A new leaf: Mark Hix sings the praises of spinach

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Spinach is the versatile superfood that will keep you strong and healthy throughout the winter months. After all, if it was good enough for Popeye...

Spinach is a such a great leafy vegetable – as well as being a true superfood, it also evokes memories of the famous cartoon sailor Popeye and his favourite ingredient which kept him strong and healthy at sea.

I'm sure you are familiar with the experience where you go shopping for spinach and end up buying loads of the stuff, only to get it home and find that it cooks down to a single bowlful.

If you're cooking it, try to find thick-leaved bunches of spinach (try your local Asian supermarkets); the stalks are delicious, too. For salads, however, baby spinach leaves are best.

As I have a home on the coast in Dorset I tend to go down to the beach and pick sea spinach for free; it has a better flavour and texture than the shop-bought stuff.

Spinach, avocado and gorgonzola salad

Serves 4

Baby spinach leaves make a great, healthy and easy salad. Make sure you buy ripe avocados for this, too, as shops often sell avocados that are rock-hard.

150-200g baby spinach leaves, washed and dried
1-2 ripe avocados, peeled, stoned, and sliced
150g gorgonzola, broken into small nuggets, plus more for the dressing below

For the dressing

30ml white wine vinegar
2tsp Dijon mustard
50g gorgonzola
120ml vegetable or ground nut oil
30ml water

First make the dressing. Blend all of the ingredients in a liquidiser and season with salt and pepper and adjust the consistency with a little water if necessary. To serve, toss the spinach leaves and avocado with the dressing and season if necessary. Transfer to a serving bowl or individual plates or bowls and scatter the cheese on top.

Puris with spinach and a poached egg

Serves 4

I always keep Indian puris in my freezer; you can buy them fresh or frozen from good Indian supermarkets and they are a great standby to serve with curries, as well as making a good base for this dish.

4 frozen puris
100g or so of butter or olive oil
4 spring onions, chopped
1 large green or red chilli, thinly sliced
300-400g spinach, cleaned
A few sprigs of coriander
4 eggs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the topping

1tbsp fresh white breadcrumbs, lightly browned
A good pinch of chilli flakes
Half a tbsp of melted butter

Melt about half of the butter in a large, preferably non-stick frying pan and fry the puris on a medium heat for 2-3 minutes on each side until golden, then keep warm. Melt the rest of the butter or oil in a large frying pan and gently cook the spring onion and chilli for 30 seconds, then add the spinach, season and cook on a medium heat for a few minutes, stirring as it's cooking until it has wilted; then stir in the coriander.

Meanwhile, poach the eggs. Spoon the spinach mixture on to each puri and place an egg on top. Mix together the ingredients for the topping and sprinkle over each puri.

Chorizo, spinach and grilled king scallop

Serves 4 as a starter

If you have a good fishmonger near you ask him to order you the biggest scallops he can get his hands on; otherwise just serve two or three smaller ones as a starter.

4 jumbo scallops, shucked and cleaned
100-150g cooking chorizo, skins removed and finely chopped
A couple of good knobs of butter
300-400g spinach, washed and dried
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a large frying pan and gently cook the chorizo for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the spinach, season and cook on a medium heat, stirring, for 2-3 minutes until it has wilted. Meanwhile, heat a ribbed griddle pan or heavy frying pan, season the scallops and cook for 2 minutes or so on each side, keeping them slightly undercooked. To serve, spoon the spinach mixture on to warmed serving plates (you may need to drain it on kitchen paper if it has released some water); place the scallops on top.

Spinach and Parmesan soup with Parmesan croûtons

Serves 4-6

60g butter

1 large leek, washed and chopped
1tbsp flour
1.5ltrs hot vegetable stock
250-300g spinach
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
60-70g freshly grated Parmesan

For the croûtons

2-3 slices of sourdough or white bread, cut into 1cm cubes, crust on or off
50-60ml olive oil
50g freshly grated Parmesan

Melt the butter in a saucepan; gently cook the leek with a lid on for 2-3 minutes, stirring every so often. Stir in the flour; gradually add the stock to avoid lumps. Bring to the boil; simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in the spinach, bring back to the boil, simmer for 3-4 minutes, remove from heat; blend in a liquidiser with the Parmesan until smooth; season.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a frying pan and fry the croûtons for a few minutes so they colour evenly. Once golden, remove on to some kitchen paper and scatter over the Parmesan; season. Serve immediately with the croûtons scattered on top.

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