Spotlight on Spinach
Spinach, related to beets and chard, is one of our first local spring vegetables. Although readily available all year from places like California, nothing compares to the freshness of our own local spinach. Our main local spinach suppliers are Harmony Valley and Avalanche Organics.
First grown in Persia 2000 years ago, spinach is exceptionally rich in antioxidants like beta-carotene (which your body converts to vitamin A), lutein, and quercetin. Spinach is rich in vitamins and minerals too, especially folate (folic acid), vitamin K, magnesium, and manganese. It also contains more protein than most vegetables. Although the protein is incomplete, it is complemented by the protein in grains. Spinach contains oxalic acid and may prevent the absorption of calcium if eaten in large quantities.
There are three basic types of spinach. Savoy has crinkly, curly, dark green leaves, is usually sold in fresh bunches, and is particularly good in salads. Flat or smooth-leaf has unwrinkled, spade-shaped leaves that are easier to clean than savoy, and is often used in processed foods like canned and frozen spinach, soups, and baby foods. Semi-savoy is increasingly popular and has slightly crinkled leaves, ofering some of the benefits of each of the others. You might see any of these at the Co-op, depending on what's available.
In addition to bunches, spinach is also sold bulk (or loose) and in bags. Bulk spinach is easier to evaluate for quality, since you can examine each leaf individually. Choose small leaves with bright, deep green color, and a crisp, springy texture. Avoid leaves that are wilted, crushed, bruised, leathery, have yellow spots or insect damage. Fresh spinach should smell sweet, not musty or sour. Also, look for relatively thin stems. Thick ones indicate overgrown spinach, which may be tough and/or bitter.
Store unwashed spinach, refrigerated in a plastic bag, for up to one week. Freeze for long term storage. Blanch the spinach 1-2 minutes, then rinse with cold water and drain before packing in air-tight containers.
Fresh spinach, especially savoy, often has sand trapped in the leaves and stems, and requires careful washing. Don't wash before storage, though - it will wilt. Trim off any roots, separate the leaves, and drop into a large bowl of lukewarm water. Agitate gently with your hands. Lift out the leaves, letting the sand settle, then empty and refill the bowl and repeat until clean. Remove stems if they are thick and tough.
How can I use my spinach?
Raw: Use freshleaves in salads, on sandwiches, etc.
Sauteed: Washed, with some water still clinging to it, spinach can saute quickly in a small amount of oil, or in stock if you stir the leaves constantly while cooking. Try adding onion, garlic, or curry spices.
Steaming: Cook in a steamer over boiling water for 5-10 minutes.
Microwaving: Good substitute for steaming. Little nutrient loss. Place 1/2 pound of spinach (washed but not dried) in a microwaveable dish; cover loosely and cook until tender, four to seven minutes.
Add to soups, stews, stir-fries, or casseroles.
Combine with mint and feta cheese and stuff into chicken breasts.