In this article, we will tell you the best season for spinach, how to choose good spinach and the recipe for steamed spinach buns that can be easily prepared at home, which is delicious when fresh-ly steamed.
Wanting to grow vegetables that will make people happy
Looking for spinach in the peak season, we visited the spinach field of farmhouse Kiredo, in Yotsukaido, Chiba Prefecture. Kiredo is run by a staff of four people, led mainly by Takashi Kurita who interestingly enough was an engineer previously, and now grows about 150 types of vegetables a year. Apparently they liked tasty food more than anything else, and as they tried growing vegeta-bles they liked, they suddenly ended up with as many as 150 different vegetables.
“When I worked in an office I gave the vegetables I had grown in my home garden to some people and they were very happy. I realized that more than my engineering job, I could make others happy with the things I created with my own hands, and I got hooked,” says Kurita.
Kiredo grows a type of spinach known as curly spinach. Compared to regular spinach, the leaves are different. This is because they are grown out-doors in the cold, frosty season, so the leaves spread horizontally instead of upwardly, trying to cap-ture the warmth of the sun.
“Curly spinach is difficult to grow. Regular spinach can be harvested within one to two months, but the curly spinach takes about three months. If you plant it too early it withers. Because it has to be nurtured for a long time, it is also more susceptible to climate and temperature change,” says Ku-rita.
Coldness and frost are the keys to sweet spinach
When we tasted the curly spinach that was freshly picked, we were surprised that the leaves were strong and thick. It almost seems like a completely different vegetable from the spinach we are used to. Even when we eat it raw, there is no sharpness or harshness that comes with leafy vegetables. Instead it tastes sweet and has a strong flavor. Apparently that is because it is fed with ample miner-als from oyster shells and deep sea water, and grown in harsh conditions without much fertilizer.
Also, curly spinach becomes sweeter when the temperature drops and frost covers the ground. When we visited the farm the lowest temperature was -4ºC and the frost had just begun to form. It is hard for farmhouses to work in this weather, but Kurita looks somewhat happy, saying “Finally the spin-ach will amass flavor and get tasty.”
Kurita told us how to choose tasty curly spinach. “Spinach is basically best in the winter, but the peak season for curly spinach is December to February when we get frost. If the spinach is dark and blackish, it got too much fertilizer. It is best to pick curly spinach whose middle part is light colored and leaves are strong and thick.”
Making use of spinach’s sweetness and color
We asked confectionery researcher marimo to devise a confectionery that is perfect for this season, with Kiredo’s curly spinach.
“Spinach in peak season is especially high in nutrition. You want to proactively eat it. When you make confectionery with spinach, mild sweetness lingers on and there will be no unwanted green smell. Curly spinach is especially sweet so you can use it as if it is a natural sweetener,” says marimo.
Apparently spinach is perfect for colorful confectionery because spinach’s green color stays intact even when it is heated. It only needs to be boiled for 30 seconds to remove the bitterness. Spinach turns even brighter green when dipped in boiling water.
The boiled spinach is put into a food processor with milk or other liquids, and can be pureed. Ac-cording to marimo, the puree is a great ingredient for chiffon cake, muffins and steamed buns.
This time she came up with a recipe for steamed spinach buns for us, which was colorful with a pumpkin topping.
Warm and nutritious confectionery for winter
Even though it is starting to get warmer, it is still cold and we cannot slack off. When it is cold like this, we always want to enjoy something warm, be it a meal or teatime snack.
“If you prepare this confectionery by hand you can enjoy it fresh from the steamer. You can make steamed buns easily with a saucepan, without using the oven. That way, beginners can easily try it. If you cannot get curly spinach or butternut squash, you can use regular spinach or pumpkins. If you use the pumpkin it will add some color to the buns and make them more nutritious. You can try and enjoy other toppings,” says marimo.
Spring is only right around the corner. Enjoy a nutritious vegetable confectionery to survive the remaining short days of the winter in good health.
Curly spinachSource：Takashi Kurita, Kiredo
The frosty season from December through February.
It is also the peak season of regular, non-curly spinach.
Choose curly spinach that has light-colored young buds
in the middle with thick leaves.
How to enjoy them
Boil in 60ºC water for one minute without salt.
Do not wring too hard or nutrients and good taste will be lost.
Instead, drain gently with a sieve or draining basket.