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Friday, July 29, 2011

SPINACH ( PALAK ) - HISTORY: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF SPINACH: SPINACH AND PINE NUTS STIR-FRY RECIPE


SPINACH, PALAK IN URDU, SPINACIA OLERACIA
Spinach is a native of south-west and central Asia, and comes in many forms. It is a member of the Amaranth family, Amaranthaceae, so is a close relative of the Elephant’s Head. It was not known to the ancient Greeks and Romans, because of its origins. The ancestor of spinach is thought to have been Spinacia telreindo an edible wild green which possibly came from the ancient Persian Empire, and which is still foraged for in modern-day Anatolia in Turkey. Spinach was cultivated by the Arabs in the 8th century AD and found its way to Spain with them by the 12th century. The first references to spinach in surviving literature is from Persian between 246 and 640 AD, and we know that it was taken from Nepal into China in 647AD where it became known as “the Persian green” a name by which it is still known today. It became a popular vegetable in France in the 15th century and in the 17th century the English philosopher John Locke who was a supporter of the French Revolution, mentions in his writing that he ate a soup of spinach and herbs while he was in France. He must have liked it to have written about it, I suppose.
  The Italians took to spinach and used it in the Arabian style, mixing it with pine nuts and sultanas, and in Turkey by the 13th century it was served with a garlic and yoghurt sauce with meat in much the same way as döner kebab is served today. The Italians, of all the Europeans have been the ones to most readily adopt new vegetables; just think of how much the tomato is associated with Italian cuisine.
  Red spinach such as elephant’s head has been used for its medicinal properties in the Asian subcontinent and China for centuries, and elsewhere it is used to relieve constipation and so help with piles, and for the skin, taken internally or externally. Bruised spinach is good for stings and insect bites and mixed with milk thistle (Silybum marianum) it has been a home remedy for poisoning by the Amanita mushroom, although if you suspect you have mushroom poisoning, go to hospital, don’t try to treat yourself! It is believed that the alpha-lipoic acid (also found in broccoli and red meat), which has antioxidant properties, may help against such poisoning, but this has not been proven.
  Spinach has also been used for anaemia, because of its iron content, think about Pop-Eye here, and it contains lots of vitamin C so can help in any diet, especially in summer when there is a dearth of fresh citrus fruit. The fibre in spinach is also good for the digestive system. The brighter the green of the spinach leaf, the higher the vitamin C content is.
  It contains all 8 essential amino acids and 10 others and is packed with nutrients, which are still being investigated by scientists. For example, the carotenoids “epoxyxanthophylls” abound in spinach and it is thought that these may protect against cancers despite the fact that the body does not absorb them as well as it does other carotenoids such as beta-carotene and lutein. Two of these are violaxanthin and neoxanthin which are found prolifically in spinach leaves, but scientists have yet to research their possibilities fully. The glycoclycerolipids which are necessary for photosynthesis to occur may from spinach at least help protect the lining of the digestive tract and prevent inflammation occurring in it.
  It is though that, like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts etc, consumption of spinach may protect against certain cancers, such as prostate cancer. The flavonoids present in spinach ensure that it has potent antioxidant properties, which also inhibit the growth of cancerous cells as they combat the free radicals which damage cells. Spinach contains vitamins A, K, 5 of the B-complex ones including B3 niacin, and folate. It also has most of the minerals, in particular potassium, but also iron, calcium, phosphorous, copper, selenium, boron, sodium, zinc, iodine (like laverbread), chloride, magnesium, manganese and sodium. Add to this Omega-3 and other “good” fats, and you can see for yourself how nutritious these leaves are.
  The carotenoid, lutein, contained in spinach is good for eyes and can help to at least delay the onset of age-related cataracts and macular degeneration. The body can absorb this better if it has a little oil such as olive oil with the spinach. In fact, you should at least blanch spinach leaves in boiling water for 1 minute to get rid of the oxalic acid in the leaves. It is doubtful that you could ingest enough to harm you by eating spinach, but perhaps it’s better to be on the safe side. You can refresh the blanched leaves in cold water to perk up the colour before adding to a salad.
  Spinach can boost the immune system, possibly protect against cancers and having anti-inflammatory qualities can assist in cases of arthritis, osteoporosis, asthma and migraines. It is also good for the heart and can lower blood pressure. The nutrients in spinach can also help protect the brain and its cognitive abilities from premature aging, and helps to retain memory. Not only does it do all these things when eaten, but you can also use it as a beauty treatment by making face packs with it. Try one of these: - for combination skin or problem skin (spots or acne) you need ½ a cup of spinach, 1 egg white and 1 tbsp of aloe vera juice. Blend these together or mash them and put the mixture on your face and leave it for 20 minutes; rinse off with warm water. This protects you skin from atmospheric pollution, smoothes out wrinkles, and nourishes the skin. Use this twice a week to get rid of spots and help with acne.
  For dry skin and wrinkles mix 2 tbsps cooked spinach with the same quantity of natural organic yoghurt and 1 tbsp of grated carrot. Use this face pack at night though as it can make the skin sensitive to UV rays. Leave this one on your face for 15 minutes then rinse off with warm water and use this mask twice a week for the best results.
  If your skin is sensitive, you should mix 2 tbsps cooked spinach leaves with the same quantity of fresh chamomile leaves and lettuce. Blend them together and leave on your face for 30 minutes before rinsing off. Again use this twice a week for the best results.
  Try our saag or spinach soup recipes or try this side dish given below. It’s good with fish, white or red meats and with pasta.

SPINACH AND PINE NUTS STIR-FRY
Ingredients
1 bundle of spinach, thoroughly cleaned and large stalks removed
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
50 gr pine nuts
20 gr sultanas soaked in lemon juice
1 small handful mint leaves shredded
freshly ground black pepper
olive oil for frying
freshly grated Parmesan cheese for topping

Method
Heat the oil in a pan and add the cumin seeds, then after 30 seconds add the onion and garlic and fry until the onion is soft and translucent.
Add the pine nuts and sultanas and fry for a minute or two.
Now add the spinach and stir until the leaves have wilted, and add the black pepper.
Stir for 5 minutes or less then remove from the heat and serve as suggested above.
Serve with Parmesan.
This has Taste and is a Treat.





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