Ingredient focus... spinach
Nutritionist Jo Lewin highlights the benefits and the myths behind Popeye's veg of choice...
Spinach is believed to be of Persian origin. By the 12th century, it spread across Europe and became a desirable leafy green known for good health; a reputation that stands firm to this day. The name Florentine is often used to describe dishes containing spinach (and a creamy sauce). It is thought that this name dates back to the 16th century and the Italian wife of France's Henry II; Catherine de Medici. The unverified tale states that Catherine introduced spinach to the Court of France and to honour her Italian heritage, she then decided to call any dish containing spinach Florentine.
Spinach belongs to the chenopodiaceae family (also known as goosefoot), a family of nutritional powerhouses including beets, chard and quinoa. It shares a similar taste profile with these two other vegetables; the bitterness of beet greens and the slightly salty flavour of chard. There are three different types of spinach generally available: savoy, semi-savoy and smooth leaf.
...The popeye effect
There is much lore regarding spinach, most famously as the source of Popeye's strength. When faced with the sight of trouble, pipe-smoking sailor-man Popeye would burst open a tin of spinach. Once consumed, his biceps would bulge and his new found strength would see him overcome his enemies. Although there is definitely lots of goodness in those leaves, the legendary statue Popeye bestowed on it is slightly inflated.
Spinach is available all year round but is in season during the spring (March - June). It is well known for its nutritional qualities and has always been regarded as a plant with remarkable abilities to restore energy, increase vitality and improve the quality of the blood. There are sound reasons why spinach would produce such results, primarily the fact that it is rich in iron. Iron plays a central role in the function of red blood cells which help in transporting oxygen around the body, in energy production and DNA synthesis. Spinach is also an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C and folic acid as well as being a good source of manganese, magnesium, iron and vitamin B2. Vitamin K is important for maintaining bone health and it is difficult to find vegetables richer in vitamin K than spinach. Others include kale, broccoli and green cabbage.
...Don't be shy with your portions when cooking spinach. Its high water content means it reduces in size by about a quarter when cooked.