Thursday, June 13, 2024

Forget Popeye’s canned stuff: fresh spinach is the chieftain of leafy greens

Spinach is one of my favorite vegetables, at least as an adult. If we ate it when I was a kid, chances are it was canned (yuck) or frozen, which didn’t score points in my childhood calculations.

Nowadays, packaged baby spinach leaves can be found year-round in big grocery stores, and while they’ll do in a pinch, there’s nothing like a bunch of fresh spinach, especially from a farmers’ market. (A little time-consuming to clean, but so worth it!) Fresh spinach, which is 91% water, loses most of its nutritional value after just a few days of storage; packaged spinach loses its nutrients over the course of about a week.

References to aspānāḵ have been found in Persia dating back 2,000 years, and the earliest known English cookbook, from 1390, mentions it too, calling it spinnedge and spynoches. In Spain, it was known as the “chieftain of leafy greens.” In Mexico, it’s espinaca.

Spinach is in the same family as chard, beets and quinoa. It’s an early spring vegetable that’s a nutritional powerhouse of vitamins and minerals. And while Popeye knew that a can of spinach made him strong because of the high iron content, it needs to be cooked thoroughly for that to be true.

Nutritionists tell us that spinach in general, and raw spinach in particular, has high levels of oxalates, which block the absorption of iron and calcium. So spinach must be thoroughly steamed or cooked to lower the oxalate levels and allow your body to absorb the iron. According to the USDA, a 100 gram serving of cooked spinach has almost double the iron as a hamburger patty the same size.

Bacon and cotija cheese make this breakfast decadent.
Bacon and cotija cheese make this breakfast decadent.

Bacon-Spinach Breakfast Tacos

  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into ¼ -inch pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 quart packed spinach leaves, roughly chopped
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup salsa verde
  • 4 soft flour or corn tortillas, warmed
  • Garnish: queso cotija, lime wedges, scallions, cilantro

Cook bacon until crisp. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate, leaving fat in pan.

Add garlic; cook over medium heat, stirring, 1 minute. Add half of spinach; cook until wilted, about 30 seconds. Add remaining spinach and cook until wilted and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to paper towel-lined plate; wipe out skillet.

Melt butter in now-empty skillet over medium heat. Add eggs and cook, stirring, until no longer watery but still moist, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper; set aside.

To assemble: Spread salsa over tortillas, then spinach and then eggs. Top with bacon. Serve immediately with crumbled queso cotija and other garnishes. —

Carefully flip these spinach leaves to distribute the olive oil.
Carefully flip these spinach leaves to distribute the olive oil.

Simple Sautéed Spinach

  • 2 big bunches of spinach, about 1 pound
  • Olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • Salt to taste

Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in large skillet on medium-high heat. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute until just beginning to brown. Add spinach, pushing it down a bit in the pan. Using a spatula or wide spoon, carefully flip sections of the spinach so oil is spread through leaves. Cover and cook 1 minute. Uncover and turn the spinach over again. Cover again and cook for an additional minute. until spinach is completely wilted. Remove from heat. Drain any excess liquid, drizzle with a bit of olive oil, sprinkle with salt to taste. Serve immediately.

Sesame Spinach

  • Top with seared tuna or a sautéed fish filet for a complete meal.
  • 1½ Tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • ½ tsp. sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. peanut or vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. fresh ginger, minced or grated
  • 6 scallions, finely chopped
  • 1 big bunch fresh spinach
  • Garnish: 1 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds

Mix soy sauce, sesame oil and sugar; set aside. Heat oil in large skillet. Add garlic, ginger and scallions. Sauté over medium heat for 2-3 minutes till softened. Add spinach, stir-fry until cooked through but still crispy, 2-3 minutes. Add reserved soy sauce mixture and heat through. Serve topped with sesame seeds. — Recipes From A Kitchen Garden by Renee Shepherd

Avocado is the secret ingredient in this pasta dish.
Avocado is the secret ingredient in this pasta dish.

Creamy Spinach-Avocado Pasta

  • 10 oz. spaghetti or fettuccine
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 cup fresh spinach leaves, packed
  • ½ cup pecans, pine nuts, walnuts or combination
  • ¼ cup fresh basil leaves
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ to 1 cup pasta water
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to the package instructions; reserve 1 cup cooking water. Process garlic, avocado, spinach, basil, nuts, cheese and lemon juice in blender or food processor till smooth. Slowly add pasta water till sauce is desired consistency. Toss with pasta and serve immediately.

Spinach, Black Bean & Chipotle Quesadillas

  • 2 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. vegetable oil, divided
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh spinach
  • Salt
  • ¾ cup drained canned black beans
  • 1 chipotle chili packed in adobo sauce, minced
  • 1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
  • 2 (8-inch) flour tortillas

Heat 2 tsp. oil in a 10-inch cast iron or nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add spinach, season with salt. Cook, stirring, until wilted, about 1 minute. Transfer to a bowl. Mix beans, chipotle and cheese with spinach. Spread half of mixture evenly over half of one tortilla, leaving a ½ -inch border. Fold tortilla over, sealing edges by pressing down firmly. Repeat with second tortilla. Heat remaining 2 Tbsp. oil in same skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Cook both folded tortillas, moving them around until golden brown and puffy on first side, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook other side until golden brown and puffy, about 2 minutes. Drain on paper towels, cut into triangles and serve immediately. —

Spinach is a great base for pesto.
Spinach is a great base for pesto.

Triple Green Salad Dressing

  • 1 cup tightly packed spinach leaves
  • ¾ cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
  • 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
  • 3 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1-2 small cloves garlic
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in blender and process till smooth.

Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, featured on CNBC and MarketWatch. A retired journalist, she has lived in Mexico since 2006.

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