“The Healthy Gourmet”

March 8, 2011


Spinach for Spring – Spinach is one of those hardy winter vegetables that is harvested locally and around the Southeast from late in the year through about May.  It’s a great crop for the home gardener and many bigger farms also have tasty spinach available right now.   In addition to being a great tasting, locally available product, it has some great health benefits (look what it did for Popeye!).

So what was it that made Popeye’s muscles bulge and allow him to finish off so many big bad guys?  Most likely Popeye’s strength came from all the Vitamin K in spinach – 1 cup of fresh spinach has over 200% of the daily requirement and 1 cup of boiled spinach has over 1000% of the daily requirement for most adults (boiling reduces the volume of the fresh leaves so 1 cup of boiled spinach has more spinach in it).   Vitamin K is extremely good for bone health by providing things than help prevent bone from breaking down and it also helps maintain calcium molecules inside the bone.  Spinach is also an excellent source of other bone-supportive nutrients including calcium and magnesium and it is a significant source of energy-producing iron.   Unlike Popeye, who could squeeze open a can, gulp it down and immediately sprout bulging muscles, it takes a bit of time for these benefits to our bones to occur – but keep eating spinach several times a week and you will see long term positive results to your health and vitality.

Spinach most likely originated in Persia (modern day Iran). Arab traders took spinach to India and then it went to China where the earliest recording of spinach was in 647.  Spinach first got to England and France somewhere between the 12th and 13th centuries where it was enjoyed because it was harvested in the early spring when other vegetables in Europe were not yet available, plus it was a good food to eat during Lent when other foods were restricted.  A fun fact about spinach dishes:  In 1533, Catherine de’Medici left her home in Italy to become queen of France and she so liked spinach that she insisted it be served at every meal. To this day, dishes made with spinach are known as “Florentine,” reflecting Catherine’s birth in Florence.

Storing spinach properly can extend its life by a few days.   Take the fresh spinach and remove any long stems; the leaves are usually small enough to leave whole but if you want them smaller then tear them – do not cut the spinach leaves.  Then put the leaves in a large bowl of cool water and swish them around, leaving them to sit for a few minutes.  This will let any dirt or sand fall to the bottom of the water while the spinach floats.  Lift the spinach leaves out of the water (don’t pour them out as this will let the dirt and sand that sunk to the bottom get all over the spinach) and place them in a colander or spinner to drain further.  Then place the spinach leaves on sheets of clean paper towel, roll them up loosely, and place the towel-covered spinach in a sealable plastic bag in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator.

Now, let’s eat some spinach!

Spinach Brownies                                         

Serves 24

Per Serving:   151 calories, 12 g fat, 6 g sat fat, 270 mg sodium

  • 10 ounces spinach, rinsed, drained, and chopped
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (may use whole wheat flour if you prefer)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk (may use 2%)
  • 4T butter, divided and melted
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 (8 ounce) package shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 8 ounces bacon, cooked, drained, and crumbled

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9×13 inch baking dish.

2. Place spinach in a medium saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer and cook until spinach is limp, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

3.  Sautee onion in 1T butter until tender.  Mix in spinach and mozzarella cheese, set aside.

3. In a large bowl, mix flour, salt and baking powder. Stir in eggs, milk and 3 T butter. Mix in spinach/onion/mozzarella cheese mixture and bacon, stirring gently.

4. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish. Bake in the preheated oven 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool before serving.


Spinach Pizza without the Red Sauce

Serves 8

Per Serving:  237 calories, 12.5 g fat, 568 mg sodium


  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons sun-dried tomato pesto
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil leaves (or 1 T fresh basil, chopped)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 unbaked pizza crust
  • 1 tomato, sliced
  • 1 bunch fresh spinach, torn
  • 1 sweet onion, sliced
  • 1 fresh jalapeno pepper, chopped
  • 1 (6 ounce) package feta cheese, crumbled (or mozzarella, if you prefer but the feta is great!)
  1. Preheat oven according to pizza crust package directions.
  1. In a small bowl combine butter, olive oil, garlic, pesto, basil, oregano and Parmesan cheese. Spread mixture evenly on pizza crust.
  2. Arrange tomato, spinach, onion and jalapeno on pizza. Top with crumbled feta cheese.
  3. Bake according to pizza crust package directions.

Salmon Florentine

Serves 4

Per serving 375 calories, 18 g fat, 4 g sat fat, 858 mg sodium


  • 2 (10 ounce) packages frozen spinach, thawed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup minced shallots
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 5 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets, rinsed and patted dry
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using your hands, squeeze spinach of all excess liquid.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and cook for 3 minutes until they begin to soften. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and cook an additional 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool approximately 10 minutes. Add ricotta and stir to combine. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Using your hands, pack approximately 1/2 cup spinach mixture on top of each salmon fillet, forming mixture to the shape of the fillet.
  4. Place fillets on a rimmed baking sheet or glass baking dish and bake for 15 minutes, until salmon is cooked through.