Spinach adds tangy-sweet flavor, nutrition to variety of meals
With the return of cool winter weather to our region, we can at last enjoy the beauty and pleasure of the season’s new crop of spinach. Yes, kale and collards are good for you, but so is spinach, and spinach is tender and tastes tangy-sweet.
This leafy green is a nutritional powerhouse. Just a half cup of steamed spinach gives us 2 grams of dietary fiber, from 80 to 100% of our daily requirement of vitamin A, 32% of our folic acid, 40% of iron if you’re male and 20% if you’re female, plus needed helpings of magnesium, potassium and calcium. And that’s in just a half cup!
Spinach delivers a nice tangy flavor, making it good for both salads and cooked dishes. It has an amazing ability to blend well with a wide range of other kitchen ingredients, especially curry spices, eggs, anchovies, butter, cheese, garlic, mushrooms, olive oil, onions, tomatoes, vinegar, yogurt and nutmeg.
Old-fashioned savoy spinach has large crinkled leaves and is usually sold in bunches. They’re best cooked.
Asian types, often called baby spinach, are smaller-leaved, oval in shape, thinner and more tender and sweeter. They’re generally sold as individual leaves, by weight, and are the best for salads. At some markets, you may see a vegetable called New Zealand spinach, which is a very poor substitute for real spinach.
When buying either savoy or Asian spinach, make sure the leaves are fresh, with no limpness or yellowing. Check the cut end of the leaf stem. It should look freshly cut, not blackened.
Spinach is native to Iran, where the species still grows wild. It went east to China, probably along the old Silk Road, and west to Arabia.
Spinach traveled to Spain with the Moorish invasion and on to the rest of Europe. The name comes from the Old Persian “aspanakh.” The root “span” has entered Greek in the names of dishes like spanakopita.
You can eat savoy spinach with the stems attached, but it’s coarse that way. It doesn’t take long to strip the tender leafy parts from the stems. Plunge them in cold water and wash them thoroughly.
If you’re in a hurry, toss the leaves into a steamer and steam them until they’re collapsed. Then turn them into a warm bowl, give them a squeeze of half a lemon and maybe a pinch of salt, toss and serve. They don’t need a lot of gussying up.
Or gussy them up. Make spinach with gremolata. That means tossing steamed spinach with a few tablespoonfuls of a mixture of finely minced garlic, lemon zest and finely chopped parsley.
Here’s a simple vegetarian dish: in a Dutch oven, sauté a diced small onion, then add a bunch of clean, de-stemmed spinach and pour a half cup of rice over that. Add a half cup of diced tomato, a clove of finely chopped garlic and salt and pepper to taste.
Finally, add a cup of hot water, cover and simmer for an hour. It’ll serve three as a side dish.
A soggy pie crust under your quiche is unpleasant, so it pays to prebake the crust.
Spinach and Mushroom Quiche
— For the quiche liquid:
1 cup milk
½ cup heavy cream