Plant Answers  >  Enjoying Texas-Grown Spinach

Enjoying Texas-Grown Spinach
Dr. Jerry Parsons
Texas Agricultural Extension Service
San Antonio, Texas

To be aware of and concerned about one's health, fitness, and life is the latest "fad" in America. A strong part of this "new" awareness is the understanding that in order for the body to thrive and perform, it must be well nourished, rather than just well fed.

But what exactly does nutrition mean? The dictionary defines it as the process by which the food material taken into an organism is converted into living tissue. The USDA simplifies this by saying that food is essential for the energy we need to move, breathe, think, and grow. The nutrients in food maintain the building, the upkeep, and the repair of the body tissue as well as the basic functions of the body.

The nutrients which the USDA finds valuable for good health are: food energy, expressed in calories; protein, fat and fiber; calcium, phosphorus, iron, sodium, potassium, thiamin (Vitamin B-1), riboflavin (Vitamin B-2), niacin, ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), and beta-carotene (Vitamin A).

America is in love with salads. The fast food restaurants have salad bars now which makes it easy to enjoy a quick lunch of fresh, tasty vegetables. Whether you're creating that salad at a restaurant or in your own kitchen, it is good to know what is nutritional.

The main ingredient of a salad is obviously the leafy stuff. Most of us are proficient at growing the salad additives such as tomatoes, broccoli and carrots but I will bet my hat that few of us have grown an acceptable lettuce crop. By "acceptable" I mean crunchy and sweet - - anyone can grow leaf lettuce and it tastes as its name implies, like leaves. Most of us want crunch and sweet when we eat lettuce. The best way to get both is not to grow lettuce but to grow spinach.

Nutritionally speaking, spinach is a super-champ of the vegetable garden. Spinach has twice as much protein, calcium, iron, potassium, Vitamin A, Vitamin B, and B-2, niacin and Vitamin C as any other of the leafy greens.

Spinach is easy to grow especially in this area of Texas. Commercial growers in this area produce 90 percent of all the spinach consumed in the United States and almost 50 percent of the entire world's supply.

Spinach is an unusual vegetable. It shares the honor with asparagus of being a dioecious plant. That is, unisexual with pollen-producing male flowers on one plant and seed-bearing female flowers on a separate plant. Spinach is classified as a "very hardy cool season crop." Although it can be grown almost anywhere in the Unites States, it does best at a mean temperature of 50 to 60 degrees F. If planted in late spring, when hot weather is approaching, the plant will quickly form a flower stalk, going to seed after the development of only a few leaves.

Spinach varieties are available in flat-leaved, semi- crinkle-leaved (semi-savoy) and crinkle-leaved (savoy) types. The flat-leaved types are best suited for canning and the crinkle- leaved types are best for fresh use. Because of the fungus diseases which damage spinach growth and leaf appearance, only certain varieties should be used. Spinach is a cool-season crop which should be planted from seed in September. Spinach seed germinates very poorly in warm soils. Therefore, to avoid a poor stand, the first planting should occur when soil temperatures are 75 degrees F. or below which is now the case. Soil temperatures in this range will occur about 8 weeks prior to the first anticipated fall frost.

Additional plantings can be made up until about 6 to 8 weeks before temperatures are expected to drop near 20 degrees F. at which temperature spinach is often damaged or even killed. Gardeners in this area can continue planting right through winter and into early spring. Spinach should always be seeded directly in your garden. Ideally, there should be sufficient moisture in the soil at planting time to result in germination and emergence of the seedling without having to apply additional water. If soil is too dry when it's time to plant, consider watering several days or so before planting to supply the needed moisture. Applying water after planting to supply the moisture needed for germination often causes seedling diseases and is best avoided.

The seed can be scattered or broadcast over the top of the bed, or it can be planted in rows. Generally, planting in rows is preferable since weeds which emerge near the spinach seedlings can be more easily removed. If your planting bed is about 20 inches wide, 4 rows of spinach can be seeded across the top, leaving plenty of room for the plants to develop.

