Everyone is a chef now

With shelter-in-place orders in many states, work-from-home directives from many employers, and many public spaces such as theaters, museums, shops, and restaurants all shut down, people, such as myself, are turning to cook while self-quarantined, not just for sustenance but for comfort and entertainment, too.

Sure, part of it is functional: We have to eat, and restaurants are shut down (other than for delivery and pickup orders) so home cooking is mostly necessary. Even for those of us who cooked regularly before “social distancing” was born, we’re still cooking more meals at home than we might have in the past.

Before quarantine, I used to have lunch at my school every day, but now I’m cobbling together lunches with whatever’s in my fridge while I work from home.

However, home cooking and baking also function as a way to pass the hours and feel productive, a form of entertainment when many other activities like movie theaters, shopping, concerts, etc., are all closed or canceled.

One of my favorite dishes to cook is chickpeas and spinach because it’s quick, simple, and is very healthy comfort food. Loads of fresh spinach are shrunk down into a simple sauté with garlic, onions, cumin, and paprika. Hot chickpeas are then mixed in, deliberately over-cooked so that they are soft and juicy. In Spain, the entire mixture is sprinkled with a handful of toasted pine nuts, but I don’t do that because I always forget to buy them. However, the secret to the dish is raisins. Seriously, raisins are a total game-changer in this dish!

Ingredients and Instructions:
Chickpeas: (two (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained) Just boil them in water for 10-20 minutes and then strain before adding them to this recipe (or you can just skip that step and use them straight out of the can where they’re pre-boiled).
Fresh spinach: (one (five-ounce) bag fresh baby spinach) I often double the amount of fresh spinach in this dish because I love it so much, but feel free to use as much as you would like.
Raisins: (one-half cup raisins) I think golden raisins taste the best in this dish, but any color of raisins will do.
Pine nuts: (one-third cup pine nuts) In Spain, they say pine nuts add a buttery taste and crunch to the recipe. But feel free to sub in toasted almonds for a more affordable option, because that’s what I do.
Olive oil: (one tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for drizzling) Used in the sauté and also to drizzle on top at the very end.
Garlic and onion: (one small white onion, peeled and thinly sliced, and six cloves of garlic, peeled and minced) Which we will sauté to add extra flavor to the dish.
Spices: (one teaspoon smoked paprika, plus extra for serving, and one-half teaspoon ground cumin) It’s debatable whether additional spices beyond salt and pepper are authentic in this dish. However, many restaurants serve this dish with either paprika and/or cumin, which I think to add great flavor, so I have included them in the recipe.

Rinse the spinach, partly to clean the spinach, and partly to add a bit of moisture so that the spinach will shrink well once we add it to the sauté.
Sauté the veggies. Cook the onion and garlic in oil until softened, along with the cumin and paprika. Then lower the heat, add in the wet spinach, place the lid on the pan and cook until the spinach has shrunk down about one to two minutes.
Stir in the remaining ingredients. Add in those chickpeas* and raisins, and then season the whole dish with salt and pepper (generously!) to taste.
Serve while the dish is still nice and warm with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of paprika.

Add sausage or bacon: I always make this dish plant-based, since my brother doesn’t eat meat. However, I’m sure if you just sauté some sausage or bacon before starting the recipe, then remove the cooked meat from the pan, and use the leftover grease to sauté the onions and garlic, then the meat could be stirred back in just before serving.

I definitely suggest making this dish, it tastes so good and it’s very simple to put together!

Also, if the uncertainties with the coronavirus pandemic are making you extra anxious, I recommend playing around in the kitchen, if you can!

Amongst the many new hobbies and challenges I have brought upon myself during this time, cooking is one of my favorites because it’s a lot more pleasant to spend my brain power thinking of what I want to cook later today or tomorrow, or even next week than it is to fall into a pit of anxiety or worry.