First made famous by Popeye, spinach has long enjoyed its reputation as the vegetable of superheroes. But gone are the days of that overcooked, slimy mess from last century: spinach is delicious when fresh, with its peppery and aromatic qualities best displayed. It can also be lightly steamed, sweated in a pan with a knob of butter and crushed garlic, or tossed into a warm dish to wilt.
Not to be confused with the more frilly and shiny-leafed Swiss chard (which is in the same group and subfamily as beetroot), spinach has smooth leaves and tender stems, which can – and should – be savoured too.
This tremendously nutritious veggie is loaded with antioxidants, as well as vitamin A, C, E and K, magnesium, manganese, folate, vitamin B2, calcium, potassium, vitamin B6, folic acid, protein, phosphorus, zinc, niacin, selenium and omega-3 fatty acids. Like most of its green and leafy cousins, spinach is most prized as a rich source of iron.
• For a quick delicious side dish, cook polenta (as per the pack instructions) until it’s softened and smooth. Stir in a few tablespoons of mascarpone cheese and a handful of spinach leaves. Let the spinach wilt a little, then stir again and serve.
• Baby spinach leaves make excellent salads. One of our favourite combinations is with watercress, chopped spring or red onions, and avo, drizzled with a mixture of olive oil and lemon juice.
• Turn your chicken curry into a vegetarian one by replacing the meat with spinach and butternut.
• Give your dhal an extra nutritious kick by stirring in spinach at the end of the cooking process. Cook for a minute or two until the spinach is wilted.
• For a tasty breakfast salad, top a bowl of spinach leaves with crispy bacon and a poached egg. Drizzle with a dressing of white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, olive oil, garlic and a little salt and pepper.
By Linda Scarborough and Anelde Greeff