Popeye got it right: He really was strong to the finish because he ate his spinach!
Health Effects. Spinach is an excellent source of vitamin A and is also rich in vitamin C and folate. The plant’s health benefits stem from its high fiber content, which is associated with reduced risk of heart disease, and its abundance of beta carotene, which is a cancer deterrent. In fact, one recent study out of Japan found that spinach may reduce the risk of prostate cancer, while also warding off degenerative diseases. In particular, the lutein found in spinach is thought to protect against macular degeneration in the eye. Two caveats that may surprise you: Research has shown that frozen spinach tends to retain its carotenoid power longer than fresh spinach and that more lutein is absorbed by eating cooked spinach instead of raw.
Purchasing Spinach. Spinach can have either flat or crinkled leaves. Look for fresh produce that is slightly crisp and bright green. Avoid spinach that has yellowing leaves or bunches that are wet and rotting. Many consumers opt for the bags of baby spinach now readily available in most markets; although a bit pricier, these sealed leaves are usually triple washed. Spinach is also sold frozen or canned.
Storing Spinach. To store unwashed spinach, wrap it in a paper towel and place it in a plastic bag in the fridge. If you buy prewashed spinach in a bag, remove any yellowing or rotting leaves before refrigerating the package. Use within 2–4 days of purchase.
Preparing Spinach. Fresh bunches tend to be very sandy and need thorough cleansing. Place the bunch in a large bowl of water and swish around several times; put the spinach in a colander, then change out the water and repeat the process until the water becomes clear. Pat the leaves dry with a paper towel or dry them in a salad spinner.
Cooking Spinach. Spinach cooks quickly and does not require added water. Just put it in a pan, cover, and simmer for 2–4 minutes until it wilts. It can also be steamed or sautéed in olive oil with garlic for 3–4 minutes. Add a bunch to stews, soups or pasta dishes. Or serve alone using any of the following seasonings: lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, dill, parsley, basil, nutmeg or mushrooms. Creamed spinach can be added to soups as a thickener.