Regardless of your planting system, the seed should be covered to a depth of one-half inch. Always use more seed than needed to ensure a good stand. Depending upon conditions, the seedlings should be up in about 7 to 10 days. About 2 weeks after emergence, thin the seedlings to a spacing of 4 to 6 inches apart.

About 10 days to 2 weeks after thinning, you should stimulate the growth of your spinach with a light application of nitrogen fertilizer. Use about one-half pound of ammonium sulfate (21-0-0) for each 30 feet of row planted in spinach. Apply the fertilizer to the side of the plants and then water it in lightly.

As your crop of spinach grows, its important that you provide sufficient soil moisture. Remember that spinach has a rather shallow and limited root system, with most of the feeder roots in the top 8 to 10 inches of soil. Therefore, frequent watering is necessary.

Approximately 6 to 10 weeks after planting, depending upon the variety and the weather, it's harvest time. You'll note that as the weather cools down your spinach will take a little longer to fully mature and will grow more upright. Generally, spinach that matures when temperatures average between 50 degrees and 60 degrees F. will be fuller-bodied and of higher quality.

Harvesting is usually done either by removing the older, outer leaves, or by pulling up the whole plant. A third method that works quite well is to harvest foliage with a sharp knife, leaving the crown or growing point of the plant and roots in place so that a second crop can be produced by the same plant. A light application of fertilizer (ammonium sulfate) and watering should follow this type of harvest to encourage new leaf growth. Europeans and Americans eat the leaves which are dark green with rounded leaf edges. However, entire plants with red roots and dandelion-like leaves are preferred in Japan. The simplest and most nutritious way to eat spinach is raw in salad substituted for, or with, lettuce. When cooking spinach, care should be taken not to overcook it, boiling away flavor and nutrients. To cook it successfully, wash and put it in a covered pan with only the water clinging to the leaves. Steam over a medium flame for 3 to 5 minutes. Butter, bacon bits, or sauteed onions can be added for complementary flavoring. More elaborate spinach dishes include Eggs Florentine (poached eggs placed in spinach and hollandaise sauce), spinach-stuffed tomatoes, spinach quiche and spinach fondue. Other interesting dishes are spinach potato soup, spinach cheese balls deep fat fried, spinach-shrimp omelet ring, spinach and chicken or ham - - Chinese style, spinach and shredded beet ring, and spinach-tuna salad.

So, if you're not already growing some, plant and start eating nutritious spinach - - insure a sweet crunch.

To view a Comparison of Spinach and Lettuce Nutrients, please click here.

Spinach Recipes:/Recipes/spinach/spinach&lettucenutrition.html


Leaf Spinach (Blattspinat)
2 lb+ leaf spinach
2 medium onions
3 oz butter or margarine
Salt
Freshly ground pepper
Grated nutmeg
Cooking time
Variation: 3 peeled, crushed garlic cloves 2 tbsp pine kernels
Sort and wash the spinach and place in a colander. Peel and dice the onions. Melt the butter or margarine in a large saucepan and sautJ the onion; add the wet spinach. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and grated nutmeg and cook over a low heat, stirring carefully. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 5-10 minutesSautJ the garlic with the onions. Lightly roast the pine nuts in a dry saucepan and serve with the spinach.
Vegetables are best prepared by 1) cleaning immediately before use; 2) washing before cutting; 3) never leaving to soak in cold water, but briefly rinsing under cold running water; 4) cook gently, braised in their own juices, steaming or in foil. Cook "al dente" or for a short time so that they retain their minerals and fresh colour.

from Dr. Oetker German Cooking Today-The Original by Ceres Verlag, English translation copyright1997, Bielefeld, Germany.

