Market Mondays – Spinach

I’m a little late to the game with spinach – it probably should have made my list earlier in the year, seeing as it’s considered a spring vegetable. But it’s definitely still going strong at the markets, so better late than never.

Like our friend Popeye will tell you, spinach is a nutritional powerhouse, providing more nutrition, calorie for calorie, than any other food. 1 cup of cooked spinach offers over 1000% of our daily required intake of Vitamin K and 377% of our required Vitamin A. It’s also high in manganese, folate, magnesium, iron and Vitamin C. Spinach may contribute to heart health, better eyesight, better brain function from the high levels of Vitamin E, and better gastrointestinal function. It’s also got anti-inflammatory properties. Cooked spinach also provides energy, mostly in the form of iron.

Thought to have originated in Persia, spinach made its way to China via traders (roughly around 650 AD) where it came to be known as the “Persian vegetable”. Spinach was introduced to Italy and the Mediterranean in the 800s and from Spain made its way to Northern Europe. Catherine de’Medici was so enamoured of spinach that during her reign as Queen of France, she insisted it be served at every meal. Named after her hometown of Florence, to this day, dishes that feature spinach are typically called Florentine.

Spinach makes the list of the top 1o vegetables most likely to have come in contact with pesticides, so it’s not bad idea to search out organic products if they’re available. However, even organics are subject to contamination, as was demonstrated in 2006 and 2007 when products that had come into contact with e:coli and salmonella respectively made it to grocery store shelves. Since spinach is one of the few vegetables that are nutritionally better cooked than raw, consumers should consider eating it cooked whenever possible, and always wash it well.

Sold raw (in bunches or bags), frozen or canned, spinach is available throughout the year. It loses its nutrients quite quickly however, so canned or frozen is often a better option than stuff that has been sitting on store shelves (or in your fridge) for days.

When purchasing fresh spinach look for deep green leaves with no signs of yellowing or decay. Spinach needs to be washed well as it is grown in sandy soil, but do not wash it ahead of time as the extra moisture will cause it to spoil.

Spinach Empanadas with Tomato and Sweet Pepper Salsa
Empanadas de espinaca, piñolas, queso fresco y con salsa criolla
from Chef Carlos Fuenmayor, Executive Chef, Sabrosito

Makes 18 empanadas

3 cups flour (plus a little more for kneading)
1/4 cup cold water
1 egg
6 oz butter [diced and very cold]
Pinch of salt

In a bowl, beat the water and egg together. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix together flour, salt and add the butter, working the butter with you hands till become like a corn meal texture.

Add the egg and water mixture and turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface.

Knead it just until all the flour is incorporated and the dough is smooth.

Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

When you are ready to make the empanadas take the dough out of the fridge and cut it in half. Keep one half in the fridge and roll out the other half on a floured surface to about the thickness of fresh fettucini and cut the dough into 3-inch circles.

2 cups spinach, blanched and squeezed of all moisture
1/4 cup caramelized onions
1/4 roasted pine nuts
3 oz diced queso fresco
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all the ingredients and set aside.

Add 1-1/2 tbsp of filling, seal firmly with fingers or a fork.

Brush them with an egg and water mixture and bake at 325°F for about 15 minutes. Serve warm.

1 large red sweet pepper cut into a 1/4-inch dice
3 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 red onion, diced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/2 Serrano chili, seeded and finely diced
1/4 cup fresh coriander or Italian parsley
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
6 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

Combine all the ingredients and season. Cover and set aside so that the flavours can marry, about 1 hour. Best served room temperature.

Stewed Spinach with Peanut Sauce
From Kwanza Cookbook by Eric V. Copage (William Morrow and Co) via

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
3 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1-1/2 cups vegetable consomme
1/2 cup unsalted sugar-free peanut butter
2 Tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt, preferably sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
2 pounds spinach, well washed, stems removed, and coarsely chopped

Heat the oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven or soup kettle. Add the onions and bell pepper, and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the onions have softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the consomme and bring to a boil. Stir in the peanut butter, vinegar, salt, and cayenne. Add the spinach and cook, stirring often, just until the spinach has wilted, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings