March 26th is Spinach Day, dear readers – a time of fresh salads, Popeye references and oodles of leafy green goodness.
But why does spinach get its own holiday? If you have to ask, you are in for a verdant treat. People have honoured spinach since the time of the Persians, when it was the green of choice for one of history’s greatest empires.
Coincidence? We think not. With its rare combination of flavour and nutrients, spinach deserves its status.
Spinach the superfood
There are few vegetables that pack the kind of nutritional punch per gram. Don’t expect to get pumped up like Popeye (spinach has little protein), but it will supercharge your metabolism, immune system and… fertility?
Spinach contains a whopping 194 micrograms (half of the recommended daily value) of folate, a.k.a. vitamin B9, which is necessary for fertility in both men and women. So when your child eschews their spinach casserole, remind them that without spinach, they might not even exist.
This leafy green is also positively loaded with other crucial vitamins and minerals, including, but not limited to: additional B vitamins, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin E, manganese, magnesium and potassium.
Additionally, the carotenoids in spinach (and other vegetables) actually make people’s skin more attractive.
However, let’s get one old myth out of the way: Yes, spinach has a lot of iron – about 20 percent of your daily value per 100 grams, but it also contains a chemical oxalate, which stops the body from absorbing dietary iron. There are better places to get it, including red meat.
Other than that, however, the proof is in the salad. Spinach helps you get sick less, date attractive people and, eventually, have children – all for around US$2 per kilogram.
Spinach the ingredient
Enough about nutrition; what about taste?
This is what makes spinach really shine. Not only is it loaded with nutrients, it is also loaded with flavour and incredibly versatile in food.
Even eaten raw, its flavour is bold and unique and can carry a salad. Although a raw spinach salad won’t have the crisp freshness of iceberg or romaine lettuce, it carries more depth of flavour when combined with supporting ingredients such as sliced mushrooms, chopped almonds or dried cranberries. (Here is an awesome, easy spinach salad recipe by Ocean Spray.)
When cooked, spinach softens up and loses some of its bitterness and mineral-y aftertaste and lends rich, earthy undertones to almost any sort of dish, from creamy spinach pasta, to sautéed spinach with chicken, to a spinach and cottage cheese omelette.
By itself, spinach holds up well to simple boiling or sautéing with butter and garlic. It works as a quick, healthy side to all sorts of warm mains.
Here are a few quick and easy spinach recipes to try:
- Eggs Florentine (Williams Sonoma)
- Spinach Dip in Bread Bowl (Tablespoon)
- Spinach Lo Mein (Taste of Home)
And here are some more challenging confections to up your spinach game:
- Homemade Spinach Pasta (AllRecipes.com)
- Spinach and Feta Muffins (Taste.com)
- Spinach Soup (BBC Good Food)
Although spinach grows in winter, spring and autumn, it thrives in cool weather and makes for a robust winter addition to a backyard garden.
The first step is to pick a variety. There are many, but people often place spinach into two or three broad categories: smooth leaf and savoy spinach, or smooth leaf, crinkly savoy and semi-savoy spinach.
Chefs will quibble about their flavour profiles, but these are a few rules of thumb for the average gardener from Grow it Organically and The Spruce, and a very detailed step-by-step from The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
Editor’s Note: Isn’t Kale the best leafy green in the world, you ask? On October 3rd 2018 when we have to write a headline for Kale Day, it will be indeed! In the meantime, look out for an upcoming article on the great Spinach vs. Kale debate.