Spinach Hollandia
2 lbs fresh spinach (or 2 packages at10 oz.ea)
4 slices bacon, diced 2 tablespoons wine or cider vinegar
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1. Remove any coarse outer leaves and stems from the spinach; wash leaves well; drain. Pile into a large skillet. (No need to add any water.) Cover.
2. Bring to boiling, then steam 3 minutes, or just until leaves wilt; drain well.
3. While the spinach cooks, saute bacon until crisp in a small skillet; drain on paper towel. Remove pan from heat; pour off all drippings, then measure 3 tablespoonsfuls back into the pan.
4. Stir in vinegar, salt and pepper; pour over the drained spinach; add bacon and toss lightly to coat well. Serves 6.
from The Family Circle Cookbook by the Food Editors of Family Circle Magazine and Jean Anderson. 1974.

 

For a step-by-step procedure to grow spinach, follow the recommendations for Mustard and Turnips at this link..

More Recipes......

Chicken and Spinach Lasagna
Use the type of pasta that you don't have to cook ahead, and the recipe will be even easier to make. It also can be made ahead and frozen for up to a month.

1 tablespoon butter or margarine
½ large onion
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 (10 1/4-ounce) can cream of chicken soup, undiluted
1 (16-ounce) jar Alfredo sauce
1 (4-ounce) jar diced pimento, drained
1/3 cup dry white wine
½ teaspoon dried basil
1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg, lightly beaten
9 lasagna noodles, cooked, or use a no-bake variety
2½ cups cooked chicken, shredded
3 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
Melt butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and mushrooms and saute' until tender. Stir in soup, Alfredo sauce, pimento, wine and basil. Reserve one cup of this mixture for top of lasagna. Drain thawed spinach well by pressing between layers of paper towels. Stir spinach, ricotta cheese, Parmesan and egg together. Place 3 lasagna noodles in a lightly greased 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Layer with half each of the sauce, spinach mixture and chicken. Sprinkle one with 1 cup of the Cheddar.

Repeat procedure.
Top with remaining 3 noodles and reserved sauce. Cover and chill for up to one day ahead or cover tightly and freeze for up to one month. Bake in preheated 350-degree F. oven 45 minutes.
Sprinkle with remaining 1 cup Cheddar, and bake for approximately 5 to 10 more minutes until cheese is melted. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Makes 8-10 servings
==============================

SPINACH SALAD with RASPBERRY VINAIGRETTE
From Country Lifestyle

1 bag spinach
2 heads Boston lettuce
Kiwi
1 pint strawberries
avocados
2 tablespoons toasted almonds
2 cups raspberry vinaigrette

Wash and break Boston lettuce, remove stem and wash spinach. Slice kiwi, strawberries, and avocados. Marinate avocados in raspberry vinaigrette. Toss all ingredients together and top with raspberry vinaigrette then serve........Country Lifestyle
============================

RASPBERRY VINAIGRETTE DRESSING

1 cup raspberry wine vinegar
2-1/2 cup salad oil
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoon sesame seeds
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 tablespoon Worchestershire Sauce
1 tablespoon paprika

Mix raspberry white vinegar, sugar, sesame, seeds, poppy seeds, Worchestershire sauce and paprika together. Slowly add salad oil, mixing well till thick. Pour dressing over spinach salad and serve.

*NOTE: Do not pour dressing over salad until ready to serve.==============================
Strawberry Spinach Salad
Shirley Johnson, retired from the Texas Cooperative Extension
DRESSING
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1½ tablespoons minced onions
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
½ cup oil
SALAD
1 bag baby spinach
1 bag spring greens
3/4 cup sliced almonds
1 pint strawberries
2 tablespoons butter
Mix all the ingredients for the dressing and set aside.
Saute/toast almonds in butter (be careful not to burn almonds)
Slice strawberries
Mix the greens, spinach, strawberries and almonds.
Add the dressing.

