Originating in the Middle East, spinach was being grown in Spain during the eighth century, and it was the Spaniards who eventually brought it to the United States.
Popeye's addiction to this "power-packed" vegetable comes from its being a rich source of iron, folic acid and vitamins A and C.
A cup of cooked fresh spinach provides more than the daily requirement for vitamin A and folic acid and contains nearly a day's worth of vitamin C and half a day's supply of vitamin E.
Though spinach contains iron and calcium, their nutritional benefits are somewhat offset by its high concentration of oxalic acid, which hinders their absorption, according to "Foods That Harm, Foods That Heal" (Reader's Digest, 1997).
But its dark-green leaves contain many other valuable nutrients, such as cancer-fighting antioxidants, carotenoids and bioflavonoids.
* Selection and storage: Spinach has dark-green leaves that, depending on the variety, can be either curled or smooth.
Choose leaves that are crisp and dark-green with a nice, fresh fragrance. Avoid those that are limp or damaged or any that have yellow spots.
Refrigerate in a plastic bag and use within three days. Spinach, which is usually gritty, must be thoroughly rinsed.
* Preparation: Spinach can be eaten either raw or cooked. To avoid overcooking, try steaming or stir-frying it.
Once washed, spinach is ready for the salad bowl. In the same amount of time it takes to make a salad, you can also cook a skillet full of steamed spinach.
Place leaves, either whole or chopped, in a preheated cast-iron or nonstick skillet on medium heat. Cover the skillet with a tight-fitting lid and let the spinach steam for a few minutes, or until the leaves have wilted.
As fresh spinach cooks, it expels natural moisture, so it's a good idea to drain cooked spinach well before serving it.
Many adults still harbor childhood phobias about spinach. To get your children interested in it, try topping a pizza or even a taco with the fresh leafy green.
* Nutritional highlights: One cup of chopped raw spinach contains 15 calories, 1.7 milligrams of iron, 259 milligrams of potassium and 4,460 international units of vitamin A.
Minestrone With Cabbage and Spinach
2 cups finely chopped celery
1 cup finely chopped onion
3/4 cup finely chopped leeks (white and pale green parts only)
1/2 cup dry white wine
9 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
4 cups diced green cabbage (about 10 ounces)
2 cups diced zucchini (from about 2 medium)
6 ounces (about 3/4 cup) acini di pepe or other small pasta
3 cups (packed) coarsely chopped fresh spinach
1/3 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
salt and pepper to taste
freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Combine celery, onion, leeks and wine in heavy large pot over medium heat. Simmer until vegetables are tender but not brown, stirring frequently, about 12 minutes.
Add broth and bring to boil.
Add cabbage and zucchini and simmer 10 minutes.
Add pasta; cover and simmer until pasta is just tender, about 10 minutes.
Add spinach and cook 5 minutes.
Stir in sliced basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Ladle soup into bowls and serve, passing grated Parmesan cheese separately.
-- From Bon Appetit magazine
Per serving: 227 calories; 11.08 grams protein; 28.47 grams carbohydrates; 6.662 grams total fat; 35.53 milligrams cholesterol; 2.456 grams saturated fat; 3.966 grams dietary fiber; 192.2 milligrams sodium