by Paulette Millis
We know spring is here when voluntary spinach is popping up in our garden patch! Popeye swallowed spinach by the can-full, gave himself amazing strength, and performed Herculean feats, humourously leading us all to believe in the necessity of eating copious amounts of spinach. Thus it was, for years, forced down the throats of countless unwilling children.
Spinach, Spinacia oleracea, was cultivated for many centuries before the creation of Popeye, originating in Persia and Iran. European immigrants brought it to the US and by 1806 commercial cultivation began.
A member of the goosefoot family, spinach is a cool-weather plant. It is a leafy annual that matures very quickly and is very hardy. It has broad, crinkley, tender leaves that can be used either as a salad green or as a vegetable. Let some of your spinach go to seed in the summer and it will come up early in spring before the garden is ready to be tilled.
Consumption of fresh spinach fell between 1957 and 1973 from 1 pound to 1/2 pound per capita. Growers do their best to market the greens by washing and bagging them, as many cooks complain about the time needed to wash the sand out of the fresh green leaves. Dr. Thurman B. Rice of the Indiana State Board of Health says, “If God had intended for us to eat spinach, he would have flavoured it with something.” Check the recipe section for some mouth-watering spinach dishes!
NUTRITIONAL AND MEDICINAL INFORMATION
As the chart above shows, spinach is an excellent source of vitamin A, C, and iron. Dr. Jensen states it leaves an alkaline ash in the body (healthy) and is good for the lymphatic, urinary, and digestive systems. Spinach also has significant amounts of potassium and calcium, but it also contains oxalic acid which combines with calcium and renders it unusable in the body. This is not important in the ordinary diet, and only becomes so if someone ingested a large amount of spinach juice. This may cause disturbing results in the joints.
Spinach is very low in calories, having about 23 calories per 3-1/2 ounces of cooked and drained spinach, and as it is also a mild laxative it is excellent diet food!
Spinach contains the following phytochemicals (plant chemicals): indoles, carotenoids, and isothiocyanates which neutralize free radicals, stimulate anti-cancer enzymes, are useful in asthma, and help deactivate harmful estrogens.
Consider adding spinach, raw and cooked, to your weekly menus for a powerhouse of nutrients!
Nutrients per pound
|ascorbic acid (vitamin C)
|Chart from Foods That Heal,
Dr. Bernard Jensen
Spinach peak season is April and May but is usually available fresh, as well as frozen, year round. Spinach, once picked, is very perishable, so look for crisp, fresh, flat or crinkled dark green leaves. Look for young leaves without long stems or seed-stalks, and avoid wilted, yellowed, or decaying leaves. The farmers’ market in Saskatoon has many vendors with wonderful fresh spinach in the spring, including some organic.
When harvesting your own plants, you may cut the whole plant, or just gather the outside leaves. I like to leave the main stalk until well after seeds emerge as through this process many smaller leaves are available.
Refrigerate fresh spinach as soon as possible and leave washing until just prior to serving. If spinach is washed ahead of time, dry in a salad spinner to store, as water standing on the leaves will cause it to spoil more quickly. Fresh, unwashed spinach keeps well for 2 to 3 days.
Trim roots and tough stalks and rinse in a large sink of lukewarm water to remove sand. Clean sink, add fresh cold water, and rinse again. If leaves are really crinkly, you may need to rinse each leaf individually. Continue with fresh-water rinses until no sand remains. Drain well or spin to dry.
The best, simple way to cook spinach is to place leaves in a saucepan with only the water that is clinging to the leaves, and cook for 3 to 5 minutes over moderate heat. Turn the lump of leaves once with a fork and remove from heat while still bright green. Serve as is with a dot of butter and sea salt or try a bit of lemon juice. I like to sprinkle a few hemp seeds on as well. If you find the cooked spinach tastes harsh from the oxalic acid content, using lemon juice helps, or cooking spinach with milk, eggs, or cheese works as well.
Extra spinach may be dried by steam blanching to wilt and then spreading with minimal overlay on trays to dry until crumbly. Freezing spinach is the best way to store bountiful harvests. Trim, blanch in boiling water until wilted (usually 1 to 2 minutes), chill in ice water, drain, and freeze.
2 to 3 pounds fresh spinach equals 1 quart frozen and about 1 pound of fresh spinach equals 2 servings.
Favourite Spinach Salad
fresh spinach leaves
chopped green onions
soaked raw sunflower seeds
Dressing: olive oil mixed with a bit of tamari
Wilted Spinach Salad
Pour a hot dressing over fresh young spinach leaves in a bowl and serve.
2 tbsp butter
1 small onion, minced
2 tbsp whole wheat flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 tsp dry mustard
3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
(or try vinegar of your choice)
sea salt to taste
Saute onion in butter until soft and golden. Stir in flour and cook 1 minute. Stir in the broth, vinegar, and mustard. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and smooth. Pour over spinach and serve.
Wendy’s Spinach Pie
2-1/2 pounds fresh or frozen spinach (may use kale or Swiss chard)
1-1/2 tbsp butter or ghee for dairy-free
2 medium onions, chopped
4 large eggs, beaten
2 tsp dill
1 heaping tsp paprika
2–3 garlic cloves, chopped fine
8 oz feta (use vegan cheese for dairy-free)
8 oz warmed milk (use Hemp
or unsweetened Almond Breeze
1 lb phyllo pastry (spelt is available
and may be tolerated by some gluten-sensitive people)
cold pressed olive oil
1) Prepare spinach. If using raw, chop into thin strips, sprinkle with salt and leave l hour. Squeeze out excess water.
