For many people, the mention of spinach conjures visions of a slimy green-gray vegetable pulled from a can and slapped on a lunchroom tray. Because of this appearance and the bitter notes of this green, spinach is often listed as a "least favorite" vegetable among children and adults. Despite this negative reputation, the humble green leaf is a low-calorie, nutritional powerhouse and, prepared well, is a tasty addition to your summer table.
Spinach comes in savoy, semi-savoy and flat leaf varieties, all of which can be found at grocery stores and farmer's markets. It is a cool weather crop grown best in the spring and fall, with some varieties capable of wintering over. Spinach grown in the heat of Utah's summer can pick up bitter notes or seed easily, though heat-resistant crops have become more common. Shade gardens and higher elevations where soil temperatures remain below 85 degrees can produce pleasant crops all summer.
When picking spinach from the store or the garden, look for a dark green leaf without spots or yellowing. Stems should be firm and not overly moist. Smaller leaves tend to have a sweeter taste with more developed leaves carrying more texture and slightly bitter notes. Spinach keeps well in the fridge for up to a week wrapped lightly in a paper towel to absorb moisture. Do not store it in plastic bags as these trap moisture and promote rotting.
Nutritionally, spinach packs a punch at only 7 calories per cup and 1 gram of dietary fiber. This vegetable is strong in vitamin K, vitamin A, folate, vitamin C and iron. These vitamins and minerals contribute to a healthy immune system, strong bones and help protect the heart.
In order to avoid slimy results, spinach should be prepared using a minimal amount of water. To steam spinach, wash the bunch and remove any undesirable leaves and stems, then lightly steam or pan fry using only the water remaining on the leaves and a little butter or olive oil. Like other hearty greens, spinach benefits from the addition of citrus and is delicious wilted in a bit of butter or grease from bacon or sausage, or served as a raw side or at the heart of a salad.
Raw, steamed, sauteed or parboiled spinach is a strong addition to your table and never needs to be green slime again.
Bacon Wilted Spinach
1 large bunch spinach, washed and stemmed
4-5 pieces of thick-cut bacon
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon fresh squeezed lime juice (optional)
1/4 cup slivered almonds (optional)
Cut bacon into 1/2-inch pieces and cook through. Turn heat down to medium. Remove bacon and about half of the bacon grease. Add washed spinach leaves to the remaining bacon grease and cook until just wilted and warmed through. Return bacon to the pan and spice with salt, pepper, lime juice and nuts. Toss to combine and serve warm.
Jana Brown is a freelance writer, wife and mother. She is an excellent cook and hopeful gardener. She blogs at cornabys.wordpress.com or tweet along @Cornabys.