Spinach and Red Lentil Stew (Sabanikh bi Ads)


If you ask my kids, “Do you want Spinach?” They will inevitably say no.  Growing up, I actually only had spinach one way – a stew of sorts with ground beef.  Sometimes my mom would spinach in goulash, which is an Egyptian version of the greek phyllo spinach pie, spanakopita.  Nonetheless, I used to gobble my mother’s sabanikh up with a bowl of warm short grain Egyptian rice.

Nowadays, I throw spinach into pasta sauces and soups, but it was always an afterthought – more of a “oh, this would be great to add some vitamins and iron and they wont notice” kind of way.  I had never featured spinach in a dish I served. How could this be?! I was determined to change this.  As you know, spinach is full of nutrients – especially iron, calcium, Vitamin C, antioxidants, and, get ready for this…. glycoglycerolipids. Although it sounds like a new dinosaur,  glycoglycerolipids from spinach can help protect the lining of the digestive tract from damage — especially damage related to unwanted inflammation in your intestines.

So a few weeks ago, I decided to recreate my mother’s infamous sabanikh.  It was a cold day here in Abu Dhabi (75 degrees), the kids were still home on winter break, and we had a playdate later in the afternoon. I waited patiently to call my mother in the U.S. to ask her for the recipe. Mind you, my mother’s recipes are general guidelines (if you can even call them that). She gives you 5 main ingredients, and the rest you have to kinda figure out. However, for this one, she was very specific.

sabanikh feature2

She tells me that the secret ingredient to her sabanikh is this liquefied onion spice mixture that she adds to the spinach stew. She swears that this makes all the difference in the world. I listened carefully – “take half of an onion, grate it on a grater, put coriander and salt. Let it sit. Squeeze out the juicy water, and then add it to the spinach at the end.” Okay. Got it. I called her yesterday as I was writing this post. Apparently, I was to never throw away the onion juice.  Oh well. It still tasted good – with or without the onion juice. In the recipe featured below – I neither squeeze out the onion juice, nor do I throw it away. I just dump the whole thing in.  It was all the same tasty goodness to me!

The secret onion juicy stuff is on the top left.

On that playdate on that cold, windy, Abu Dhabi afternoon, my children and their friends not only ate my mother’s sabanikh, but some asked for seconds!  We are officially back on the sabanikh bandwagon, with spinach no longer being ignored as an afterthought. We feature it prominently as a main entrée, and it is now on the rotation of recipes that I make regularly. You could also easily make this dish without the meat. You could also try Heba’s version of Spinach with Chickpeas.  You can also try flash frozen spinach if you don’t have access to fresh spinach.  If you like lamb, go with that instead of beef. Endless possibilities that will allow your family to love spinach, if they didn’t already!

Spinach and Red Lentil Stew (Sabanikh bi Ads)

by Brenda

Prep Time: 15 min

Cook Time: 30 min

Keywords: entree soup/stew garlic spinach tomato sauce beef Egyptian Middle Eastern


Ingredients (serves 6)

  • 1 lb ground beef or lamb
  • 1/2 lb fresh baby spinach
  • 1 large onion
  • 1/2 cup red lentils or split peas
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1/4 cup parsley leaves
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp coriander powder
  • salt
  • clarified butter


(1) Chop the onion in half. Place one half of the onion in a food processor with the garlic, 1/2 tsp of salt, and 1/2 tsp of coriander. Set aside.

(2) With the other half of the onion, dice into small pieces. Set aside.

(3) In the food processor, finely chop the parsley and cilantro leaves. You should yield approximately 1/4 cup of the mixture once chopped.

(4) In a large saucepan, heat 1 to 2 tsp of clarified butter. Saute the diced onion. Once the onion is translucent, add the ground beef, 1 tsp of cumin, 1 tsp of coriander and 1 tsp of salt.

Sabanik Steps

(5) Once the beef has been browned, add the parsley and cilantro. Mix well.

(6) Slowly add the spinach leaves in batches. Mix with the beef. As the leaves wilt, continue to add the spinach until you have added all of it.

(7) Once all of the spinach is wilted, add 2 cups of tomato sauce, 1 cup of water, lentils (or split peas) and the onion mixture from Step (1).

(8) Reduce heat and cover. Let simmer for 15-20 minutes until the lentils have softened.

(9) Serve with a piping hot bowl of white or brown rice. Enjoy!!

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    • Excited that you will try this, Caitlin! My apologies. I had a glaring typo! I added 2 cups of tomato SAUCE to the list of ingredients, and edited the recipe instructions to reflect that. Thanks for the comment, and keep us posted on how it turns out for you!

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