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5 Easy Dinners Using Leftover Chicken, Frozen Spinach & Canned Beans

roast chickenIt was one of those nights. I was pooped. It was 5:30 p.m. and there was no dinner plan. Before defaulting to take-out, I peeked in the fridge: left over roast chicken. Then the pantry: a can of chickpeas. Last stop, the freezer: a box of spinach. I pulled the whole thing together with a container of Maya Kaimal curry sauce (my favorite all-natural supermarket short cut), and put a seriously well-rounded meal on the table in 15 minutes flat.

As we ate, I wondered why it took desperation to get me to pull these ingredients together. Chicken, legumes and spinach make for a super healthy meal. And, when using leftovers, canned beans and frozen spinach, you can make that a quick, healthy meal. And that’s not to mention zero prep. I don’t need to be pressed for time to buy into that!

Here are five ideas for using these well-balanced ingredients (plus a few pantry staples) to make dinner in a snap.

A quick note before we start: don’t worry about exact measurements. Play with each recipe to achieve your desired taste and consistency. For example, you’ll want a soupier sauce if serving with noodles and a thicker one if serving plain or with rice. These dishes are very forgiving, with lots of room for improvisation.

Chicken & Chickpeas in Avgolemono (a Greek egg-lemon sauce)

You’ll also need: broth, olive oil, eggs, lemons, salt & pepper
Feel free to add: sautéed onions, frozen peas, fresh dill
Serve with: orzo, rice, couscous, a dollop of yogurt

1. Heat broth over medium heat. A whole 32-oz box will make a soup (to which you can add orzo or rice), just a little less will make a stew and a whole lot less will make just enough sauce to coat your chicken, chickpeas and spinach.

2. In a separate pan, sauté chickpeas and shredded chicken in olive oil. Add thawed and drained spinach. Set aside once all three ingredients are well mixed and excess water from spinach has cooked off.

3. Beat 2 eggs until frothy. Continue to beat while adding juice of 2 lemons. When the mixture is very frothy, keep beating while slowly adding hot broth in a steady stream. This is your egg lemon sauce.

4. Combine egg-lemon sauce, chicken, chick peas and spinach. Season with salt and pepper.

Fake-Out “Cassoulet”

You’ll also need: onions, garlic, olive oil, thyme or herbs de provence, red wine or balsamic vinegar, a can of whole peeled tomatoes, salt & pepper
Feel free to add: sautéed carrots and/or celery, sage, rosemary, sausage
Serve with: couscous, egg noodles, rice, breadcrumb topping

1. Sauté onions and garlic in olive oil. Add fresh or dried thyme or herbs de provence.

2. Add white beans, shredded chicken and thawed and drained spinach. Cook until excess water from spinach has cooked off.

3. Add a bit of red wine or balsamic vinegar and a can of whole peeled tomatoes, breaking each one up with your hands. The amount of juice you also include depends on the consistency you want your sauce to achieve.

4. Cook down until sauce thickens. Season with salt and pepper.

Tex-Mex Chicken-N-Beans

You’ll also need: onion, garlic, canola oil, cumin, chile powder, jalapeno (optional), enchilada sauce or a can of tomato puree and broth, salt & pepper
Feel free to add: unsweetened cocoa powder (add with the other other dry spices to give a depth of flavor), frozen or canned corn, sautéed peppers, fresh lime juice
Serve with: tortillas, rice, lime wedges, salsa/pico de gallo, a dollop of sour cream, shredded cheese

1. Saute onions and garlic in canola oil. Add cumin, chile powder and a chopped jalapeno, if you (and your kids) like a little spice.

2. Add an all-natural enchilada sauce or can of tomato puree. If using tomato puree, you may need to add broth and more spice to keep things flavorful. You’ll also have to cook it longer to achieve the thickness of an enchilada sauce.

3. In a separate pan, sauté black or pinto beans, shredded chicken and thawed and drained spinach in canola oil. Cook until the three ingredients are well combined and excess water from the spinach has cooked off.

4. Add sauce to chicken, beans and spinach. Season with salt and pepper.

Quickie Chicken “Cacciatore”

You’ll also need: onions, garlic, olive oil, rosemary and/or oregano, white wine, a can of diced tomatoes, salt & pepper
Feel free to add: sautéed mushrooms, olives, capers, frozen peas
Serve with: polenta, pasta, noodles, rice, grated cheese

1. Sauté onions and garlic in olive oil. Add fresh or dried rosemary and/or oregano.

2. Add white beans, shredded chicken and thawed and drained spinach. Cook until excess water from spinach has cooked off.

3. Add white wine, simmer a few minutes.

4. Add diced tomatoes and juices. Cook down to desired consistency.

5. Finish with a final drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper.

Chicken and Chickpeas in a Yogurt-Mint Sauce

You’ll also need: garlic, olive oil, mint, plain yogurt, lemon juice, salt & pepper
Feel free to add: pita chip bits, cubed cucumber (at the very end), white wine (add to chicken and cook off right before adding the finished yogurt sauce)
Serve with: couscous, rice/pilaf, slivered almonds

1. Sauté a bunch of garlic in olive oil. Add a lot of fresh or dried mint, yogurt (the thick Greek kind works best) and lemon juice.

2. In a separate pan, sauté chickpeas, shredded chicken and thawed and well drained spinach in olive oil. Cook until excess water from spinach has cooked off.

3. Add yogurt sauce to chicken, beans and spinach. Season with salt and pepper.

Well, clearly, my inspiration comes from a latent desire to travel the globe! What about you? What’s your favorite easy dinner using these ingredients?

Photo: iStockphoto.com/floortje

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