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Popeye Knew a Good Thing

Spinach plants growing in the gardenThe cartoon sailor downed a can of spinach any time he needed quick energy, but that habit wasn't just for comic relief.  Spinach has the healthy benefits of other green leafy vegetables, and it's one of the most nutrient-dense superfoods around. It's packed with vitamins K, C, B2 and E, and minerals, including calcium and iron.

Spinach plants grow best in well-draining, sandy loam and prefers a neutral to slightly alkaline soil.  Mix plenty of organic matter into the soil before planting.  Spinach loves water, so make sure not to let your plants dry out too much between watering. When the plants are a few inches tall, apply an application of nitrogen, then side dress with a fish emulsion a couple of times through the growing season.

Spinach leaves can bruise easily, so it's best to harvest by cutting leaves with a sharp knife.  For fresh spinach consumption, choose young leaves.  They're excellent served raw in tossed salads, or wilted with hot bacon-vinegar dressing.  Raw spinach can also be used as an edible garnish layer underneath a hot entrée or side dish. Spinach can be harvested as soon as the tender young leaves are a couple inches long, up to full-size at 6 to 8 inches in length. This plant can be harvested a few leaves at a time, or the entire top can be cut off about an inch above the crown, and it will keep producing new growth.

Cooking spinach is fast and easy.  It can be stir-fried, steamed in the microwave or boiled on the stovetop and served plain, with butter, with a splash of vinegar, or with a savory cream sauce. Spinach has a robust flavor that is more pronounced when cooked, and it can be enhance by garlic, cardamom, and smoky flavors. Leaves don't need to be cut before cooking as they wilt and cook down in size dramatically, so plan accordingly to ensure each diner has a full portion size.

Rinse spinach leaves thoroughly just before preparing to clean off all the sand that gets trapped in the curls of the leaves.  Spinach will keep in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week but it's best to not wash it beforehand.  Traditional methods of canning and freezing apply for all varieties of spinach.  However, the most nutrient benefit comes from eating the leaves raw and uncooked.

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