• Emily Van Eck, MS, RDN

Eat Globally - Lebanese Lemon Ground Turkey and Spinach with Pine Nuts

I have many food philosophies. Eat lots of brightly colored fibrous things as the backbone of your diet. Enjoy your favorite morning pastry every so often with as much butter and jam as you desire. Buy the highest quality foods that you can reasonably afford. Avoid processed crap. Eat breakfast. Eat apples. Cook at home. When your friends who were born in other countries tell you about a favorite dish they make from their childhood - get your hands on the recipe. Recipes passed down through families (Lebanese or Cajun, for example) seem to always be simple, hearty, and delicious.

Lebanese rice spinach ground turkey pine nuts whole grains

Spiced ground turkey and onions, spinach, lemon, pine nuts

We eat out too much these days. Traditional recipes are nutritious and highly satisfying as they were created in a time before the processed food craze took over. People had more time to cook, less demanding jobs and responsibilities, and scratch cooking was the norm. With our ever-increasingly "busy" lives, many of us feel there is no time for home cooked meals. I tend to disagree.

No doubt technology has done us many favors - our lives are more interesting, varied, and free. These foods have not freed us from disease. The increasing presence of fast and convenient foods has lasted just a second in the span of human history, but has taken a toll on our health. Plus, I worry we're forgetting how to cook.

I urge you to dig into your own family's traditions and history. Is there a dish from your childhood you remember eating at your grandparents table? No matter what it is, or how "healthy" or "unhealthy" it may seem, make it. It will bring you back in a way nothing else can. Getting in touch with your culinary roots can even psychologic benefit as it reunites us with our ancestors.

Back when I lived in NYC, I knew this sweet Lebanese-American family. Zaki would make this incredible dish his mother (or grandmother?) used to make. I've recreated this recipe with the help of other food bloggers. It's pretty quick, nutritious, delicious, and perfect for a weeknight meal. Leftovers are great for lunch the next day.

Speaking of peoples' mother's recipes, I am CRAZY for Aziz Ansari's mom's chicken korma!! Last year, before they stopped publishing, I was reading The Lucky Peach and came across this interview with Aziz as he was promoting his show, Master of None. His real life parents play his TV parents! Amusing. But also - the korma! I thought it sounded simple enough, and healthy. Chicken marinated in yogurt, turmeric, garlic, and ginger and then slow cooked in ground cashews and cilantro. Now the recipe has been re-posted by several food bloggers - they are all very smart. Olga Massov, thank you. Kark and Phillip from Feral Cooks, thank you. Spain vs Korea Recipes, thank you! But here is the Lebanesey dish. Please try it.


Lebanese Lemon Turkey and Spinach with Pine Nuts

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes


1 pound - 20 oz ground turkey (or beef or lamb)

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 bag frozen spinach

2 lemons, juiced

2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts (not optional)

1 bunch cilantro, washed and roughly chopped

salt and pepper

2 cups water

For the rice:

1 cup dry brown rice, rinsed

2.5 cups water


Heat 1 tablespoon canola oil in large flat bottom skillet (with a lid) over medium heat. Add diced onion and cook until well-softened, about 5 minutes. Add ground turkey and spices and salt. Break up the meat with a wooden spoon. Cook, stirring until cooked - about 10 minutes. Add spinach and 2 cups water - it should be brothy but not too soupy. Stir to loosen and combine everything. Once the spinach has softened and is all covered in water, add chopped cilantro. (Now start the rice.) Cover spinach mixture and cook for 30 minutes. Add juice from one lemon. Taste. Ponder. Then add additional salt, pepper, and lemon to taste.

Rice: Make brown rice. It's best if you toast it by cooking in a tad bit olive oil for a few minutes to slightly brown it, then add 2.5 cups water or broth and 1/2 teaspoon salt. This is optional, but tastes quite nice if you've got an extra 3 minutes. If you aren't familiar with cooking brown rice, here's a basic recipe.

While this is cooking, toast pine nuts in a small skillet on LOW heat until golden and fragrant.

To serve, use 1/2 cup rice and top with a ladle or two of the brothy spinach mixture. Top with a sprinkling of pine nuts and additional lemon juice. The lemon is really important.


I hope you enjoy this as much as I do and make it part of your regular routine. I'd love to hear comments on how the recipe went or especially your favorite traditional recipe ideas!

#dinner #lunch #cultural #traditional #poultry #iron #spices

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