New Zealand spinach provides alternate in warm summer

08/12/2013 12:53 PM

08/12/2013 12:53 PM

My first brush with tetragon — also known as New Zealand spinach, warrigal greens, sea spinach, and a few assorted nicknames — took place just this year.

At a local farmers market, my friend showed me some of her New Zealand spinach since all the other spinach had already bolted. So I bought some of this alien-looking plant with diamond-shaped leaves attached to thick stalks. It and I were introduced as being told it is a little bit like spinach.

Tetragon leaves are in fact more succulent — thicker and juicier — than spinach. It tastes green and marine, like seaside air, but without the bitter metallic aftertaste that spinach seems to have.

I tried eating it raw and it is definitely the way to go if the tetragon is young and its leaves spry. I use the upper part of the plant where it is tender. But sometimes you get some slightly older tetragon and find that while the top leaves are delicate enough to be eaten raw, the ones on the lower floors have toughened and feel scratchy in the back of your throat. It is preferable to cook those.

You can handle tetragon in much the same way you would spinach, keeping in mind that it is a pity to overcook it, even more so than other greens, because you want to retain a slight crispness in the leaves.

New Zealand spinach is a warm season vegetable that grows well in hot weather and dry conditions. Regular spinach goes to seed and becomes bitter during warm summer months. Spinach also has many disease and pest problems, while New Zealand spinach is relatively pest and disease free.

New Zealand spinach was discovered and eaten by Captain Cook and his crew to combat scurvy during their South Seas expeditions. Botanist Joseph Banks brought the seeds back to London’s Kew Gardens in 1771. New Zealand spinach now grows in countries like England, France, Japan, Chile, Argentina, and the United States, although it is considered an invasive plant in some states like California and Florida.

New Zealand spinach is valued because of its high vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2 and vitamin C content. It is low in fat and fiber content.

New Zealand spinach does have a high oxalate content, which can be dangerous at high concentrations. It is recommended that the leaves be blanched for 3 minuets, the water disposed of and then the greens refreshed in iced water before consuming. However, many still use it raw as a salad green just not consuming a lot of it.

Here is a recipe that I got off the Internet at

The Global Gourmet

and it is very good:

Aussie Alfredo with Warrigal Greens 12 ounces tagliatelle or fettuccine 1 pint heavy cream 1/2 cup chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, or to taste 2 cups cooked shredded or diced chicken meat 2 cups cooked warrigal greens (or spinach or chard leaves), coarsely chopped Salt and fresh ground pepper 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds

Optional:

Halved red and yellow cherry tomatoes tossed in balsamic vinegar and olive oil Grated parmesan cheese.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions until al dente. Drain. While the pasta cooks, heat the cream in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until reduced by half, stirring often. Stir in the chicken stock, nutmeg, chicken, and greens. Heat until ingredients are warmed through. Mix in the pasta. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add more broth if the mixture seems too thick.

Pour the pasta into a serving bowl and sprinkle with the pumpkin seeds. If desired, serve with the tomato salad and Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top of the pasta to balance the richness of the sauce.

Donna Cook is the owner of Rabbit Creek Gourmet Foods in Louisburg, Kan. She is also a Master Gardener, Master Food Volunteer and on the board of directors of the Home Baking Association.

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