How times have changed! To boomers, Popeye was a spinach chugging mariner. Today, when you Google the word, you are led to a string of references to Popeye’s Fried Chicken (quite delicious, by the way), with the burly sailor man relegated to the bottom of the list.
For many people, their only exposure to this leafy green was through the rather vile canned variety, wildly popular among sadistic mothers in the 1950’s. One of the few things myMEGusta’s non-cook mom did well was spinach, cooking it fresh and serving slathered with butter, and it was one of my favorite foods growing up. In fact, I never understood why people didn’t like it until the grayish, stringy canned variety turned up on a school cafeteria plate.
Rich in iron, spinach is also rich in irony, being a super healthy vegetable, but usually one of the naughtiest in restaurants, for example, the creamed spinach everyone loves in steak houses.
The happy marriage between butter and spinach is celebrated in the old French expression “Il n’y a jamais assez de beurre pour les epinards”, meaning, literally, “There is never enough butter for the spinach.”
Believed to have originated in Iran, spinach was even called “persian vegetable” when it was introduced to China, probably in the 7th Century. A few hundred years later, it traveled to Europe, again becoming wildly popular because it grows easily and is so versatile.
When you see the word “Florentine” in a menu description, it means that spinach is a primary ingredient. This tradition ties to Caterina de Medici, originally from Florence, Italy, who reportedly loved it.
A personal favorite in Greek restaurants is spanakopita, filo dough wrapped spinach seasoned with feta cheese.
And spinach is ubiquitous in Indian restaurants, known as “saag” on menus, often served sautéed with paneer, a fresh Indian cheese, often home made. A variation on this, called Sham Savera, appeared as the “Chef’s Signature Special” at Coromandel (an Indian restaurant in Stamford, CT): paneer cloaked in seasoned spinach, served with a honeyed tomato sauce and rice, just delicious.
As a side note, Sham Savera also seems to have something to do with Bollywood music, and readers who know what this is, please add a comment!