♬♪ I’m strong to the finish,’cos I eats me spinach – I’m Popeye the Sailor Man ♪♬
Unless you loved Popeye, of course, spinach might have been the food you ‘loved to hate’ when you were a child – one of the dreaded greens your mother made you eat because it was good for you. And it still is.
Many varieties of edible plant are termed ‘spinach’, including, in some places, unrelated species like silverbeet and various Asian greens. True spinach, which has ‘crinkly’ and flat-leaf forms, is Spinacia oleracea and probably originated in central or western Asia, but grows readily in most climates.
What’s so special about spinach?
Spinach is a superstore of nutrients and essential elements for your body’s better health. OK, it probably won’t give you instant biceps bulge – after all, there is only one Popeye. But when it’s prepared properly, it tastes great!
Spinach is low calorie, with virtually no fat and zero cholesterol. Three ticks. But it gets its superfood status because it’s a storehouse of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Take 100grams of fresh spinach. This amount will give you vitamins A, B2, C and K (for bone health). Did you know that it contains almost twice the daily-recommended amount of vitamin A (187%), necessary for tissue growth? It will also provide nearly half of your daily vitamin C requirement.
Spinach will serve up magnesium, manganese, folate, iron, a little calcium and, coming in at 18%-of-your-daily-requirements, a significant hit of potassium to help regulate blood pressure! To finish, this 100gram power pack will deliver 5% of your protein needs, and 8% of your dietary fibre for the day, with a bonus helping of anti-oxidants to help prevent cell damage.
To extract the maximum benefits from spinach, think about how you use it. Here are a few hints:
- You’ll access all the available iron in spinach, when you eat it with foods rich in vitamin C – like citrus fruits and tomatoes. An easy way is to make a lemon or lime dressing for your spinach and tomato salad. This helps because the iron will then be converted into a form your body will absorb more easily. The vitamin C also prevents spinach interfering with calcium absorption.
- Don’t overcook it. That’s the only way to keep in all the available nutrients. The simpler the cooking method, the better. Some varieties of spinach are best eaten raw, anyway.
- Buy fresh! You can store whole leaves in the freezer, if you intend to cook them later, but some of the ‘convenient’ chopped and pre-frozen spinach products quite frankly end up looking and tasting like soggy grass clippings.
- Incorrect storage and preparation will drastically affect spinach’s nutritional value – not to mention its appeal. There’s nothing more unappetising than a sad and wilted bunch of spinach languishing in the fridge! It’s best kept in the crisper, in a sealed plastic bag. Hint: don’t wash it, and don’t chop off the ends of the stalks until you’re ready to use it. Cutting, especially with a metal knife, will blacken the ends; even if that happens, the rest will be fine.
A lot of the negative attitude to spinach comes from the unimaginative ways in which it has often been prepared and cooked. Spinach that has been boiled to death is a nightmare. It makes an excellent salad ingredient, and, lightly steamed or sautéed, a vegetable accompaniment to any meal.
There’s very little reason to waste any part of the spinach plant. The thicker stalks are perfect to add bulk to soups or extra crunch to stir-fries. The leaves can be added as you do the very last stir.
Try folding chopped spinach leaves into a pasta sauce, just before serving, or placing them in the serving bowls before ladling in a hot soup or curry. The heat of the food will do all the cooking that’s needed.
A real favourite is spinach parcels. The larger leaves can wrap up just about anything you like. Secure the parcels with a toothpick, if you need to, pour over your favourite sauce, and bake them for ten minutes.
Puréed spinach is the perfect base for a lean, green health smoothie – partnered with your other preferred ingredients. Anything green goes – try it with apple and avocado. And while we’re on the A-words, it’s good with almond milk. Another great combination is spinach with orange and mango. Really!
Just use your imagination and keep in mind the hints above and you’ll never look at spinach in the same way again.