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Spinach - Springtime's Super Food


He may have used  bad grammar and his bulging tattooed biceps were a little edgy for his time, but Popeye was ahead of the curve when it came to spinach.  Low in calories, high in nutrients and rich in flavor, spinach rates as one of nature's super foods.


Spinach is one of the first vegetables available freshly picked in the spring. It is in the same family as beets and chard, so it thrives in cool weather and has a distinct flavor.  Home gardeners can begin harvesting spinach as soon as the plants develop more than four leaves. These tiny, tender leaves are marketed as 'baby spinach,' and tend to have a milder flavor than their grown-up counterparts.  If you don't grow your own and are lucky enough to have a farmers market open at this time of the year, buy your spinach when it is newly harvested.  The leaves and stems should be deep green and firm; wilted, yellow leaves or slimy leaves are definitely past their prime.  Clean the leaves thoroughly before using by dunking  leaves in bowls of clean water until the leaves don't release sand or soil.


Spinach is an unusual green as it is protein-packed. One cup of fresh spinach leaves provides 5% of the daily recommended value of protein, making spinach a must for vegetarians or vegans. On top of this, spinach contains brain-building tryptophan, folic acid and several of the B vitamins, bone-building calcium and magnesium, and antioxidant vitamins A and C.   There are some oxalates in the leaves, so people who are prone to kidney stones may need to watch their spinach intake.  Steaming or sauteeing the leaves minimizes the concentration of oxalic acid.


In order to maintain all of the nutritional value, spinach should be eaten raw, lightly steamed, or incorporated into soups, sauces or other dishes. Spinach melds well with a number of flavors, including mushrooms, cheeses and lemon juice or vinegar.  A simple salad containing spinach, walnuts, a sprinkling of feta cheese and chopped boiled egg and dressed with olive oil and lemon juice creates a fresh, low calorie, nutrient-dense lunch.      


This spinach dish is a delicious combination of flavors, and it's easy to prepare. Serve this as a side dish to just about any main dish meat, poultry, or seafood.



In a large skillet, heat butter or olive oil over medium heat. Add mushrooms and shallots; cook, stirring, until mushrooms are tender. Add the garlic, spinach, salt, and pepper. Continue cooking until spinach is tender. Sprinkle with fresh shredded Parmesan cheese just before serving, if desired.
Serves 4.

Diane Rattray


Spinach-Rice Casserole