Saturday, April 6, 2019


Succulent ibérico ham. Sizzling, garlicky shrimp. Potato salad with chunks of tuna. Rings of crisp-fried calamares (squid). The possibilities at a typical tapas bar are enough to make a vegetarian weep in frustration. What to eat that doesn’t have meat, poultry or seafood? There’s always the fabulous tortilla de patatas made with eggs and potatoes (unless you are vegan and don’t eat eggs). Maybe a few salads and not much else. 

In Sevilla tapa bars you’ll find a traditional tapa that’s vegetarian—vegan even—and truly satisfying. Espinacas con garbanzos, or garbanzos con espinacas—spinach with chickpeas or chickpeas with spinach. While it’s popular year-round, the dish really comes into its own at this time of year, during Lent, when observant Catholics don’t eat meat on Fridays. Then it’s served as a starter or main dish for a comida de vigilia or fasting day meal.

A vegetarian dish of chickpeas and spinach, typical of Sevilla tapa bars.

Tapa-size servings in small cazuelitas with fried bread to accompany.

A main dish serving might be topped with hard-cooked egg.

Olive oil, plenty of garlic, pimentón (paprika) and cumin flavor the combo of vegetable and legumes. If you don’t like the assertive flavor of cumin (it will remind you of Moroccan and Mexican food), reduce the quantity. If you want the dish even spicier, try using especia para pinchitos, a spice blend for brochettes that includes cumin as well as coriander, ginger and cayenne.

I cooked a big pot of chickpeas (1 pound) and used some in this recipe and put the rest in the freezer. You’ll need about 10 ounces dry chickpeas to make 4 cups drained, cooked chickpeas. Soak the chickpeas in water overnight (8 hours). Drain and cover them with hot water. Add salt, sliced onion, bay leaf and a whole tomato. Cook until the chickpeas are tender, about 90 minutes. Save the cooking liquid to use in the recipe. Add the cooked and skinned tomato to the bread and garlic in place of chopped tomato.

In an attempt to keep the fresh spinach bright green, I cooked it very briefly then plunged it in ice water before draining. I added the spinach to the chickpeas at the very end of cooking. This made for an attractive dish. However, when I reheated leftovers the next day, the spinach turned dark. Though, it was just as delicious!

As served at bar El Rinconcillo in Sevilla, the dish has more spinach than chickpeas. Spinach slow-simmered with the spices loses its fresh green color.

In Sevilla tapa bars, the dish is usually made with lots of spinach and few chickpeas. But it is just as authentic the other way around, which is how I decided to make it. It’s not a soup. Add enough liquid to the chickpeas to keep everything juicy, but not soupy. If you’re cooking chickpeas from scratch, use the cooking liquid. If you’re using canned chickpeas, use water.

The pimentón (paprika) is ordinary sweet pimentón, but a smidgin of smoked pimentón in addition adds a nice background flavor. Hot pimentón or cayenne is optional.

Fried bread for thickening the sauce and to serve as an accompaniment to the finished dish.
A few slices of fried bread go into the blender to thicken the chickpea liquid. If you want to serve fried bread with the dish, fry more slices at the same time.

This is the lechoso variety of chickpea, generally used in Andalusia. It is plumper than the castellano varieties.

Spinach with Chickpeas
Espinacas con Garbanzos

Serves 4.

6 cups packed fresh spinach (about ½ pound, to make 1 ½ cups cooked, drained and chopped)
Ice water
5 tablespoons olive oil
3 slices baguette, crusts removed
4 cloves garlic
Chickpea cooking liquid or water
1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon pimentón (paprika)
1/8 teaspoon hot pimentón (optional)
1 teaspoon cumin
1 plum tomato, peeled and chopped, or cooked tomato from chickpeas
4 cups cooked and drained chickpeas.
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
Hard-cooked egg, quartered (optional)
Fried bread to serve (optional)

Chop spinach after blanching in boiling water.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Have ready a bowl with ice and water. Add the spinach to the boiling water and cook 1 minute. Skim it out and into the ice water. When spinach is cooled, drain it well and squeeze out excess water. Chop the spinach and reserve.

Heat the oil in a deep skillet or pan. Fry the slices of bread until golden-brown on both sides. Remove. Add the peeled garlic to the pan and fry until golden. Remove. 

Break up the fried bread into a blender container. Add the garlic and ¼ cup of cooking liquid or water. Add the vinegar, pimentón, hot pimentón, if using, cumin and tomato. Blend to make a smooth paste. 

Stir the bread-garlic paste into the oil remaining in the pan and fry it for a minute. Add the chickpeas and about 1 ½ cups of the chickpea cooking water. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. 

Immediately before serving, stir in the chopped spinach. Heat thoroughly. Serve the chickpeas and spinach in bowls with quartered egg, if desired.

Chickpeas and spinach are saucy, not soupy.

Leftovers the next day: I added more liquid to make a soup and garnished with a dollop of Greek yogurt, chopped green onions and chopped cilantro. 

More vegetarian dishes:

Another recipe with chickpeas and spinach: Chickpeas and Spinach with Cod Dumplings.


  1. Used a jar of ready cooked Portuguese chickpeas,from Lidl's Spanish week.First time I've used bread to make a sauce,but it worked a treat.Wilted the spinach over the chickpeas and it's gone down really well with some shop bought flat breads.It's going to join some of your other recipies as a regular in our S Wales h'hld.PS we are all firm Remainers and are aghast at the turn our country has taken.

    1. VRJ: Nice to know your rendition of chickpeas and spinach turned out well. As a non-Brit, I won't weigh in on Brexit turmoil. Except to consider the food angle--after Brexit, will you still be able to get Spanish ham and cheeses in UK?

  2. This tapa is one of your very best. Love it! First had this recipe in a Seville bar. It's delicious. The flavours are complex and satisfying. I have served it at Thanksgiving and for breakfast with eggs. It gets better and better. Thank you for the Seville restaurant recommendation.

    1. Heather: Me too. I first tasted it many years ago in a Sevilla tapas bar. It's that subtle touch of cumin, I think, that really makes it special.