By Dawn M. Swidorski
Spinach is a member of the goosefoot family (because of the shape of the leaves) and is native to Persia (modern day Iran and Iraq). It spread to China over 2,000 years ago along the silk route and later spread to Spain via the Moors.
Spinach is considered a tender green, in the same category as Swiss chard or beet greens. Because it is a tender green it can be eaten raw or cooked and is delicious both ways. In fact my husband who only ate one vegetable when I met him (canned corn) now prefers his spinach raw!
Spinach is absolutely brimming with essential vitamins and minerals including A, C, K and folate as well many powerful antioxidants including leutin. Leutin which if found in abundance in spinach has been linked to improved vision including staving off macular degeneration.
I prefer my spinach fresh or frozen – probably because I was subjected to canned spinach as a child and was turned off of the taste forever. But it is important to know where to use fresh vs. frozen with spinach or you can end up with less than perfect results.
I always have a bag or two of chopped spinach in the freezer because I use it in a ton of ways. When using frozen spinach it’s important to keep two things in mind. Frozen spinach will never be the STAR of the dish because it lacks the delicate nuance of the fresh version but is still acceptable for many uses.
I use it for dips, add it generously along with other vegetables to red pasta sauce, use it as an addition/variation to scampi, it’s a great addition to pasta primavera, omelets, quiches, or frittatas. It can be a welcome addition to curries, lasagna or stuffed pasta shells with ricotta cheese. It makes a nice soup or as a decadent alternative you can prepare it creamed. One thing to keep in mind when using frozen spinach is to completely thaw it and then squeeze the water out until its dry. You then have to “fluff” it as you add it to your food or you just get a big lump of spinach.
One of the problems with fresh spinach has always been that it always picks up a lot of dirt while growing. If you are buying in bunches from the market here’s a quick and easy way to get rid of the grit. Fill your sink with cool water, toss the spinach into the water and swirl around a bit. Let it sit for a few minutes and the sand and dirt will fall to the bottom of the sink – remove the spinach and drain the sink. Examine the leaves and repeat rinsing if necessary. Spin the leaves dry in a salad spinner or layer between towels to drain excess water before storing or using.
Spinach also now pre-washed and conveniently packaged in 6 and 9 ounce bags. It is important to know that spinach is what is called a heavy feeder. It draws everything from the soil that it is grown in: pesticides, fertilizers, e-coli bacteria – so this is one instance where it definitely pays to buy organic if you can. The spinach e-coli outbreak of 2006 was linked to a conventional farm where untreated animal waste water got into the fields. You won’t have this problem on an organic farm so if you can find pre-packaged spinach that is organically grown it’s a very safe bet.
Fresh spinach has other more subtle and delicate uses and can easily be the star of any dish that it’s served in. As a base for salads it’s very versatile. It can be paired with citrus, pears, strawberries and blackberries or raspberries. It can be matched with walnuts or almonds. It can even stand up to onions, bleu cheese or bacon. The potential combination’s salad wise are endless. I also use spinach as a substitute for or in addition to lettuce in sandwiches.
My favorite way to eat fresh cooked spinach is simple.
1. Wash the spinach and dry.
2. Put in Saute pan (don’t add any water there is plenty in the spinach itself)
3. Add a scant amount of olive oil.
4. Add one clove minced garlic.
5. Saute briefly until just past wilted and still vibrant green (3 minutes)
6. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve