Spicy Braised Spinach

20150301_183129Spring is a great time to get good spinach, whether from the garden or the store. I had only canned spinach when I was growing up. (Hey, Popeye ate canned spinach!) I didn’t realize spinach was edible until I grew some myself. 😆 You can buy good fresh spinach at the store but if you want to have a little spinach patch, you need to plant soon. (Check to see when is the right time for your region.) It’s a cool weather crop; once the weather warms up it will “bolt”, which means flowering and setting seed. The good news is that if you plant an heirloom or open pollinated variety you can save the seed and plant it when you have cool short days again. The bad news is that the plants leaves become bitter when it bolts, so it’s best to stop harvesting leaves then.

The thing to keep in mind, though, is that spinach cooks down tremendously, so if you’re planting, plant a lot. When you’re cooking it, you can heap it up in a pot or pan and end up with very few servings. A big bunch of fresh spinach from the store will yield only two generous servings when cooked. If the bunch is not so big, two not-so-generous servings.

It cooks fast, so this should be the last thing you do for the meal. Wash the spinach and let it drain in a big colander while you prepare the rest of the meal. (Snip off most of the stems; they’re edible, but with a big bunch of spinach, there may be more stems than you want.) Then heat a small amount of garlic oil in a big skillet or pot. (I use Boyajians.) Using garlic oil adds a bit of flavor, but you really don’t need much oil. You can saute a small amount of garlic in oil before adding the spinach if you don’t have garlic oil.

A no fat option is to just put a tiny bit of water in the pan or pot. The spinach contains enough moisture to cook itself: a small amount of oil or water is just to get it started and prevent that bottom layer of leaves from sticking.

Heap the spinach in when the oil is warm. I cook this on medium or medium-low heat. The bottom layer will wilt very quickly. I turn the mass of leaves and move them around with tongs so they all get in contact with the bottom of the pan. After giving the mess of greens a couple of turns, sprinkle with Hungarian hot paprika, then mixed it all up, until all the spinach is wilted. This only takes a few minutes. How much hot paprika you sprinkle on depends on how spicy you want it.

The spinach, garlic oil, and paprika make a delicious broth. There’s not much of it, though. If you strain the spinach before serving, the broth would be a good over rice or mashed potatoes, or as an addition to a soup stock. Or you can serve the spinach — broth and all — in a bowl then turn the bowl up and drink it after the spinach is gone. 🙂


Big Green Monster

Ever since seeing Rene Russo blithely drink down glasses of a thick lumpy green liquid in the wonderful remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, I’ve wondered just what she was drinking. I looked around online, but couldn’t find out exactly what was in the movie. A friend of mine, however, turned me on to the Classic Green Monster. Which is green, but not lumpy or disgusting. According to the author she developed this recipe ten years after the movie came out, but I’ve got a good imagination so I can make myself a Big Green Monster in the morning and pretend I’m Rene Russo, the woman who single-handedly, with that one performance, made middle age look hot. (And I’m not talkin’ flashes, here.) 😉

I call my version a Big Green Monster both to distinguish it from the original and because it makes a lot—and I sometimes double the recipe. I didn’t pay any attention to the amount the recipe said so the first time I made it I was surprised when I filled one glass and had more left! (One regular batch makes at least 20 ozs!)

The changes I made in the recipe are:

I use 2% milk instead of almond milk. She’s a vegan; I’m a vegetarian. If you have problems with dairy, go with her choice.

I sometimes forget to peel and freeze the bananas. Not a problem. It’s fine if you make it with a room temperature banana. When I do freeze the bananas I break them into more or less equal pieces before freezing because it just seems like it would be better in the blender than a big frozen banana icicle. If you want to keep a stash of bananas in the freezer so you can make Monsters every day, this works out fine: use whatever number of pieces equal one banana (depending on how many pieces you slice or break the banana into before freezing). If part of a banana is bad, break off the bad part and add the remaining pieces as a bit of extra banana to future batches. Use ripe bananas. If the banana doesn’t have spots on the peel, it isn’t ripe. In my house, when I was growing up, we called those “sugar spots”. The more spots, the sweeter the flavor.

I usually use organic spinach instead of kale, but kale is good, too. My hands are small, so two handfuls for me may be less than you (or the original). It’s not brain surgery; don’t worry about exactly how much two handfuls are or what size bananas. You’ll have a tasty Monster anyway. I thoroughly rinse the whole bunch of spinach and keep it in a sealed bag or container in the fridge so I don’t have to wash spinach every time I make a Monster. Discard any leaves that look like they’re going bad.

I use smooth peanut butter for the nut butter. (Peanut butter and banana sort of go together. My mother loves peanut butter and banana sandwiches. So did Elvis. May be a southern thing.) I skip the chia or flax seeds —because I don’t keep these on hand (though that could change). For the protein power I use unflavored whey protein. The brand I use comes which a scoop and that’s more than one-third of the recommended daily allowance, so one scoop is adequate for me. Check your brand; your mileage may vary.The protein powder can be added at any point in the blending, even as a last ingredient. Blend well.

I usually add 2 ice cubes, but I use 4 ice cubes if the banana isn’t frozen — just to get a bit more “chill” in the drink. I also sometimes add 1/2 – 1 tsp ground ginger to the milk (depending on how much ginger kick you want your Monster to have). When fruits like dewberries, peaches, strawberries, and blueberries come into season, I’m going to try them and I’ll experiment with nutmeg and cinnamon, too. I’ve been hung up on the banana monster for several months and I’m ready to branch out. 😀 (I tried mixed summer berries and also dewberries and though the flavor is fine, the color is disgusting. If you use blueberries, raspberries, dewberries, blackberries, etc, omit the spinach because the green will push the color of the drink close to grey Ugh!.)

Occasionally I’ve added a few spoonfuls of nonfat unflavored Greek yogurt to the Monster when I’ve got a small amount of yogurt left over. In small amounts it doesn’t seem to affect either flavor or texture and it’s a good way to finish up that last little bit of yogurt in the container. 🙂

If you want, you can make a double batch. I do this sometimes so I have a ready-made Monster the next morning. If you do this, it’s a good idea to whip it in the blender again because it tends to get a bit sludgy in the fridge over time. I don’t notice this if I drink half a regular batch and then drink the other half later that day, but the texture does change after a day in the fridge. Running the blender again, makes it good as new. 🙂

I don’t think I’m quite carrying off the Rene Russo vibe with the kicky glasses (see below) I use for the Big Green Monster. Really, I’m more of a Scooby Doo kinda girl. 😉

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