Turkish people are known for not wasting food. When dining in Turkey, you are expected to only order as much as you know you will finish, and not throw anything away. Most of the time, this is a pretty simple rule to follow, but there are times when you may be caught off guard.
I learned this no-wasting-food lesson the "hard" way, when one day at my internship my boss asked me if I had eaten breakfast. When I said no, she kindly ran to the other room to bring me a plate of breakfast that contained leftovers from a morning meeting. She came back with a large plate containing 3 different kinds of Turkish breakfast pastries, tomatoes, cucumber, a few cheeses, olives, and sausage. When I finished eating as much as I could, I went into the kitchen to throw away what remained on my plate: a half eaten simit, some cheese, and sausage. Rather than just leaving the plate on the counter, I thought the most polite thing to do was to clear the leftovers into the garbage can and then wash the plate so no one else would have to wash my dishes. When I turned around from the garbage can, a Turkish man was standing behind me and asked me why I had just thrown away that food. Was something wrong with it? When I said I was finished eating and I wanted to clean the plate, he began to explain to me that it is not good to waste food, and asked me to just leave my extras out on the table for another person to eat next time.
I was kind of upset by this interaction at first. I thought I was being polite, and then I was told I was actually doing the completely wrong thing. The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that the Turkish man was right. There is no reason to just toss perfectly good food into the garbage when there are people who would be happy to eat it. I am glad I had this experience because it forced me to think more carefully about what I had done, and really changed my behavior from that point on. For example, I walk to the grocery shopping almost every day of the week and only buy small quantities of things that I will cook within the next day or two. This way, my refrigerator and pantry are only stocked with staple items (non-perishables) and a small variety of fresh produce and cuts of meat so I can remember what I have at all times. This way, I use everything up before I buy more food. I also make more of an effort to cook in smaller quantities and work my leftovers into the next days meals. I have actually found it much easier to cook when I have less in my kitchen because it is always very clear what needs to be used up before it spoils.
With the way Turkish people hate to see food wasted, it makes sense then that they find innovative ways to use parts of vegetables that many people would just cut off and throw away. A great example of this is spinach stems. In this tangy stew, spinach stems are cooked in a typical Turkish broth (think onions, tomato and pepper paste, chicken stock) and they soften down to become similar to cooked spinach leaves.
When it comes to nutrition, the key to getting the most out of your spinach (leaves, stems, whatever!) is to eat it in both raw and cooked forms. Some nutrients are more easily absorbed by the body when spinach is raw, while others become more available when spinach is cooked.
6 cups spinach roots (from 1 kg)
2 cups spinach leaves (300 grams)
2 cups chickpeas, cooked (325 grams)
1 onion, diced
3 tablespoon olive oil (44 ml)
1 tablespoon tomato paste (16 grams)
1 Tbsp red pepper paste (16 grams)
1-2 cups chicken or vegetable broth (240-480 ml)
Pinch of red (Aleppo) pepper flakes
Drizzle of pomegranate molasses
1/2 lemon, juiced
- Heat olive oil in large pot and sauté onion until transparent.
- Mix in tomato paste and red pepper paste. Cook for 2 minutes.
- Add spinach (roots and leaves), chickpeas, chicken broth, and pepper. Simmer, covered, until liquid is mostly absorbed.
- Remove from heat and stir in pomegranate molasses and lemon juice.
- Serve with warm bread.
Tips & Additional Information:
- Spinach stems need to be washed very thoroughly because they can hold onto a lot of dirt. Soak them and rinse multiple times until the water is clear and free of particles. There is nothing worse than taking the time to cook this dish and then biting down on a grain of sand in the end!