Spinach (and how a typo shaped American spinach consumption)

It goes without saying that when many people think of spinach, Popeye comes to mind. I didn’t know until recently that it was a typographical error that encouraged the creators of Popeye to highlight spinach in their cartoons, and that the feature of spinach in Popeye triggered a massive jump in American spinach. There are far more dangerous instances of misinformation triggering behavioral shifts, but this one is one we can only assume led to more Americans eating veggies.

In the late 19th century, German chemist Erich von Wolf was examining the iron content in vegetables and inadvertently misplaced a decimal point, noting that spinach contained 35 mg of iron in a 100 mg serving – when the correct amount is 3.5 mg. Oops. You’d gain 35 mg of iron by eating a paper clip – which nobody is recommending! This typo led to spinach being marketed as some sort of iron dense superfood – and Popeye was featured eating spinach due to its legendary (though incorrect) iron properties. There are claims that Popeye’s dedication to spinach directly increased American spinach consumption by 30%.

My exposure to spinach as a kid was mostly in its frozen form (I’m not a huge fan). Discovering baby spinach as an adult and the many flavorful ways to enjoy it fresh has been a game changer. Cooked or raw, spinach is still a nutrient-rich way to get in your greens.

The Recipe(s): Spinach Pesto and Spinach Pesto Potato Salad from Vikalinka (Recipe is vegan-friendly if you skip the bacon)

Ingredients Needed: Potatoes, Radishes, Peas, Bacon, Microgreens

Pesto: Spinach, garlic, red wine vinegar, walnuts, fresh parsley, fresh cilantro, lemon juice, olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt & pepper

Potato Salad: 

I love a good creamy mayo-based potato salad, but I was up for trying something different to help use up the bulk quantities of fresh greens that spring provides. This spinach pesto was a refreshing twist on your regular potato salad and had the most lovely green, spring color. Pesto comes together in minutes in a food processor or blender. You can add radishes and bacon for a pop of color in your salad if it suits you. We enjoyed this as a side dish with grilled chicken.

The Recipe: Strawberry Kale Salad with Mint and Blue Cheese from Our Salty Kitchen

Ingredients Needed: Kale, spinach, strawberries, fresh mint, English cucumber, snap peas, blue cheese, chopped nuts

This salad has a great variety of textures and flavors to it – sweet strawberry, tangy blue cheese, tender spinach, fresh mint, crunchy nuts. Mix and match your salad mix-ins to fit your taste. I swapped almonds for walnuts and skipped the peas. If you’re using kale from your CSA, use this technique to make kale less tough and more appetizing eaten raw: 1. cut out the inner stem of each kale leaf. 2. Shred the remaining leaves into bite sized pieces. 3. Wash gently and dry with a paper towel. 4. Massage the leaves gently (a pinch of salt helps) with your fingers. The kale will begin to wilt with the warmth of your hands and the tough green will take on the tenderness that you’re used to in spinach or salad greens. Some recipes call for using oil to massage greens, this works, as well, but your salad won’t last as long with oil on it – make sure you’re planning to eat it within a day or two.

The Recipe: Instant Pot Chicken Saag from Curry Trail

 Ingredients Needed: Chicken, spinach, butter, cumin, garlic, ginger, onion, chiles, coriander, turmeric, garam masala  

I first discovered saag (green curry) many years ago during my first CSA subscription. In that CSA, I found myself with a giant quantity of dandelion greens and not a clue how to prepare them. I made saag on the stovetop (it took hours) and while it was delicious, I didn’t make it again for years until I found this recipe using spinach. If you’ve never tried a green curry, this one is not spicy – fear not! It’s rich and flavorful and is a wonderful way to incorporate a lot of greens (4 oz per serving!) into a meal. We love saag over jasmine rice or cauliflower rice. Check your local grocery store for naan to serve with this dish, too!

The Recipe(s): Spinach Tortellini Salad from Salt & Lavender 

Ingredients Needed: Salami, cheese tortellini, red onion, grape or cherry tomatoes, salt and pepper. (Optional dressing: olive oil, red wine vinegar, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, sugar).

My favorite thing about this salad is that you can easily serve it two drastically different ways with one simple switch. Want a chilled pasta salad to serve as a side at a cookout? Keep the proportions of spinach and tortellini maintained (2 cups + 20 oz, respectively). Want a green salad with occasional bites of cheesy pasta? Flip the proportions, doubling up on the spinach and halving the pasta (4+ cups + 10 oz.). It’s delicious either way!

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