Every so often you encounter a recipe that grabs you by the throat and won’t let go. That was the case when I was thumbing through an old book in my collection: Daniel Boulud’s Braise, which he co-wrote with Melissa Clark back in 2013. This is one of those books that’ve survived many a cookbook cut because (a) braising is my favorite cooking technique (so much reward for such little effort); and (b) the recipes in it are fascinating. Like this recipe for Spicy Merguez with Spinach and Beans. It’s not that shocking to imagine lamb sausage, spinach, and beans together; but the technique is what left me shooketh.
I’m Strong to the Finich, ‘Cause I Eats Me Spinach
This recipe calls for four pounds of spinach. To put that into perspective, that image you see above? That’s two pounds of spinach. The idea of buying eight giant plastic containers of spinach was too much, even for me, so I decided to halve the greenery.
As anyone who’s worked in the Spinach Department before knows, even two pounds of spinach cooks down to almost nothing. What’s odd about this recipe, and what made me sit up and pay attention, is that you just cook the spinach by itself in olive oil. And then, once it’s wilted and released all its liquid and starting to brown, you add the aromatics.
Bring on the Flavah!
As you can see, Daniel Boulud has many tools in his arsenal to spice up your spinach. For starters: harissa. Then a ton of garlic, onions, cilantro, mint (I couldn’t find the mint I bought and by the time I did, it was too late), and Four-Spice powder which I mimicked using small spoonfuls of ground ginger, grated nutmeg, a pinch of cloves, and lots of black pepper.
Again: that all goes in once the spinach is wilted. The recipe doesn’t say to, but I seasoned things as I went because I’m almost positive that’s what a four-star chef like Daniel Boulud does too. (Though maybe he doesn’t have you season because of the theory that salt inhibits the cookery of beans? But that’s been disproven.)
Beans, Beans, The Special Beans
As dedicated readers may recall, I recently ordered Borlotti Beans from Italy as part of a package that I bought from Gustiamo (it led to this article about pistachios for Food52). This recipe calls for dried cannellini beans or dried black eyed peas, but knowing that the cook time was in the same ballpark, I soaked the borlottis (which are also known as cranberry beans) overnight and then added them to the mix, along with four cups of water and a good pinch of salt.
I think it’s important to use soaked dried beans here because canned beans will disintegrate with all of the cooking this is about to do. This goes into the oven, lid on, for two hours.
Bring on the Meat, Or Don’t
Two hours later you have something pretty extraordinary. All of those aromatics that you added after the spinach, instead of sautéing them first, infuse into the liquid which infuses into the spinach and the beans, creating a harmonious whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. I checked things about halfway through the cooking and saw a lot of liquid in there, so for the remainder I braised with the lid a bit off so things would thicken up a bit.
At this point, you could serve this as a vegetarian side dish or even a main with some rice and cheese. For the carnivores, though, things are about to get meaty. Bring on the merguez!
As you can see, the process here is pretty simple. You sear the merguez (spicy lamb sausage) in a skillet and when it’s brown all over, you lay it on top of the spinach (which you stir a little lemon juice into first), before putting the lid back on and returning it to the oven for thirty more minutes.
A One-Pot Dinner — Except for That Skillet You Seared the Sausages In — But Otherwise It’s a One-Pot Dinner
What I love about this dish is that it transcends seasons. Yes, we eat a lot of lamb in the spring; true, spinach is also something that emerges as it gets warmer out. But because these ingredients are available year-round, you can honestly make this on a cold winter’s night or a rainy summer’s eve, it doesn’t matter.
And believe me when I tell you: it’s so good. The spinach pops with vibrant flavors, the beans are succulent from their two hour braise, and the lamb marries beautifully with the harissa and lemon. See? Thumbing through old cookbooks is a perfectly good use of your time. Now tell that to my husband who wants me to get rid of half of them before we move!
Spicy Merguez with Spinach and Borlotti Beans
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
- 2 pounds baby spinach, washed and dried The original recipe calls for four pounds of regular spinach, stems removed, but two pounds of baby spinach worked great.
- Kosher salt
- 2 medium onions, peeled and cut into small cubes
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 tablespoon harissa I used a harissa paste from a tube.
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon four-spice powder I just added small amounts of ground cloves, ground ginger, and freshly grated nutmeg to supplement.
- 1/2 pound dried borlotti beans, cannellini beans, or black-eyed peas, soaked overnight in cold water and drained
- 2 pounds merguez sausage
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
- Heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a wide Dutch oven over high heat. Add the spinach, little by little (seasoning with salt every so often), and cook, stirring continuously, until all the spinach has wilted and browned slightly and all the liquid has evaporated, 20 to 30 minutes.
- Add the onions, garlic, mint, cilantro, harissa, black pepper, and Four-Spice Powder and cook, with a pinch of salt, stirring, for 5 minutes.
- Pour in 4 cups water and add the beans or black-eyed peas. Add another big pinch of salt, stir, bring to a simmer, and cover. Braise in the oven for 2 hours or until the beans are nearly tender.
- When the spinach is done and tasting good, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Sear the merguez on all sides until golden brown.
- Stir the lemon juice into the beans and spinach and place the seared merguez on top. Cover and continue to braise until the beans are tender and the sausage is cooked through, about 30 minutes more. Season with salt to taste.
4 thoughts on “Spicy Merguez with Spinach and Borlotti Beans”
Made this tonight. Flavor-FUL. Think it might be even better a day later. Easy to assemble and yummy. Thinking a few crostini or some rice would be nice to soak up the broth.
Cool! Thanks for the quick turnaround :)
Made this tonight and yum! My 6 and 8 year old ate it deconstructed (sausage cut up on the side, beans on the side) and they both gobbled it up!