Archive for June, 2010

Putting a Spin on Spinach Salads

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

When I was a kid, I thought that spinach tasted really yucky.  That’s because it did.  Partly because it was always served boiled.  The more palatable (and caloric) creamed spinach came later.  I knew that this vegetable was supposed to be healthy, thus an early and excellent example of the inverse relationship between something tasting good and something being good for you.  Maybe if we’d had The Barefoot Contessa’s recipe for garlic sauteed spinach, I would have felt differently.

If there was any question about spinach’s health attributes, however, we had only to watch one of our favorite cartoon characters, Popeye the Sailor Man.  I remember bits of his theme song:  “I’m strong to the finich, cause I eats me spinach . . . .”  After gulping down the contents of a can of spinach effortlessly cracked opened with his bare hands, Popeye would be magically transformed from scrawny weakling to Saturday morning super hero.  He inevitably creamed Bluto.  Bam!

In the 1930s, several years after the comic strip’s creation, spinach growers credited Popeye with a 33 percent increase in U.S. spinach consumption, thus saving the spinach industry!  There is even a Popeye’s brand of spinach.

Unlike some other food myths from our youth (e.g., margarine is healthier than butter), the research on spinach has held up. Scientists have identified at least 13 different flavonoid compounds in spinach that function as antioxidants and anti‑cancer agents.

At some point, we figured out that spinach didn’t need to be cooked to be both edible and enjoyable.  And that it could provide a fresh foundation for a tasty green salad.  While spinach salads are not as prevalent as their Cobb cousins, they are sprouting up more and more on restaurant menus.  Toppings include bacon, cheese, onions, hard-boiled eggs and dried cherries.   

Back to Popeye.  I just learned about a restaurant in Wicker Park called J. Wellington’s, named after J. Wellington Wimpy, Popeye’s burger-loving sidekick.   There are lots of luscious-looking burgers on the menu.  But not one salad, even a spinach one. :-(

Yours till the spinach leaves,
NJL