Vegetarian Spinach Stew: Roots and Higher Purpose


spinach stew

I spent Saturday rolling paper-thin phyllo dough, or baklava yufka how we call it here in Turkey. Some twenty baby versions of the giant sheets my mother-in-law rolls out. With that long-long thin-thin rolling pin which could as well be an instrument of torture but serves as a kitchen utensil instead.

This is what I call a higher purpose. I am always looking forward to that rare free day in Istanbul when the break between my food tours and cooking classes is to short to go back to the farmhouse. I picture myself experiencing the delicious sheerness of Istanbul, savoring and exploring. Only that I stay in my flat most of the time: experimenting with new recipes and going out only to get a bottle of sun-flower oil from bakal downstairs and latte from Starbucks. Me, a first-rate foodie who is supposed to shop only from Kadikoy market and drink nothing but the Fazil Bey’s roast.

I don’t think many roll out baklava yufka with no purpose of selling it or making baklava afterwards. I’ve decided though that I am going to master the skill. As a matter of honor for somebody who claims to know a thing or two about Turkish cuisine. So I made the dough and got rolling. To get practice.

The secret to rolling the baklava yufka is wheat starch and attention. Generous quantities of starch are typically sprinkled over the sheets of baklava to prevent sticking. So you need to develop intuition about when and how much starch to use. And this is why you should pay extreme attention: the dough will tell you when and where you need to apply starch. The corner that sticks or the middle which does not want to get off the rolling pin – just watch for those, sprinkle starch and your yufka sheets are going to be fine.

Some of mine got perfectly thin without tearing a single time, some turned into a sieve with many small holes in the middle, some never made it into a sheet and stack beyond repair.

Now, was it a good use of a sunny day in Istanbul? Hm .. not so much to write home about. At least not much about my yufka. I might be too much of perfectionist but until I get it right I don’t post the recipe and instructions. How can you showcase something you have only started mastering?

I made vegetarian spinach stew though. Quickly, without a recipe with the mere memory of the taste my mother-in-law has turned a few times. Hers was meze, a cold starter. Mine has become a full fledged meal, a stew.

Chickpeas and rice add substance, tomato paste and sun-dried tomatoes give deep tangy flavor. Spinach roots make statement. Which is: there is higher purpose for everything. I may have thrown in the bin all the results of my today’s yufka labors and you may have trashed spinach roots. But there will be a day I will make baklava and you will consider using spinach roots for a higher purpose and cook this stew.

Vegetarian Spinach Stew

Vegetarian Spinach Stew

After making this spinach stew you will wonder how you could ever throw away spinach roots and stalks

Source: Inspired by Zeliha Irez

Prep Time: 15 Min
Cook Time:
30 Min

Total Time:
45 Min

Serves: 6


  • 8 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 onions finely chopped in half rings
  • 6 garlic cloves finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp red bell pepper paste
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 500 g spinach 2/3 roots+stalks, 1/3 leaves – coarsely chopped
  • 15 sun-dried tomatoes soaked in hot water for 20 min and drained
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 4 tbsp rice
  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas
  • 2.5 cup boiling water
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes


  1. In a medium size cooking pot warm the olive and simmer chopped onion and garlic until light golden (about 5-7 min). Then stir in red bell pepper taste and tomato pepper and continue stirring for a few more minutes. Add spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, lemon juice, rice, chickpeas and water and stir well. Bring to boil, reduce the flame to low, let simmer covered for about 20 minutes, or until most of the water evaporates and the rice becomes tender. If not using a not-stick pot then check on your spinach stew midway and stir so it does not stick to the bottom. While you can serve the dish immediately it’s one of those which gets only better the next day.
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