Spinach was first cultivated in Persia (now Iran) about 2,000 years ago. The earliest written record of spinach is Chinese, where it was referred to as the “Herb of Persia”. Interestingly, spinach was not eaten by the ancient Greeks and Romans, though today it serves as a staple vegetable in many traditional dishes in Greece. The Arab Moors introduced spinach into Spain in 1100 AD. By the 1300s, it had spread to Europe and Britain where it was popular in religious communities, particularly during Lent. It was being cultivated in North America by the early part of the 19th century.
You may recall Popeye, the cartoon character that made himself super strong by eating spinach. While Popeye may not have appeared to be the smartest sailor on the seas, it may surprise you to learn that in addition to acquiring his amazing strength from spinach, he was also protecting himself against osteoporosis, heart disease, colon cancer, arthritis, and other diseases by eating spinach.
Spinach is an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, beta carotene, Folate (a B vitamin), and a very good source of magnesium. These nutrients are important for maintaining a healthy heart. Spinach is also high in dietary fiber and contains a substance known as Cartenoids, that help to keep eyes healthy in elderly people and to fight prostate cancer. The vitamin K provided by spinach – almost 200% of the Daily Value in one cup of fresh spinach leaves – is important for maintaining bone health. And of course, from Popeye we learn cooked spinach is an excellent source of iron. Boosting iron stores with spinach is a good idea, especially because, in comparison to red meat, a well known source of iron, spinach provides iron for a lot less calories and is totally fat-free.
While spinach may not make you incredibly strong the minute you eat it, eating it regularly can improve your overall heath and help you avoid some very serious health conditions. It seems like Popeye was pretty smart after all. (Toot! Toot!).
Age to introduce: 8-10 months. Fresh spinach is high in nitrates. In little babies, under 8 months old, it si possible that nitrates can deplete iron stores causing anemia.
Family-Friendly Recipe: Popeye’s Stuffed Eggs
This recipe is a flavorful and interesting twist on deviled eggs. Serve them for lunch, snack or as a party appetizer. They are sure to be hit with kids (and adults too).
- 3 oz frozen chopped spinach thawed
- 6 hard-boiled eggs
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
- 2 Tbsp. milk (dairy or soy)
- 2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
- Dash of nutmeg
- Dash of black pepper
Cook spinach in the microwave for 3 minutes. Chop finely and set aside. Slice the eggs in half (lengthwise). Remove the yolks and place them in a small mixing bowl. Mash yolks with a fork. Add milk, mayo, cheese, spinach, nutmeg and pepper. Mix well.
Using a spoon fill each egg white half with the yolk mixture, cover and refrigerate until serving time. Can be made up to a day ahead.
Spinach For The Family
At the market: Choose spinach that has vibrant deep green leaves, and appears to be fresh, not wilted. Chopped spinach, a common ingredient in recipes, can be found in the frozen food section.
Storage: Fresh spinach will last for about 4 days when kept loosely packed in a plastic bag and placed in a refrigerator crisper compartment. Do not wash it before storing.
Preparation: The leaves and stems of spinach tend to collect dirt and sand, so it needs to be washed well before using it. If the spinach is very dirty, try swishing it around a bowl of cold water to remove the dirt. Remove any thick stems. If you are using spinach for salad, dry the spinach using a salad spinner or simply roll it up in a clean kitchen towel. If you are cooking it, there is no need to dry it.
Creative ideas to add more spinach to your family meals:
Simple creamed spinach: Cook a 10 oz. package of frozen chopped spinach. Drain well. Blend in 1 (3 oz.) package of softened cream cheese with chives. Add a dash of salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Heat up in the microwave for 1- 2 minutes. Serve.
Hearty creamed spinach: Make “Simple creamed spinach” (recipe above) and mix in 1 ½ cups of brown rice, and 1/4 cup chopped walnuts. Garnish with crumbled bacon (optional). Great for lunch or a side dish at dinner.
Spinach and Sweet Potato Risotto: Prepare risotto according to package directions. In a separate pan, sauté a medium-sized, diced sweet potato in 3-4 Tbsp olive oil until soft and nicely browned (about 10 minutes), add 2 cups of fresh, washed spinach. Toss gently and let the spinach wilt in the pan. Salt and pepper to taste. Mix spinach mixture with risotto. Garnish with grated parmesan cheese.
Spinach and blue cheese spaghetti: Cook spaghetti according to package directions. Sauté 2 cloves of minced garlic with 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a large saucepan. Add 14-16 ounces of chopped, fresh spinach leaves. Toss until the spinach is wilted. Remove from heat and add 1/4 cup of chopped walnuts and ½ cup crumbled blue cheese. Combine well. Serve spinach mixture over pasta.
- Substituting fresh spinach for lettuce on deli style sandwiches.
- Adding fresh spinach to a quesadilla or grilled cheese sandwich.
- Adding layers of spinach to your lasagna.
- Adding fresh spinach to tacos or enchiladas.
- Tossing fresh spinach into your favorite soup in the final minute of cooking.
- Making salads with spinach instead of lettuce.