About Spinach

This week’s lesson: Spinach!

Spinach is among the most commonly grown dark leafy green in North America. Originating at least 2,000 years ago in the Middle East, it is a close relative of beets and Swiss chard. This cool season crop can be sown from seed in the spring and again in the fall, and comes in many different varieties including crinkly leaf and plain leafed varieties.

How do you know when it is ready to harvest?
You can start harvesting spinach as soon as the plant has 5-6 leaves on it. Younger leaves have a tender texture and milder flavor than mature leaves. To harvest, just snip off the outer leaves about ¼ inch away from the stem and leave the inner ones to mature. The plant will keep producing more leaves as long as the weather is cool. Note that the smooth leaved varieties are easier to clean than the crinkly leaved varieties which tend to hold soil in their crevasses.

Once temperatures get hotter, the spinach will start to bolt, and you will see a seed head rising up through the middle of the plant. This is the time to pull out the plant, as the flavor will become bitter.

How do you store it?
Wash the spinach and dry well, so as to prevent spoilage. After washing, spinach can be stored in a damp paper towel or an open plastic bag in the refrigerator for about one week. If leaves begin to wilt, you can crisp them up by soaking them in a bowl of ice water for 2-3 minutes. The stems of mature leaves tend to be fibrous and may need to be removed before eating. To freeze spinach, blanch the leaves in a pot of boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Run under cold water immediately to stop the cooking process. Drain and store the leaves in an airtight freezer bag until ready for use. To thaw, simply steam lightly, toss into soups or stews, or thaw in the refrigerator.

How do you cook it?
Young tender spinach leaves are great as a base for any salad, especially when paired with cheese, dried fruit, or beets. It can also be used as a substitute for lettuce on sandwiches, or as a substitute for more hearty greens such as swiss chard or kale. You can even substitute spinach for basil in any pesto recipe. Spinach reduces significantly in volume when cooked; 2 to 3 lbs. of raw leaves will reduce to 2 cups when cooked. Try baking spinach into quiche, lasagna, or quesadillas. When steaming spinach, steam for no longer than 5-10 minutes depending on the size and maturity of the leaves. Steamed spinach can be tossed into your favorite pasta, or just eaten as a side dish seasoned with olive oil or butter, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

NUTRITION:

Dark, leafy greens are a healthy addition to your diet, and spinach is especially rich in antioxidants and nutrients; namely vitamin K, vitamin A, manganese, folate, magnesium, iron, and vitamin C.  It is also rich in zinc and selenium. Other benefits? It is low in calories with just ~40 calories/cup and a good source of fiber, providing ~4 g fiber/cup. Enjoy!

Courtesy of: Brita Siljander, Swedish Covenant Hospital dietitian

RECIPE

This recipe is a perfect way to use all of your seasonal fall garden veggies in one dish. Plus, nothing says Fall like a cobbler!

Autumn Vegetable Cobbler
Makes 4 servings

Filling:
1 small onion
2 tsp. olive oil
4 small red potatoes, cubed
2 carrots, chopped
¼ cup water
2 medium leeks, halved lengthwise and cut into slices
2 cups chopped fresh spinach
1 cup vegetable broth
2 tsp. all-purpose flour
3 TB minced fresh parsley
1 TB soy sauce
½ tsp. salt

Cornbread topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup cornbread mix
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. baking soda
2 TB butter or margarine, softened
¾ cup buttermilk
2 tsp. honey

Saute sliced onion in hot oil in a large saucepan over med-high heat until tender- about 5 minutes. Add potato, carrot, and ¼ cup water. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes. Add leeks and spinach, and cook 3 minutes until spinach wilts.

Whisk together vegetable broth and flour in a bowl until smooth. Add broth mixture, minced parsley, soy sauce, and salt into spinach mixture in the pan. Bring to a boil; cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Reduce heat to low; cook, stirring often, 5 minutes or until thickened.

Spoon vegetable mixture into lightly greased 8-inch baking dish. Drop cornbread topping by heaping tablespoonfuls onto hot vegetable mixture. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 min, or until golden.

To make cornbread topping:
Combine first 5 ingredients. Cut in the butter with a fork, pastry blender, or two knives until crumbly. Stir together buttermilk and honey and add to flour mixture til combined. Makes 6 cornbread rounds.

Recipe courtesy of Southern Living Magazine