We who have lived in the Upper Midwest for many decades intimately know of this phenomenon called winter. Currently, extended regions of the country are learning about the perils of the frigid season. We may not realize how much it can alter routines like our eating habits until we start to crave fresh, green vegetables. For me, that usually comes at about the same time that the New Year’s resolution to eat healthier comes back around.
Dark green, leafy spinach is one of my must-haves as it supplies crunch, versatility and nutritional benefits. Although I would rather purchase veggies in season at the peak of their flavor preferably at a farmers’ market, it is these cold winter days that force produce purchases at the grocery store. I want to eat fresh veggies but I don’t want to have too many around and have to waste them. I’m most pleased when I find those ingredients that have multiple uses. Spinach can go way beyond crunchy raw salads in its varied uses.
I rarely have a problem using it up before its shelf life. Baby spinach and spinach blends are usually sold ready to use and will say triple washed on the label. I can buy a package and put some on my sandwiches I will make for my work lunch, throw some into the skillet with eggs, or right at the last minute with pasta or skillet potatoes. A simple grilled cheese sandwich can be stacked with spinach. Because spinach can be eaten raw, just barely cooking it works great, using the heat of the skillet after removed from the heat to quickly warm it up.
Salad mixes, with spinach as a main character, will offer even more variety. They can be sold under the name of “power greens” or “antioxidant blend” and might include spinach, arugula, mizuna, chard or kale. I often prefer a large leaf spinach, rather than baby spinach. I prefer the fuller flavor of the large leaf and its ability to hold up better to a light sauté or a toss into pasta. One of my favorite kitchen smells is spinach when it hits a warm pan. It smells green. OK, my kitchen nerd is now clashing with my passion for veggies! But, it does, truly smell like green if green had a smell. I envision the dark green leaves being opened up with the heat, ready for our palette.
Better yet, a nutritionist will tell you the darker the green the more nutritious the veggie, packed with vitamins and minerals, especially helpful when fending off winter colds and flus. Spinach and other dark leafy greens are an all-around beneficial choice. Oh yes, I almost forgot the crunchy deliciousness. Spinach is so much more flavorful than lettuces. There is a proper place for a lettuce, a Caesar salad, for example, but I will, almost always, opt for spinach or a dark leafy blend.
And because of the sturdier leaves, they will hold up to heartier winter salad ingredients like segments of orange, toasted nuts or seeds, aged cheeses like parmesan or roasted, sliced root vegetables like beets. One word of wisdom about crunchy raw salads: use a mixing bowl and cautiously add the salad dressing and toss with the ingredients rather than drizzling the dressing over the salad, so the salad isn’t overdressed. Although I try to use as little kitchen ware as possible when preparing solo, it’s worth using the extra mixing bowl for tossing and have a well-dressed salad.
Spinach will almost always be in the crisper drawer of my refrigerator. It has become one of my essential ingredients that can help me stick to my year-long resolution of being kind to myself and can enliven the craft and finesse of eating solo.