Spinach, Prepare It Right And They'll Eat It.

Spinach is a much maligned vegetable, but oh, so good for you. It is the prep work and cooking that makes for delicious spinach.

Spinach, like asparagus or Brussels sprouts, has a taste that takes acquiring. Children, almost universally, hate spinach. In the 1950s, Popeye was first feeding spinach to Sweetpea, sitting there on his bicep. Popeye's great mission was to get children to eat their spinach.

Our ancestors grew spinach in their gardens right up until shortly before World War II, when canned vegetables became stylish. But in the 1950s, spinach came mainly in cans, and it tasted like it. It tasted like tin can. (Oh, the slime of it, the metallic taste that coated the mouth, the gagging goosh slithering down the throat, the repulsive yuck of it.) Then came along frozen spinach, which was marginally better, having as it does, almost no taste at all.

Fresh spinach? Who knew? Nowadays, fresh vegetables are both stylish and available, and, yes, if you prepare spinach right, they will eat it!

When buying fresh spinach, look for the leaves to be uniformly deep green, not yellowish at all, crisp and fresh smelling. Unless you have no choice, don't buy pre-packaged in cellophane spinach. It is old and tough already by the time it hits the supermarket. Buy the loose leafed spinach you yourself put into the plastic bag. It's the only way you will know what you are getting, short of growing it yourself. Spinach is extremely perishable and is best cooked within a few days of purchase.

The proper cleaning of spinach is very important. Even people who love spinach do not like gritty spinach and gritty spinach is one reason many people do not use the vegetable fresh. Do not rinse it as if it were lettuce. Do not scrub it as if it were a potato.

Fill your kitchen sink with water. Take the whole head of spinach leaves in one hand. In a firm, all at once motion, twist off the stems with the other hand. Dump leaves into the sink and, while the spinach is cleaning itself, pluck off the remaining stems.

The spinach leaves will float on top of the water. Any dirt or grit or sand will sink to the bottom. Skim the spinach leaves off the water with a colander and let the dirty water out of the sink. Repeat the process.

Overcooked spinach is a second reason people don't use it fresh.

To cook fresh spinach, dump the drained spinach into a pot. Leaving only the water clinging to the leaves from its wash, cover the pot and cook for 3-5 minutes. Spinach is a delicate leaf that cooks rapidly. If it is overcooked, it loses its tenderness and sweet flavor. It gains only in toughness and slime.

Drain the spinach and that's it. Spinach does not like to be boiled. All of its goodness is lost to the cooking water. If you enjoy it sautéed in garlic and oil, let the raw spinach drain very well, then toss it into the hot oil and move it around for two minutes.

Yes, that's all it takes.

And now recipe for people who don't like spinach:

Spinach Balls

2 heads chopped, cooked (as above), fresh spinach, drained well

2 cups Italian breadcrumbs

1 large onion chopped fine

6 beaten eggs

3/4 cup melted butter

½ cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon ground black pepper

½ teaspoon thyme

Mix all ingredients together and form into loose balls. Bake at 350 degrees on a greased cookie sheet about 20 minutes until spinach balls are brown. Serve as a side dish to fish, meat or chicken.

Eat your spinach; it tastes good!

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