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November 01, 2023

You Can't be my Friend, if you Love Spinach

Did you know that about 2000 years ago spinach originated in Persia or present-day Iran?  About 650 years later it made its way East and was introduced to India and then China.  Another approximately 200 years later, it was introduced to Sicily, Italy.  In the 12th century, it made its way to Spain and appeared on the tables of France and England in the 14th century.  According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 26.3 million tons of spinach were produced in 2018, with China accounting for about 90% of that production.

Spinach is a very healthy food, which is full of nutrients and antioxidants.  It has 23 calories per 100 g (or 3.5 ounces), is comprised 91% of water, and is high in insoluble fiber. It provides over 10% of your daily allowance in Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), B6, and E, and 25% of your daily allowance in Vitamins A, B9 (Folate), C, K, it is full of the following minerals Calcium (10%), Iron (21%), Magnesium (22%), Manganese (43%) and Potassium (12%) among others.

You can enjoy it raw as well as cooked.


A Personal Battle

Here is my relationship with this versatile vegetable:

As a small child, I was a very finicky eater.  Food just was not my friend.  - - My husband claims, it was because my mother was such a bad cook, but that is beside the point. - - My eating likes and dislikes defied all logic.  Little by little, as a new food would be introduced, the struggle between my mother and me began.  I would be sitting in my high chair and she has positioned in front of me a bowl of food in one hand and a baby spoon in the other.  In the picture below, my body language suggests who might be the winner of the battle ahead of us.  “Bring it on, Mom!  I dare you.”

What's for dinner? Spinach

As she would dip the spoon into the bowl, my lips would slam shut.  She would lift the spoon full of food and would start making airplane noises, trying to cajole me into opening my mouth, as the spoon would make its “flight” towards my mouth.  My lips would not budge, the hangar was closed!  I gave her the “You don’t fool me” look.  She shot me back one of those “I’m the parent here, and I know what’s best for you” looks.   I followed that up with the “Game On” look!

This was followed by Mom making airplane noises, the spoon full of food circling in front of my face and mouth.  She would start making other funny noises and faces until I finally started to laugh.  Oh no!  I accidentally opened my mouth laughing.  Ugh, she got me and had successfully jammed a spoonful of food into my mouth.  Sheer terror on my part followed:  strange flavors hit my taste buds.  My tongue felt different textures.  No!  This is not good.  This is not what I expected.  I don’t like this stuff.  My only defense was to promptly spit it back out.  Score: a tie, 1-1.

This repeated itself for the rest of the meal. At the end of the ordeal, my mom was at wit's end, absolutely beside herself. 

The worst ever episode was when she tried to introduce spinach into my diet.  By the time mealtime was over, the kitchen looked like a battlefield and both of us like wounded warriors.  My father came home from out of town amazed at the scene that awaited him in the kitchen.  My mother crying in hysterics.  I was crying, utterly inconsolable.  There was pureed spinach EVERYWHERE: on the floor, on the walls, in my hair, on my bib, on my clothes, on the high chair, in her hair, on her clothes.  Simply put, the kitchen was green, there was creamed spinach everywhere!  As long as either one of us lives, I will NEVER hear the end of the spinach story!  I don’t know, who was more stubborn.  My mom trying to feed me, or me refusing to eat that stuff.

What is a young mother to do?

Exasperated about the daily feeding fiasco, she consulted our pediatrician and reported, that the only food I would not spit back out was apple sauce, mashed bananas, and pureed carrots.  Actually, to my credit, I would eat anything as long as it was sweet.  Realizing this, she confessed to the doctor, that in order to trick me into eating other foods, she had resulted to dip the tip of the spoon full of the foods I had rejected in sugar.  Only if I could taste the sugar first, would I open my mouth.  “Well,” he advised, “if that’s the only way she will eat, then go ahead.  You don’t want to starve her to death.”  -  "She’ll grow out of that phase soon enough!"

