Thursday, 8 August 2013

Spinach - not just for Popeye!


As a young child I enjoyed watching the cartoon Popeye the Sailor Man. One of the things I really remember about this character Popeye is that he used to guzzle down cans of spinach in most episodes. These were what gave him his superhuman strength and it was also a way of encouraging children to eat this vegetable. Apparantly it did work and two spinach growing towns in America have Popeye the Sailor man statues as a way of honouring him for boosting sales.

Spinach is a very nutritious vegetable. It is high in iron, calcium, potassium, folic acid and Vitamins A,C,E. These nutrients help boost eye, bone and neural health, the production of red blood cells and lower blood pressure. I was interested to read though that when the cartoon Popeye was first written (in the late 1920's) it was stated that spinach had ten times more iron than it actually had. This misprint was not fully publicised until 1981 in the British Medical Journal.

Spinach is a very versatile vegetable to use in cooking. It can be used raw in salads. It can be steamed (although it does shrink a lot) or stir fried. However my favourite way of using it is in curries. It can be quite a bland and bitter vegetable on its own so I find the spices in a curry enhance its flavour. Here are two of my favourite - Chickpea and spinach curry (which is really nice served with flatbreads), and Thai beef curry with spinach and new potatoes.

Chickepea and Spinach Curry
Serves 2
1 teaspoon Vegetable oil
1 onion peeled and finely chopped
1 garlic clove peeled and finely chopped
2 small to medium potatoes cut into 1cm dice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinammon
1/2 teaspoon of ground paprika
1/2 teaspoon of ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin
1 240g tin of cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained
200g tin of chopped tomatoes or 3 fresh tomatoes chopped
1 tablespoon of tomato puree
6 pitted dates chopped
150ml of veg stock or water
125g spinach or swiss chard (tough stalks removed) chopped
1 tablespoon of chopped fresh coriander

Heat the oil in a large pan
Add the onion and fry over a medium heat for 5-10 minutes
Add the potato and garlic and fry for a couple more minutes
Add the spices and fry for 1 minute
Add the chickpeas, tomatoes, tomato puree, stock and 4 of the dates
Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the potatoes are tender
Add the spinach or chard and simmer for a couple of minutes until wilted
Sprinkle with the coriander and the 2 remaining dates
Serve with warm flatbreads and some natural yogurt

Thai Beef with Spinach
Serves 2
225g of sirloin steak
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1 tablespoon of thai fish sauce
1 teaspoon of vegetable oil
1/2 tablespoon of black peppercorns
1 garlic clove chopped
1/2 tablespoon of soft light brown sugar
200g of potatoes diced
1/4 pint of water
3-4 spring onions chopped
100g of baby spinach

Cut the beef into thick strips and place in a shallow dish
Put the soy sauce, thai fish sauce, peppercorns, garlic and sugar in a food processor and process to a thick paste
Pour over the beef and stir to coat
Cover with clingfilm and marinade in the fridge for at least 3 hours or overnight
Heat the oil in a wok or large shallow pan
Lift the beef out of the marinade and fry for 3-4 minutes until browned
Add the reserved marinade, potatoes and water
Bring to the boil and simmer for 6-8 minutes or until the potatoes are tender
Add the spinach and spring onions
Cook until the spinach has wilted
Serve with basmati rice

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