National Spinach Day and National Peanut Month

spinach photo by katerha via Flickr

It’s National Spinach Day, and early spring is the perfect time to enjoy fresh spinach.  You don’t have to chug it by the can, like Popeye.  Make spinach salad for dinner, with pecans, dried cranberries, sliced pears and olive oil vinaigrette.  Or add a package of frozen chopped spinach to a pot of soup (awesome with minestrone or other vegetable/bean concoctions) or to risotto.  Briefly stir fry some fresh spinach in olive oil as a side dish, seasoned with a dash of balsamic vinegar and salt.  Or make the creamy and spicy curried spinach that’s common in Indian restaurants.

When it comes to spinach, it’s all nutritional good news:

  • low calorie
  • high fiber
  • non fat
  • loaded with vitamin A, iron, folic acid, potassium, magnesium and other vitamins and minerals.

Plus it’s crunchy and flavorful when fresh, and versatile in cooked dishes.

March is also National Peanut Month, and I recently received some samples of peanut butter and peanut flour from the National Peanut Board.  Since I’m into baking, the flour was especially interesting.  It’s extremely different from wheat flour — it does not contain gluten, the protein in wheat that gives bread, cakes and other bakery items their distinctive texture.  Without gluten, bakery products become crumbly and don’t hold together well.  Bread doesn’t rise, which is why gluten-free breads are so dense (some say brick-like).

But I bake a lot of bread, so I made bread with some peanut flour, substituting about 1/5th of the wheat flour with peanut.  The bread turned out absolutely fine, with no texture issues at all.  Next time I may increase the peanut flour to 1/4 of the total and see what happens.  The flavor was just slightly nutty.  An added bonus: the bread was higher in total protein content.  Peanut flour has 4 times the protein of wheat flour.  Better: the amino acid profile of peanut is different from that of wheat.  When you combine two foods with different protein types, the amino acids from each food complement each other, improving the overall quality of the protein in your meal.  Peanut flour added to bread improves the overall protein quality of the bread.  Other flours, like almond, soy or garbanzo, will also have this effect.  This effect could be important for vegans or vegetarians.

Having had success with baking peanut bread, I moved on to brownies.  Brownies don’t have to hold together like bread, and most recipes don’t have that much flour anyway, so peanut flour brownies are the perfect experiment.  I substituted peanut flour for all the wheat flour.  The brownies came out just fine, although perhaps a bit crumbly compared to conventional brownies.  The flavor was great, with just a hint of peanut.  And of course, these brownies had more protein, although I don’t recommend using brownies as your main protein source.  You could substitute peanut flour in cookies (chocolate chip or oatmeal) or quick breads, like banana, applesauce or zucchini bread.  Swapping 1/4 to 1/3rd of the wheat flour for peanut flour would probably work fine.

I know, brownies and banana bread aren’t exactly nutrition topics.  But peanut flour brownies are gluten-free, if that’s important to you.  And peanuts are high in antioxidants, including resveratrol, which we usually associate with wine and grapes.  Boiled peanuts are particularly high in resveratrol.   More reason to celebrate National Peanut Month.  Now if there were only a recipe that combined peanuts and spinach..

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