For the longest time, spinach was on the top of the list of the foods I really hated.  Again, maybe it was the way it was prepared.  Oh, to me, it had the worst aftertaste.  It was like eating metal.  Plus, it felt like it left “fur” on my tongue and teeth.  Just horrible!  That taste would linger in my mouth for hours.  

As soon as I saw spinach on the supper table, I would hide.  To no avail.  I was “tortured” to finish what was on my plate.  My mother would always say “We don’t waste food.  Eat your dinner.  There are so many starving children in the world who would be happy to have spinach for dinner.”  - “You know I hate it. I don’t want it.” -  “Spinach is good for you. You WILL eat it AND like it!”  - “I don’t want it.  Give it to my brother.”  -  “I am not running a restaurant here.  Everybody gets the same. Eat it, it’s good. And, young lady, you can’t go outside and play, until you finished and your plate is clean.”  Torture!  Absolute torture!

You Can't be my Friend if you Love Spinach

Skip forward a few years to when I was six years old.  A new family moved into our neighborhood.  Their little girl, Anja, was my age.  I was pretty shy, so she approached me.   As little kids do, when they first meet, it’s 100 question time.   She asked “what is your favorite color” – “Blue, what’s yours?” - “Red. What’s your favorite food?” – “Spaghetti.  What’s your favorite food?” – “Spinach! ……” – “Spinach!”, I interrupted in horror, “I HATE spinach!  You can’t be my friend, I HATE spinach.”  - Disgusted, I turned around, walked away towards my home, and just left her standing there.  Alone.

Despite this episode, we soon became best friends.  Amazingly, to this day, many, many years later, as adults, and separated by continents (she still lives in Germany), we still are friends.  A few years ago, in a conversation about how we met, we marveled at the fact that we have been friends since we were both 6 years old and played together in the sandbox.  Then she confessed to me how deeply I had hurt her feelings that day saying she could not be my friend because she loved spinach.  I’m glad, that Anja was able to forgive me and overlook my shortcomings and my hurtful words.  Lifelong friendships like that are so rare. 

The Cure

Sorry to jump around in the timeline here.  It was not until I was about eleven years old and my tonsils were taken out, that I started to have a better relationship with food. Since then, I have really grown to like and enjoy food.  Gee, was there a connection?  One can only hypothesize. 

Since then, I LOVE food.  And I LOVE spinach. 

When I was older, my mother would often remark, that she hoped that when I had children, that they would be a finicky eater just as I had been.  It would be payback for the torture I had put her through.  She was so happy to hear that when I introduced spinach into my son's diet, he screamed, too! 

Her Schadenfreude (joy at someone else's misfortune)  did not last long though, and quickly turned into disappointment when I told her the reason he had screamed - was for MORE spinach!  He loves the stuff!  Sorry to disappoint you, Mom!  In this case, this early aversion to food and spinach seemed to have skipped a generation.  The lesson here is: never wish anything bad on others! 

Easy Microwave Spinach Recipe

My favorite way to prepare Spinach is just to simply steam it in the microwave. 

  • Fill a large bowl (I use my salad spinner) with cold water.  Submerge the spinach leaves, gently moving the leaves around in the water to loosen any dirt.  Drain, rinse, repeat until the water is clear. 
  • Using a salad spinner, spin the leaves dry.  No salad spinner? No problem - place them in a colander, shake out as much water as you can, then dump small portions on a clean dish towel, pat dry.
  • Place the leaves in a microwave-safe dish.
  • Add a Table (soup) spoon of water
  • Cover and microwave on high for 1 to 2 minutes depending on your microwave.
  • Serve immediately
You may sprinkle it with a pinch of salt, and a few drops of lemon juice to taste, however, I prefer it plain.

This cooking method preserves all the nutrients and delicate flavors of spinach.  To me, this method results in a slightly sweet taste.  No wonder, it was and is Anja’s favorite, and now mine too!   

Enjoy and Bon Appetit

Final Thought: I don’t know, how my mother prepared this lovely green when I was little to have that horrible, mystery metallic taste. Although my research confirms, that overcooking this delicate vegetable, will cause it to be quite slimy and make it bitter!


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