I chose to make for dinner last night turned out to be awful. Not fit for eating awful. Scraped into the bin awful. It's been a while since I got a real doozy, but I made up for lost time last night.

The recipe comes from one of Turkey's most famous food writers, Nevin Halici. Halici is a Sufi, and recently wrote a cookbook featuring recipes mentioned by one of the world's most famous Sufis, the poet Rumi, in his poems.

I was totally enchanted by the idea of making a one-pot lamb stew for dinner that Rumi had mused about more than 700 hundred years ago and set out happily to gather my ingredients for dinner. But that damned FDA warning had cleared out fresh spinach from all the grocery stores I frequent. I wasn't even looking for baby spinach in clear bags (which, by the way, I think is an abomination and should be banned from the free market for the plain fact that it tastes bad. Who on God's green earth ever came up with the ridiculous idea that spinach tastes good raw?)

I used the best substitute I could muster, a bunch of rainbow chard. At home, I set about sauteeing an onion in butter, added cubed lamb to brown, and then simmered both in water until the lamb was tender. But this didn't exactly happen. The lamb grew tough and rubbery, and the more I simmered, the more stubbornly hard it got.

So I went ahead with the recipe, adding some bulgur and the chopped chard and cooking it until both were tender. When I poured in the requisite amount of pomegranate molasses, I did think to myself that it seemed like an awful lot. But what did I know? If it was good enough for Rumi, it was good enough for me.

Yeah.

I'm not sure I'll really stick with that pronouncement from here on out. The stew was sickly sweet and unpleasantly sour - as if I had melted green apple Jolly Ranchers down between the chunks of meat. If I picked out the lamb (chewy, rubbery lamb) and ate a piece with a mouthful of rice it was bearable, but with the bulgur-spotted, chardy sauce? Absolutely, positively awful.

Maybe it was the brand of pomegranate molasses? Perhaps a tablespoon would have been better than a quarter-cup? If you feel like figuring that out, be my guest. I'm not sure I've got the stomach for it.

Nevin Halici's Sour Spinach
Serves 4

1 1/4 pounds spinach (about 2 bunches), stemmed
3 tablespoons butter
1 onion, minced
1/2 pound boneless lamb, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup bulgur
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup pomegranate molasses, or to taste

1. Wash, drain and chop the spinach. Set aside.

2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and fry until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the lamb and brown with the onions, about 5 minutes. Add 2 1/4 cups water and simmer until the lamb is quite tender, 30 to 40 minutes.

3. Stir in the bulgur and salt and add the spinach. Cover and cook over low heat until the spinach is done, 8 to 10 minutes.

4. Stir in the pomegranate molasses. Bring the mixture to a boil, remove from the heat and let it stand 10 minutes before serving. Serve with rice.

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