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Be strong to the finish with spinach dishes

Be strong to the finish with spinach dishes
Be strong to the finish with spinach dishes
Suetta Tingler

A wise-cracking, one-eyed sailor claiming his hometown to be the small Mississippi River port of Chester, Ill., began making headlines with his superhuman strength during the Depression Era of 1929. The comic character, Popeye the Sailor Man, was created to boost the eating of spinach during a difficult time period in the United States. The influence of Popeye’s superhuman strength from eating his spinach gave reason for Americans to increase their consumption of the green leafy vegetable by a whopping 33%.

In the U.S., California and Texas lead the way in spinach production, but the highest producer in the world is China, where spinach is called “Persian Green.”

Popeye was right to spread the word that spinach is a “green worth celebrating.” The reputation of spinach has continued to evolve through the decades from that of disgust to being one of the most nutrient-rich foods one can include in their diet. A relative to beets, spinach is loaded with beneficial nutrients that include iron, calcium, vitamins A, C and K and provides antioxidants to promote healthy eyes and muscle strength and is believed to reduce the risks of cancer and diabetes.

Unfortunately, superstars often have their downside; likewise with spinach. Spinach contains oxalates, compounds that can contribute to the formation of kidney stones for those sensitive to such problems. Oxalates also have the potential to aggravate arthritic gout as well. The absorption of iron contained in spinach can be hindered by oxalates, thus not allowing our bodies the full benefits of iron stored in the green leaves. Knowing this, it’s a good idea to include acidic foods, like those containing vitamin C, when eating spinach since they can reduce the effects of oxalates. Consider drinking a glass of orange juice, including a side that includes tomatoes or simply adding a splash of vinegar or lemon juice to your spinach before eating.

Good cooks have also come to know that many spinach dishes require an acidic flavor to counteract the general bland taste of spinach, therefore the reason for the inclusion of butter or cream in various spinach recipes.

To reap the maximum health benefits, it’s best to eat spinach cooked rather than raw. Cooking is also another way to reduce oxalates. Try steaming, boiling sautéing or stir-frying. When making a smoothie, it’s a shame not to toss in a handful of spinach leaves. Youngsters often like the taste of cooked spinach and apples blended together.

Spinach contains vitamin K, a vitamin that promotes blood clotting. If you are taking blood-thinning medications, it’s best to check with your doctor before following Popeye’s advice to eat your daily spinach.

Spinach is a cook’s delight because of its versatility with so many ways to prepare. It’s available throughout the year with peaks in the spring and fall since it grows best in cooler weather.

The window for consuming fresh spinach is fairly short because it loses nearly half of its major load of nutrients quickly even if refrigerated. In order to keep nutritional benefits high, prepare within two to four days of purchase. Rather than to put on hold, freeze spinach to prevent spoilage and save nutrients.

The varying amounts of nutrients found in spinach can depend upon the soil its grown in and the season planted. Most commercial spinach is grown in sandy soil, making it easy for leaves to easily trap dirt and grit. It’s important to thoroughly clean spinach by placing in a sink or large container of cold water; swish and immerse. Let stand for a few minutes to allow the grit to sink to the bottom; repeat twice. Flat leaf spinach is much easier to clean than the crinkled leaf varieties.

When preparing fresh spinach, be aware that it shrinks by 90% when cooked. One pound of fresh will yield about 3/4 to 1 cup cooked.

In dishes where spinach plays a significant role, the term “Florentine” is often included in the name. This honor is due to the fact that the King of France married Catherine de Medici, who was a native of Florence, Italy, and who was known to have been obsessed with eating spinach.

Hints and tips:

•It’s spring, time to plant in a garden spot for your personal use.

•Canned spinach has a lower cost per serving compared to that of fresh or frozen.

•Include a layer of spinach in lasagna.

•Try adding spinach and onions to scrambled eggs.

•Add l can drained spinach to 1 pound of meat when making meatballs.

Popeye would say, “I ain’t no tailor, but I sure know what suits me.”

I’m betting he would love the ease and taste of the following recipes.

CHICKEN FLORENTINE
2 (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach
3 whole chicken breasts, skinned, boned, halved
1 rib celery, diced
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
Dash white pepper
1 cup light cream
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Dash ground nutmeg
Cook spinach according to package directions; drain well. Place chicken in a saucepan with celery, onion, salt and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until chicken is tender, about 20 minutes. Remove chicken from broth. Strain broth and reserve 1 cup. Discard vegetables. In a saucepan, melt butter and blend in flour and pepper. Stir in reserved broth and cream. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Remove from heat; stir 1/2 cup of the sauce into the drained spinach along with half of the cheese and nutmeg; spread in a 10x6x2-inch baking dish. Arrange chicken on top. Pour remaining sauce over all. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and more nutmeg, if desired. Bake, uncovered, at 375 degrees until lightly browned, 25 to 30 minutes.

CREAMED SPINACH
(“Harry Caray’s Chicago
Restaurant” cookbook)
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Black pepper
1 pound fresh spinach, cleaned and stemmed
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Regglano cheese
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the heavy cream, butter, nutmeg and pepper to taste. Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Blanch spinach by placing in boiling water for 1 minute and then rinsing with cold water. Squeeze out the excess water. Slowly add the spinach to the heavy cream mixture and return it to a boil. Toss in the cheese, remove from the heat and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

MONTEREY SPAGHETTI
(Taste of Home magazine)
4 ounces spaghetti, broken into 2-inch pieces
1 large egg
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 (10-ounce) package frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1 (2.8-ounce) can French fried onions, divided
Cook spaghetti according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a bowl beat egg; add sour cream, Parmesan cheese and garlic powder. Drain spaghetti; add to egg mixture with Monterey Jack cheese, spinach and half of the onions. Pour into a greased 2-quart baking dish. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until heated through. Top with remaining onions; return to the oven for 5 minutes or until onions are golden brown. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

SPINACH SQUARES
(“Best of the Best from New England” cookbook)
2 (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach
3 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 pound mushrooms, sliced
4 eggs
1/4 cup fine dry bread crumbs
1 (10-3/4-ounce) can cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 teaspoon each pepper, dried basil, dried oregano
Place spinach in strainer; rinse under hot water to thaw. Press out water. Melt butter in skillet; add onion and mushrooms and cook until onion is soft. Beat eggs with fork. Add bread crumbs, soup, 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, pepper, basil, oregano, spinach and onion mixture; mix well. Pour into well-greased 9-inch square baking pan. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake, uncovered, at 325 degrees for 35 minutes or firm when touched lightly. Cool slightly; cover and chill. Cut into l-inch squares for appetizers and serve cold, or reheat to 325 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. Yields 7 dozen.

Good food,
Good memories

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