I think of spinach as the trainer vegetable for dark leafy greens. It’s dark, it’s leafy, it’s green–but it’s far less dark-leafy-greenish than, say, kale or chicory. Once someone has spinach mastered, anything’s possible.
I’ve long been from the must-have-spinach-this-minute camp of spinach-eaters. I always assumed that was because of the lack of red meat in my diet and spinach’s through-the-roof iron levels. But then I found out that spinach’s superman iron content is a myth. A myth! (The kind of myth that puts marketing departments over the moon.) A 19th-century German study on spinach misplaced a decimal point and endowed it with ten times the iron it actually has. The mistake was discovered in 1937, but not before Popeye had already started promoting the he-man, muscle-popping strength of the vegetable.
Spinach does contain iron, but no more than other leafy vegetables–and the ironic (haha) part is that general literature suggests that the iron in spinach is not easily absorbed by the body because of the oxalic acid content in the vegetable. (Although I found this study which suggests that oxalic acid in fruits and vegetables is of minor relevance in iron nutrition.) Including a source of vitamin C with spinach is recommended to increase the iron absorption.
So if it’s not the supersonic iron levels that make me nuts for spinach, as I always thought–what is it? I think it tastes good, but the smell of it cooking clearly can’t wake me from sleep the way brewing coffee or baking cookies can. I go absolutely cuckoo to eat it, but I don’t dream of the flavor in the same way I crave pumpkin or black truffles. I don’t know what it is, I just have to have spinach; there’s definitely an invisible attraction there. So, I’m thinking it has something to do with this: flavonoids, vitamin K (1,000 percent of the daily recommended value in 1 cup of cooked spinach!), vitamins A and C, manganese, folate, magnesium, calcium, potassium, vitamins B2 and B6, tryptophan and dietary fiber. See? Doesn’t that make you want to eat spinach this very minute?
So go get some spinach! You’ll generally find spinach in one of two major categories: smooth and savoy (which is thicker, and curly or crinkled). There has been a lot of cross-breeding, so sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which. Regardless, wash spinach well, especially savoy types–and dry in a salad spinner or a pillowcase.
I like spinach just about anyway, except over-cooked and super mushy. I am particularly enamored by No Cream Creamed Spinach from White House chef, Cristeta Comerford. I can’t recommend it enough.