Popeye the Sailor Man had it right. Spinach is a wonderful veggie, one you can use in numerous ways, full of health, stamina, and strength for you. Thinking about cooking with spinach but don’t know how to start? Let us count the ways!
Spinach is a native in central and western Asia, but it reached popularity all over the world in the 30s thanks to the comic and cartoon character Popeye the Sailor Man. Isn’t that strange? How can one cartoon influence eating habits? Popeye attributed his strength to spinach, believed to be very rich in iron and the popularity of the cartoon helped boost spinach sales. This turned Popeye into the role model of healthy eating habits. A 2010 study revealed that children ate more veggies on the regular after watching Popeye cartoons. And so, people started to experiment cooking with spinach.
The name of spinach is actually shortened from 'the Spanish vegetable' – how it was called in England once upon a time. The veggie apparently emerged in old Persia and then spread to Nepal and China by the seventh century. There, it is still called 'Persian greens'. The Moors took it from Asia to Spain, and that’s how its European life began.
Spinach health benefits
While the content of iron and calcium is moderate in fresh spinach (which can be affected by oxalates, decreasing its absorption), it is very rich in vitamin A and C, making spinach salads perfect vitamin boosters. By cooking the spinach through steaming it, for instance, you destroy the oxalic acid, so the body can easily absorb the iron and calcium – which makes me think that Popeye's canned cooked spinach had super-strength powers indeed.
If you want to make even more out of the iron in spinach, then cook it lightly and add some vinegar or lemon juice over it. The acid component in both releases the iron and helps your body capitalize on it.
But what else does spinach do for you? Its abundant flavonoids keep cholesterol from oxidizing, and so they protect your body from free radicals, especially in the colon. Also, the high content of folate is good for your heart and cardiovascular system. Spinach is also rich in magnesium, which helps lower your blood pressure. According to some studies, your mind is also improved by this wonderful leafy green: by cooking with spinach you get to strengthen your brain functions, memory, and mental clarity.
How to choose spinach
When you are shopping for spinach, go for bright green leaves if you want to make salads or a dip. But if you choose to make stews or soups, choose the ones with a more intense color, aka more mature spinach. Avoid any yellowing and wilting and make sure the stems are a bit crisp. Store it in a clean plastic bag in the fridge and make sure not to wash it before you refrigerate it.
Cooking with spinach – a few ideas
Spinach is pretty much versatile because it works eaten raw, in salads, for instance, but it can also be cooked wonderfully and used in dips, soups, stews, or quiches. You can also use it as topping for pizza or work it in some sort of pasta dish. It will be absolutely great and healthy either way.
Use baby spinach in salads and mix it up with the different flavors and textures of other leafy greens, like arugula, or lettuce. Please add some cheese to that, as well. Goat cheese is an excellent choice for a spinach salad. And if you add some cherry tomatoes, then your plate will look and taste sensational. Other ingredients great for spinach salads are almonds and all types of berries.
What to pair it with
If you build a fresh dish with spinach or you cook it, one thing remains constant: you should pair it with ingredients that enhance the iron absorption in your body, like meat, fish, poultry, white wine, or peppers.
Make a cream soup out of spinach, blend it thoroughly, and add some extra flavors and texture with the help of some green or clove garlic (mince or crush the latter and sautee it a little bit). Top that soup with some pieces of boiled egg. Because spinach and eggs (even if you fry them, boil them, or combine them in an omelet or frittata) are a kick-ass combo!
When you make some spinach stew, you can make it with meat, rice, mushrooms, eggs, and cheese. And if you’re making a spinach quiche, there is a particular combo you just have to try: Cheddar cheese and mushrooms.
One of the benefits of cooking with spinach is that it has one of the lowest cooking times among vegetables, about 2-4 minutes, so it’s time-effective, too. What more could you want from that Popeye-endorsed veggie?