Serves about 6-8

===============================
SPINACH SALAD
Judy Edwards, retired from Texas Cooperative Extension

1 pound fresh spinach -I love the baby spinach when I can get it 4 hard cooked eggs, mashed
8 to 10 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled (reserve 2 Tablespoons of drippings)
1 to 1 ½ cups of fresh mushrooms, sliced
Dressing:½ cup of vinegar
1 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon of prepared mustard
½ onion, cut into chunks
1½ cups salad oil
2 Tablespoons of bacon drippings

Wash spinach. Drain and tear into bite size pieces. Refrigerate. Combine and dissolve dressing ingredients except onion, oil and drippings in saucepan. Boil for 1 minute. Cool to lukewarm. Pour into blender. Add onion. Pulverize. Continue blending while adding oil and drippings. Pour over spinach just before serving. Sprinkle eggs and bacon over top. Serves 8.

The dressing makes quite a lot, and I keep it in the refrigerator all the time. It is always very popular when I take it places.

Lots of times I use Mandarin oranges and red onion rings rather than the bacon and eggs, etc. OR 1 can water of chestnuts, 5 strips bacon and ½ cup of chopped green onion make good additions to a pound of fresh spinach. It's pretty hard to mess up spinach as far as I am concerned!
==============================

Florentine Artichoke Dip

Spinach, artichoke hearts, and two cheeses blend beautifully in this dippers.

1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed

2 (6 ½-ounce) jars marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

1½ (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

1 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese

½ cup mayonnaise
3 large garlic cloves, pressed

2 tablespoons of lemon juice

1½ cups French bread crumbs (homemade) (See Note)

2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

DRAIN spinach; press between layers of paper towels to remove excess moisture.

COMBINE spinach, artichoke hearts, and next 5 ingredients in a bowl, stirring well. Spoon into a lightly greased 11 inch x 7 inch baking dish. Combine bread crumbs and butter; sprinkle over spinach mixture.

BAKE, uncovered, at 375 degrees F. for 25 minutes. Serve with assorted crackers, bagel chips, or bread sticks. Yield: 4 cups.

NOTE: To get 1½ cups of French bread crumbs, tear off a piece of a baguette. Pulse in a food processor until coarse crumbs form. Measure crumbs, tear off another chunk, and repeat procedure until you get 1½ cups.
=============================

Leaf Spinach (Blattspinat)

2 lb+ leaf spinach
2 medium onions
3 oz butter or margarine
Salt
Freshly ground pepper
Grated nutmeg
Cooking time
Variation: 3 peeled, crushed garlic cloves
2 Tablespoons pine kernels

Sort and wash the spinach and place in a colander. Peel and dice the onions. Melt the butter or margarine in a large saucepan and sauté the onion; add the wet spinach. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and grated nutmeg and cook over a low heat, stirring carefully. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 5-10 minutes Sauté the garlic with the onions. Lightly roast the pine nuts in a dry saucepan and serve with the spinach.


Vegetables are best prepared by 1) cleaning immediately before use; 2) washing before cutting; 3) never leaving to soak in cold water, but briefly rinsing under cold running water; 4) cook gently, braised in their own juices, steaming or in foil. Cook for a short time so that they retain their minerals and fresh color.

from Dr. Oetker German Cooking Today-The Original by Ceres Verlag, English translation copyright1997, Bielefeld, Germany.

================================

Spinach Hollandia

2 lbs fresh spinach (or 2 packages at10 oz.ea)
4 slices bacon, diced
2 tablespoons wine or cider vinegar
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

1. Remove any coarse outer leaves and stems from the spinach; wash leaves well; drain. Pile into a large skillet. (No need to add any water.) Cover.

2. Bring to boiling, then steam 3 minutes, or just until leaves wilt; drain well.

3. While the spinach cooks, sauté bacon until crisp in a small skillet; drain on paper towel. Remove pan from heat; pour off all drippings, then measure 3 tablespoonsfuls back into the pan.
4. Stir in vinegar, salt and pepper; pour over the drained spinach; add bacon and toss lightly to coat well.

Serves 6.

from The Family Circle Cookbook by the Food Editors of Family Circle Magazine and Jean Anderson. 1974.

 


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