This nutritious, leafy green vegetable isn’t just for Popeye – it’s delicious raw or cooked in a multitude of tasty dishes. Both the botanical and common name for this plant are derived from the original Persian aspanakh. It’s thought to have originated in ancient Persia: first evidence of cultivation is centered there and exiled communities from that country, such as the Parsee population around Mumbai, India, use it a great deal in their cooking.
How to Cook
You don’t even need to cook baby spinach to get its benefits – it’s a zesty addition to any salad or sandwich. Along with ricotta, use as a filling pasta, or with another white cheese like feta in pies or tarts. It’s a superb foil for eggs in such dishes as Oeufs Florentine, and the juice is a perfect natural colouring wherever a deep green is needed. During medieval times, spinach was also used to make sweet dishes – some food historians see the habit that some of us have acquired of adding a little nutmeg when cooking spinach as a remnant of this practice.
Spinach has the reputation of of being packed with iron, and children were forced to eat it in the belief that it would build them up and make them big and strong. Ironically, later analysis revealed that, somewhere along the line, a food chemist had misplaced a decimal point, leading to the belief that spinach contained 10 times more iron than it actually does. However, spinach is an excellent source of beta-carotene, vitamin B6, folic acid (very important if you’re in the early stages of pregnancy or planning to get pregnant), iron, and potassium. Help your body to absorb the vitamins and minerals by eating spinach with a sprinkling of lemon juice or with capsicums or tomatoes, all of which are rich in vitamin C, which helps the body’y. Spinach is also a rich source of other carotenoids such as lutein, which have an antioxidant effect. Recent research at the Harvard Medical School has indicated that a diet rich in carotenes may reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration, a common cause of blindness in the elderly.
During World War I. spinach juice was mixed with red wine and given to French soldiers who had suffered heavy blood loss. As spinach is rich in folates which help blood formation, this may have been based on more than just old wives’ tales. Spinach is yet another plant which started out as a medicinal aid, used as a laxative for the purgative action of the oxalic content – also found in rhubarb. In the UK country, it was also one of the ‘spring greens’ – young vegetable tops, nettles etc., which were eaten in the spring to ‘clear the blood’ after a winter of stodgy (and sometimes dodgy) food.