Thursday, January 19, 2012

Strong to the Finish - Spinach

Popeye picture - compliments of free Google Images

Family: Amaranthaceae (originally Chinopodiaceae)
Genus: (Spinacia oleracea)

When I was a kid I had a thing for Popeye cartoons. It was a mixture of Popeye’s more-than-muscular forearms sporting tattoos and bursting out of his cool sailor outfit, Wimpy with his passion for eating stacks of juicy burgers, and the strangely awkward Olive Oyl.  Here is what I figured as an equally awkward kid: if Olive could get Popeye and Bruto to swoon and fight over her, then all of us females had a chance for romance. Who knew that one day I would grow up and marry a man with only one good eye just like Popeye!

The spinach magic that Popeye used to boost his power was not lost on me; if my mom served it for dinner, I ate it – even if it had a slightly bitter taste. As I grew older, I realized the canned vegetables that Popeye devoured were inferior to the taste and nutritional goodness of fresh vegetables.  I wish I could have talked to Popeye about that and offered him a baby spinach salad.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard about the “super foods” – foods that are packed with a powerful punch of nutrition and should be included daily (or at least weekly) in the human diet. In my blog I have discussed several super foods (i.e. Yams/Sweet potatoes, cabbage). Spinach is one of the green leafy super foods. Read up on the fun facts I gathered from various sources and then check out the spinach salad recipe with pears and O & CO balsamic vinegar. Popeye, would devour this recipe and then go on to save the world. Well, somebody has to.

  • Spinach is a dark green leafy cold-weather annual. In most zones you can plant seeds in March and have baby spinach salads in about 4-6 weeks, then plant again in the fall for a later harvest.
  • Origin is not precisely known but spinach possible hails from Persia or Nepal. How exotic!
  • The Chinese consider it a “cooling” vegetable or having the yin effect of calming the body. It is helpful for people who often feel hot and perspire, have red eyes, skin issues, heart burn, and constipation.
  • Vitamin A – a whopping 31,882 IU of A (carotenoid form) and 1595 of A (retinol or RAE form) in a bunch of spinach (USDA Nutrient Data Library).  Vitamin A enhances skin and mucous membranes, vision, immune system, bone growth, infection fighting, and reproduction. It also reduces risk of cancer; also it is a skin-enhancing and healing antioxidant compound that fights free radicals.
  • Vitamin C – with almost 50% of the daily requirement in 100g of spinach, the positive healing properties of ascorbic acid are:  Anti-oxidant that boosts the immune system and assists the body in making collagen, a protein necessary for skin, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels. Vitamin C is needed for healing wounds and for repairing and maintaining bones and teeth (National Institute of Health).
  • Vitamin K – K for koagulation (German spelling), essential in blood coagulation and for bone strength and formation (Linus Pauling Institute). Spinach (100g) contains an amazing 400% of the daily requirement of K (USDA).
  • Folic acid or B9 - available in spinach and needed by the body to manufacture red blood cells; a Vitamin B9 deficiency can cause certain types of anemia.
  • Iron – 100g of spinach contains 25% of our daily requirement of iron. Iron, as part of the protein hemoglobin in our blood, carries oxygen from our lungs throughout our bodies as well as assisting our muscles to use and store oxygen. 
  • Spinach plays a pronounced role in healing age-related diseases. It contains zeaxanthin, a cartenoid, which when absorbed into the retinal macula lutea is beneficial in fighting Age Related Macular Disease (ARMD). In addition, the Vitamin K in spinach plays a role in limiting neuronal damage in Alzheimer’s and also is enormously important for bone strength and mass!
  • Contains oxalic acid - which can have the positive effect of stimulating colon activity but the negative effect of crystallizing as oxalate stones in the urinary track (so drink lots of water!) However, cooking/steaming will reduce the oxalic acid quantities.
  • Last but not least - there was an E. coli and salmonella scare in the last few years attributed to fresh spinach; this can occur in any agricultural environment. The situation  was investigated and corrected. Always be sure to wash your spinach very well making sure each leaf is rinsed. 
Spinach salad ala fancy balsamic vinaigrette and pears (note the O &CO balsamic vinegar)

SPINACH SALAD - ala fancy balsamic vinaigrette and pears

When Bumble and I were in Paris for a divine travel vacation, we stumbled across the 
O & CO on Rue Cler, a Mediterranean food merchant emporium specializing in all things created from the olive (olive oil, tapenades) along with products that compliment like vinegars, sauces, and crackers. It was here we sampled and tasted their best-selling “Premium Balsamic Vinegar of Modena.”  Quite frankly, it takes balsamic vinegar to a whole other heavenly level. Worth every cent of the $34 price tag, it will make anything you top it with sing an opera.  We were thrilled to find out we have an O & CO right here in Cherry Creek, and we don’t have to order this scrumptious vinegar from France.

1 package organic baby spinach (washed, drained and spun)
1-2 ripe pears sliced thin
1 C. cherry tomatoes (amounts can be adjusted)
½ C. dried cranberries or more to taste
½ C. honey roasted pecans or slivered almonds
½ C. crumbled goat cheese (Feta) - if you dislike goat cheese sprinkle on Parmesan instead
Note: add any other fresh vegetables you love such as avocados, peppers, green onions
Salt and pepper


2 T. Tamari or soy sauce
3 T. O & CO Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (really crucial to divine flavor see photo)
3-4 T. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Whisk the 3 ingredients together and adjust for flavor and consistency. Use your taste buds to determine. Toss with the spinach salad ingredients above and serve. Enjoy the benefits from all the vitamins and minerals!


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