A delicious, sumptuous Spinach Biryani with the welcome crunch of peanuts.
The 100-year-old maple in front of our house is gone. The only evidence that something is amiss is straw scattered over a diameter of six feet or so, where the county workers have planted new grass seeds. Once the grass shoots up, there will be no sign left of the mighty maple.
The tree towered over our home, its huge branches reaching out above the roof. It provided hours of entertainment for Opie and Lucy who would sit on our bed and bark at the squirrels running up and down, gathering nuts and heaven knows what else in the large trunk holes. In the summer, visitors to our street would compete with us to park their cars in its shade.
But maples are notoriously weak trees and this one was well past its prime. In a few years, it became apparent that our tree was not in the best shape. Most of the lower branches stood barren, even as the top branches continued to leaf faithfully every spring. With each passing year there were more dead branches and fewer leaves. Our neighbor, Heather, far more knowledgeable about trees than Desi and I are, shook her head and warned us that our beloved maple was dying. She had just had an identical tree — likely planted around the same time as ours — removed.
That wasn’t enough to convince us, though. We held on to our maple for a few more years, partly because we hate to even pull out weeds, and partly because we simply didn’t want to see the last of this ancient giant. Then the dead branches began to come down, usually during terrible thunderstorms and snowstorms. A huge branch narrowly missed landing on Desi’s car. Another almost crashed into our roof. A third ripped some siding off the front of the house.
You should call the county to at least come and take a look, Heather said, and so I did. The tree was not strictly in our yard– it was in the offset that is part of the county’s domain. To our dread, the arborists marked the tree with a large orange spot: our maple’s days were numbered.
The actual cutting down of the tree happened weeks later. It’s surprising how easy it is to bring down a tree that has spent 100 years growing. It didn’t even take half a day, although the noise was unbearable. Jay parked himself at the window, all agog but also a little sad.
Last month, they came back to remove the three-foot-wide stump left behind, with a hole in the center that Jay was using to store sticks to make the snowman’s arms in winter.
The county will replace our tree, probably next year because we are already heading into fall here. It’ll be a baby tree, like the ones that have been planted around the neighborhood where other old trees have been removed, and it won’t even be half as tall as the house by the time Jay’s gone off to college. Trees are so precious. I am going to miss my maple for a long time to come.
If you can think of delicious ways to sneak some spinach into your tummy, why wouldn’t you? This powerhouse veggie is synonymous with health, and although it’s also legendarily the veggie kids love to hate, that little detail — like most legends — surely has to be pure myth?
In our home, the kid is spinach-friendly. In fact, a little too much. He, for instance, loves this Mushroom Spinach Curry with peanuts and will often request it. This time, to make things different and interesting, I cooked up a Spinach Biryani with peanuts.
This recipe packs a huge flavor wallop and is really as special as the title “biryani” would lead you to believe. In fact, it is cooked exactly like a traditional biryani. To pump up the nutrition and protein factor, I added in handfuls of peanuts, although if you are not peanut-friendly, you could leave them out or use another nut. Or, if you are allergic to nuts altogether, try adding a veggie like carrot or sweet potato. If you use sweet potatoes, cube and roast them first so they hold their shape.
This is my second recipe in two days, but I think I owe you that after my long, unannounced absence. Can you tell how much I missed you?
Spinach Biryani with Peanuts
- 1 1/2 cups basmati rice soaked in cold water for at least 30 minutes
- 2 oz bunches fresh spinach or 1 16- bag of frozen spinach (yes you can use frozen here, and nobody will know)
- 1/2 cup peanuts
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 2 leaves large bay
- 6 green cardamom pods
- 1- inch piece of cinnamon
- 1 tsp shahjeera caraway seeds
- 1 large onion finely sliced
- 2 large tomatoes finely diced
- 8 cloves of garlic crushed into a rough paste
- 1- inch knob of ginger grated or crushed into a paste
- 2 green chili peppers like serrano or jalapeno minced
- 1/4 cup coriander leaves and more for garnish
- 1/4 cup mint leaves
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1 tbsp biryani masala (any kind is fine-- even the ones labeled for chicken or mutton biryani because they are just spices and completely vegan/. At a pinch substitute with garam masala.)
- 1/2 cup fried onions optional-- even storebought like the kind you use for your Thanksgiving green bean casserole will do
- 1 cup coconut milk
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Salt to taste
- Heat 2 1/4 cups of water and salt it. The water should taste salty enough to your tastebuds. When the water boils, add the drained, soaked rice to it.
- Cook until the water boils. Cover, lower heat to the lowest setting, and let the rice cook for another five minutes. Turn off the heat and let it stand undisturbed.
- While the rice is cooking, heat the oil in a large pot.
- Add the shahjeera, cloves, cardamom pods, bay leaves and cinnamon stick and saute around 30 seconds.
- Add the onions and saute until they start to brown.
- Add the ginger, garlic, and green chili. Saute for a few seconds, then add the mint and coriander leaves and saute a little longer.
- Add the peanuts and saute for a minute.
- Add the tomatoes, biryani masala and turmeric and let the tomatoes cook until they start to release their juices.
- Add the coconut milk and lemon juice, stir well, and add the spinach. Stir to mix well, cover, and let the spinach cook about five minutes. It will release some liquid, but that's okay.
- Remove the lid and let the pot simmer over a medium-high flame for about five minutes, so some of the liquid evaporates. Add salt to taste. The spinach should be well-seasoned at this point because it's difficult to add salt to a biryani at the end.
- Turn the heat to low and, using a ladle, scoop out the rice on top of the spinach. Spread in an even layer.
- At this point you can sprinkle on some fried onions on the rice. This is a delicious addition, but if you don't want to do it, that's okay too.
- Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and let it all cook for 10 minutes over medium-low heat.
- Turn off the heat, let the biryani stand for 10 more minutes, then serve hot with some poppadum or pickle and vegan raita.