2) Sauté onions in butter or ghee.
3) Beat eggs and add onions, spices, garlic, and cheese. Combine this with spinach.
4) Add milk to mixture to make it creamy but not runny. May not need all of the milk.
5) Brush 2 sheets of phyllo with oil.
6) Line 9 x 13 pan with 5 sheets (2 layers of phyllo each) so it overlaps up the sides of pan, half in the pan and half out so this overlay will make a cover or topping.
7) Oil each layer as you go.
8) Pour in the spinach filling.
9) Fold the double pastry sheets up over top to form a sandwich. Place 5 more sheets on to fit the pan top.
10) Pour 2 tbsp oil over top and brush. Sprinkle water on edges of pastry to prevent curling. Score the top.
11) Allow pie to settle 1 hour
12) Bake at 350° F for 1 to 1-1/2 hours. Serve.
Note: This is also good cold, as a snack.
—Thanks to Wendy Bright for this recipe.
Kim’s Spinach Triangles
(contains both dairy and gluten)
These tasty little triangles are a favourite at all of our family functions!
3 packages frozen chopped spinach,
300 grams each
1 cup diced onion
2–3 cups sliced mushrooms
Celtic salt and pepper to taste (optional)
1/4 cup cold-pressed olive oil or butter
2 beaten eggs
1/2 lb feta, crumbled (250 grams)
1/3 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
1 tsp dried dill
melted butter for brushing
1 package phyllo pastry (use whole wheat or spelt if possible)
1) Cook and drain chopped spinach and press out moisture.
2) Sauté onions, mushrooms, salt and pepper, if using, in the olive oil.
3) Add eggs and cheese.
4) Mix in crumbs.
5) Add spinach and heat through. Remove from heat. May place in fridge to use later in the day.
6) Follow directions on phyllo package regarding thawing and using.
7) Use 2 sheets at a time and brush melted butter on about 3 inches of each short edge of each sheet.
8) With a sharp knife, score into 4 long strips.
9) Place 1–2 tbsp of filling on end of each strip and roll into triangles as shown on package.
10) Bake at 425°F until lightly browned.
To use at a later date, freeze on wax paper in a single layer, place frozen triangles in a container. Remove from freezer, place on oiled cookie sheet and bake frozen at 350°F until lightly browned, about 15 minutes.
—Thank you to Kim Smith for this recipe.
Cold Spinach and Yogurt**
Chop leftover cooked spinach and mix it with yogurt. Season with crushed garlic and pepper to taste. Serve as a cooling side dish with curries, chili beans, or other hot spicy dishes.
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
1 cup light cream or milk
(or use Almond Breeze)
freshly ground pepper
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup grated Swiss cheese
1 pound spinach, washed, cooked,
and squeezed dry
4 eggs, separated
Heat the butter in a saucepan large enough to take all the ingredients except the eggs. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes. Stir in the cream, and cook, stirring all the time, until thickened and smooth. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Turn heat to very low and stir in the cheese and the spinach. Cook until the cheese has melted. Remove from the heat and cool. Beat the egg yolks until thick and beat them into the spinach. Beat the egg whites until they are stiff but not dry. Carefully fold the egg whites into the spinach mixture. Turn into a buttered 1 and one half to 2 quart baking dish. Bake in a preheated slow oven (325ºF) for about 30 to 40 minutes or until set. Serve immediately.
Baked Spinach Omelette*
3 pounds spinach, washed, drained
and coarsely shredded
3 tbsp butter
freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
optional: mushroom or tomato sauce
Cook the spinach for 3 minutes in the water that clings to it. Drain the spinach and squeeze it dry in a strainer. Return the spinach to the saucepan. Add the butter. Cook over high heat, stirring constantly, until the spinach is well coated with the butter. Remove from heat and season lightly with the salt (cheese will be salty), pepper, and tabasco. Beat together the eggs and parmesan cheese. Butter a fairly deep 8-inch baking dish or a deep 8-inch pie pan on all sides. Place it for a few moments over direct low heat to heat it up. Pour in half of the egg mixture. Cook like an omelette for 2 minutes or until set and golden. Remove from the heat. Spread the spinach evenly on top of the eggs. Top the spinach evenly with the remaining eggs. Bake in a pre-heated moderate oven (350ºF) for about 15 minutes or until set and golden. Unmold on a plate and serve hot with sauce if desired, or with sliced tomatoes.
*The Unabridged Vegetable Cookbook, Nika Hazelton
**The Kitchen Gardener’s Companion, Pat Katz
References: Foods that Heal, Bernard Jensen; Powerfoods, Stephanie Beling, MD; The Unabridged Vegetable Cookbook, Nika Hazelton; and The Kitchen Gardener’s Companion, Pat Katz.
The above information regarding nutritious food is not intended to replace any instruction from medical or health professionals.
Paulette Millis is a speaker, author, and nutritional consultant. To contract her for speaking engagements call (306) 244-8890 in Saskatoon, or email email@example.com. Website: www.healingwithnutrition.ca. Her books, Eat Away Illness and Cook Your Way to Health, are available at health food stores and at McNally Robinson Booksellers.