Sat, Feb 06, 2016 - Page 12 News List

More than just good for you

Spinach is endlessly touted as being healthy, but the fact that it is also delicious is often neglected

By Ian Bartholomew  /  Contributing reporter

Spicy cocoa ribs with warm green lentil salad is perfect for the winter — warming, nutritious and full of flavor.

Photo by Ian Bartholomew

Spinach has long been promoted for its healthful benefits. So much so that its flavor, so delightfully bittersweet, is often forgotten about. My youth was dominated by spinach-popping Popeye the Sailor Man and boxes of frozen spinach, a green mush that seemed to have more in common with gardening mulch than with food. Neither made the vegetable appealing. The eagerness with which adults wanted to feed spinach to kids has probably bred a whole generation who find even the thought of the stuff off putting. It is in fact one of nature’s great culinary gifts.

Having endured the hectoring of health professionals and parents about the importance of eating all your spinach to make you strong and healthy, it is darkly ironic that spinach has now been shown to have dark secrets, or at least one dark secret. Last year it was ranked seventh in the Environmental Working Groups dirty dozen list of fruit and veg with the highest levels of pesticide residue. (It is the second highest vegetable, the top taken up with fruit. Apples rank at the very top, but at least those can be peeled.)

Writer Deborah Madison in her Vegetable Literacy goes so far as to say that spinach “is not good for you unless you insist on buying organic or you grow your own sans chemicals.” Fortunately, organic spinach is available from some of the better supermarket chains, and growing it is relatively easy. Most spinach that I’ve seen in Taiwan is sold at a relatively early stage of development, and these tender leaves only want the gentlest and quickest of cooking to bring out their lovely texture and color. And then of course, untainted by pesticide, the vast array of nutritional value is showered forth.

Spinach is regarded by many as one of the most nutritionally rich vegetables on the planet and as a member of the chenopod family, which includes amaranth, beets, chard and quinoa, it has many health benefits not readily available from other food families. It is particularly associated with growing strong bones, and is one of the best sources of bone-strengthening elements such as calcium and magnesium, as well as vitamins in the K group. It is also rich in iron, which plays a major role in the function of red blood cells that help transport oxygen around the body, in energy production and DNA synthesis. Given the very long list of vitamins and minerals it contains, and their many salutary effects on the body, it is probably sufficient to say that eating lots of organic spinach will help you live longer and stronger.

Popeye ate his spinach from a can, which is unfortunate since such storage would probably greatly reduce the availability of nutrients. The World’s Healthiest Foods Web site recommends boiling spinach to free up the oxalic acid and allow it to leach out into the water, which is then discarded. Oxalic acid is the element that sometimes makes your tongue feel a bit furry after eating spinach and one reason, other than the monotony about hearing about how good it is for you, that puts so many children off spinach.

The tender leaves that I have found most often sold in Taiwan are so delicate that boiling is unnecessary and tends to reduce the leaves rather quickly to mush. Personally I favor a light saute in oil with a bit of garlic, a process that needs only a couple of minutes. If you are feeling decadent, spinach has the capacity of absorbing vast quantities of butter, and cooking in butter, with the addition of cream, and even eggs, allows the transformation of this leafy green into a dish of satiny smoothness and splendid artery clogging richness.

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