In Season: Spinach
By Sarah Kay Hannon
Dark, leafy greens pack a power punch of vital nutrients, and this superstar can be the center—or sidekick—of any meal.
Known as the “Persian green,” the word spinach is derived from both the Old French word espinache, as well as its Persian ancestor, aspanakh, with each word defining a dark green, leafy vegetable. This tender green is usually an annual plant, and is related to both beets and quinoa.
Though spinach has become a trendy staple in today’s healthy diets, it also has a long history. It’s thought to have first originated in Central and Southwest Asia, where it continues to grow wild today. The juicy green reached the Mediterranean around the 10th century A.D., when Arab ingenuity cultivated the vegetable. By the 12th century, it had arrived in Spain. As for its use in the United States, spinach began making its appearance much later, around 1800, with its first harvests.
Spinach has a reputation for being king of the superfoods. In fact, the full-flavored vegetable was known for having an outstanding iron content long before the expression “superfood” made its way into today’s vernacular, packing in over 6 mg per serving! But, iron isn’t the only nutrient this green holds in abundance; spinach is also loaded with vitamins A, D, E and K, omega-3 fatty acids, and a wealth of different anti-inflammatory antioxidants. Skin, hair, bones—and the body as a whole— can benefit greatly from a daily intake of spinach.
When it comes to cooking, the possible purposes of this oval-leafed vegetable in the kitchen are close to endless. It can be eaten raw or cooked, and is extremely versatile when added to recipes. Some tasty Mediterranean spinach dishes include Greek Spanish rice, spinach and cheese stuffed tortellini, and Mediterranean omelettes. Some popular Arab spinach dishes are sambousek, a spinach-filled pastry, or a meatball soup. In Spain, it’s common to find spinach and chickpeas paired together in various recipes, including a tasty array of soups and salads.
As for us here back home in the U.S., we include spinach in a variety of recipes, and the amount of spinach being consumed is higher than ever. The rise in the American consumption of spinach can be credited to the release of the more popular baby spinach, which is much sweeter and less bitter than mature spinach. Because of the vegetable’s versatility, it can be canned, creamed, frozen, dehydrated, and more, making it even easier to incorporate into some of your favorite dishes or meals.
Even breakfast! Adding spinach to smoothies (yep, smoothies!) is an easy and beneficial technique for those who are not too fond of spinach’s naturally earthy taste, yet still want the plant’s nutrients. No matter what time of day or which type of meal, this nutritional powerhouse will serve up a generous dose of flavor and healthy benefits!
Individual Breakfast: Spinach In A Bread Bowl
1 cup baby spinach leaves, raw
1 sourdough bread bowl
2 strips bacon, chopped
¼ cup white onion, chopped
½ teaspoon pepper
¼ cup cherry tomatoes
¼ cup cheese, shredded, optional
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice off top of bread bowl and carefully scoop out the inside. Set aside. Add just a bit of water to a skillet and place on burner set to medium heat. Start cooking bacon and add in onion. Cook fully. Put spinach and tomatoes inside bread bowl shell. Transfer cooked onion and bacon to bread bowl shell, then top off with eggs and pepper. Place onto cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes, then loosely cover with foil. Bake for an additional 20-25 minutes or until egg has set. Remove from oven and let cool for about five minutes. Carefully remove foil and sprinkle with cheese, if desired.
Spinach & Walnut Salad with Pomegranate Dressing
10 ounces baby spinach leaves
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1 ½ cups walnuts, shelled
¾ cup feta cheese crumbles
1 cup pomegranate juice
½ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons honey
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Gently combine spinach leaves, tomatoes, walnuts, and cheese crumbles in medium serving bowl, keeping the cheese crumbles and tomatoes intact. Serve cold.
In medium bowl, gently whisk together pomegranate juice, honey, red wine vinegar, and lemon juice. Continue whisking while slowly adding olive oil. Serve alongside spinach and walnut salad. Store in airtight container, keep refrigerated, and shake well before using.