When vegetables are rated in terms of overall nutritional value, spinach is usually among the powerhouse veggies at top the list. It’s vitamin-rich and a good source of iron and fiber.
Spinach is a cool-weather green, and one of the first seasonal offerings at CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farms and and farm markets, or if you’re lucky enough, from your own garden. Like any veggie that can be cooked and eaten the same day it’s pulled from the earth, just-harvested spinach is incomparable. Later in the summer, you might like to explore Malabar and other varieties referred to as summer spinach; they have larger, thicker leaves and stems, more akin to chard than its small and tender cool-weather cousins.
Supermarket spinach often comes in bags marked “triple washed,” meaning that sand and grit trapped in all those crevices is not as much of a worry. Yet if this convenient type of spinach isn’t organic, skip it. Unfortunately, spinach almost always appears at the top of another kind of list—the list of top ten produce items to avoid in non-organic form.
Baby spinach is convenient to use since you need not stem; if you buy it organic, it needs only a good rinse, but even if it looks clean, don’t skip this step—you just never know!
No matter where you get your spinach, resist washing it until you’re ready to use it, as excess moisture will make it go bad more quickly. If you purchase it loose (that is, not in plastic bags or boxes), wrap it in paper towel, then in a plastic bag and refrigerate. Use as soon as possible, though it will keep for 3 to 5 days when stored this way.
Among the dark, leafy greens, spinach is among the quickest to cook (or you don’t have to cook it at all), and arguably the most versatile. Here are a few easy ways to get more spinach into your repertoire:
- Use it raw in place of lettuce in wraps and sandwiches.
- Toss some raw spinach leaves into most any kind of green salad.
- Stir it into most any soup at the end of cooking time for added color and nutrition, it will wilt practically on contact. There are few soups in which it isn’t welcome—from brothy Asian-style soups to hearty bean stews.
- Same with stir-fries and bean stews— just toss some spinach in once everything is done, and stir in until wilted for an added dose of green goodness.
- Don’t forget to add spinach to your smoothies! It’s a delicious addition to fruit smoothies, where it adds a lovely hue, but its flavor is delightfully subtle. For every smoothie (it’s great with apple, banana, and pineapple) just add a good handful of spinach leaves.
ROTINI WITH SPINACH, CHICK PEAS, AND SUN-DRIED TOMATOES (Serves: 4 to 6)
You need only a salad and some crusty bread to accompany this hearty pasta dish.
- 10 to 12 ounces rotini, rotelle, or cavatappi (spiral pasta)
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 medium red bell pepper, cut into strips
- 8 to 12 ounces fresh spinach, stemmed and well rinsed, and chopped (baby spinach leaves can be used whole)
- 3 medium ripe tomatoes, diced
- 16-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1/2 cup sliced sun-dried tomatoes, oil-cured or not, as desired
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Dried hot red pepper flakes to taste, optional
- Sliced fresh basil leaves or minced fresh parsley for topping
- 2 to 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts or chopped walnuts, optional
- Cook the pasta in plenty of rapidly simmering water, according to package directions, until al dente, then drain. Transfer to a large serving bowl.
- Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and bell pepper and sauté over medium heat until the garlic is lightly golden and the bell pepper is slightly wilted, about 3 to 4 minutes.
- Add the spinach, tomatoes, chickpeas, sun-dried tomatoes, and oregano. Stir together and simmer gently for 8 to 10 minutes.
- Combine the mixture from the skillet with the pasta and toss together. Season with salt, pepper, and the optional red pepper flakes. Toss again, sprinkle with the fresh herbs and optional nuts, and serve.
CITRUS-FLAVORED SPINACH AND BABY CORN SALAD (Serves: 4 to 6)
Here’s a lively salad that complements Asian-style stir-fries, tofu dishes, or noodles.
- 3 to 4 cups fresh spinach, washed and dried, stemmed, and chopped (small or baby spinach leaves can be left whole)
- 16-ounce can baby corn, drained
- 2 baby bok choy, stemmed and thinly sliced
- 1 heaping cup peeled, diced white turnip or daikon radish
- 2 medium carrots, sliced diagonally
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
- 2 tablespoons orange juice, preferably fresh
- 2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
- 2 teaspoons agave nectar
- freshly ground pepper to taste
- Combine the salad ingredients in a serving bowl and toss together.
- Combine the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and stir together.
- Pour over the salad just before serving and toss well.