Jim Norlin wasn't always the type of guy who would make spinach baklava.
"No, man," he says. "I was a meat and potatoes guy."
But gradually, Norlin started cooking more and more with the leafy vegetable that makes so many children turn up their noses.
"I'm a fan of spinach," the Kansas University junior from Lenexa says. "I'm a vegetarian now, and I eat lots of spinach."
He'll be whipping up three spinach-based dishes for this weekend's Spinach Recipe Contest at the 23rd annual Lenexa Spinach Festival.
The festival is a tribute to the 1930s, when Lenexa was briefly known as the Spinach Capital of the World. Farmers in the area turned to spinach when the Dust Bowl caused other crops to fail.
¢ The Spinach Cafe, with a variety of treats, including spinach pizza and spinach balls.
¢ The world's largest spinach salad, tossed in a children's plastic swimming pool.
¢ Appearances by Popeye and Olive Oil.
And, of course, there's the Spinach Contest, with categories of snacks, salads, entrees and desserts - yes, desserts.
"We had one dessert entry last year," says Debbie O'Connor, the festival's organizer. "It was a cake. It was interesting."
Other entries last year included spinach casseroles and spinach-Parmesan scones.
O'Connor says she thinks most people have got over their childhood disdain of canned spinach eaten by itself at the family dinner table. Now, most cooks favor the fresh or frozen vegetable over the canned variety.
"It's not your parents' spinach anymore," she says. "I think it's getting a lot better, because it's a very healthy food. You'll see it on a lot of restaurant menus, more so than you used to. It may be that next to a house salad or a Caesar salad, they'll serve a spinach salad. And spinach-artichoke dips are a staple in restaurants."
Norlin, the KU student, plans to enter a spinach-tortilla roll-up in the snack category, spinach pie in the entree category and spinach baklava for a dessert. He's not entirely sure how the baklava will turn out - he hasn't tried that one before.
And even if he likes the recipe, he has no illusions that it - or anything with spinach for that matter - is for everybody.
"There's still that image," he says. "I know lots of people who won't go near it."
Spinach recipe ideas
Chicken and spinach soup
6 ounces chicken breasts
6 ounces fresh spinach
4 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons spring onions, chopped finely
2 teaspoons sugar
Remove the spinach stems and wash the spinach. Blanch the leaves for a few seconds in boiling water, until they are just wilted. Pour cold water over the spinach leaves.
Slice the breasts chicken fairly thinly. In another pot of boiling water, cook the chicken slices for about 2 minutes, until they are white and have gone slightly firm. Drain both the spinach and the chicken. Bring the chicken stock to a simmer. Then add the soy sauce and the sugar. Add the cooked spinach and chicken. Bring the soup back to a simmer; then add the spring onions.
Tuscan-style sauteed spinach
2 pounds baby spinach
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove, minced
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
In a large pot, combine the spinach with the water and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over moderately low heat until just wilted, about 10 minutes. Drain the spinach, pressing out as much water as possible; chop coarsely.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and cook over moderately low heat until softened and lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add the spinach, crushed red pepper and a generous pinch of salt and cook, tossing until heated through, about 3 minutes. Add the lemon juice and serve.
Source: Food & Wine magazine
Spinach noodle casserole
2 quarts young spinach leaves, stems removed, washed
2 slices bacon, diced
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/3 cup vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
¢ California produces more spinach than any other state. ¢ There are three types of spinach typically available in U.S. supermarkets: savoy (curly leaf), flat (smooth leaf) and semi-savoy (slightly curly leaf). Baby spinach comes from the smallest leaves of flat-leaf spinach plants. ¢ Spinach is low in calories and high in vitamins A and C, minerals and fiber. ¢ Popeye, the cartoon character who gets his strength from spinach, made his first appearance in 1929. Popeye-brand spinach is the second-best-selling brand in the country, behind Del Monte. ¢ Crystal City, Texas, and Alma, Ark., both consider themselves the Spinach Capital of the World. Sources: Dole foods, www.uscitiesonline.com, www.kingfeatures.com
3 to 4 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
Put spinach in a large serving bowl, tearing large leaves. In a saucepan, fry bacon until crisp, remove with slotted spoon; sprinkle over the spinach. To bacon drippings add flour; stirring until blended.
Add sugar, vinegar, and salt. Cook, stirring, until thickened. Pour over spinach and add onion. Toss gently.
Spinach, feta and pine nut phyllo tart
1 12-ounce package frozen spinach souffle, thawed
1/2 pound extra-wide egg noodles, freshly cooked
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons purchased pesto sauce
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease 8-by-8-by-2-inch glass baking dish. Blend spinach, noodles, sour cream, pesto sauce and nutmeg in large bowl. Spoon mixture into prepared dish. Sprinkle cheese over. Bake until set, about 45 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes.
In this recipe we call for a 10 1/2-by-7 1/2- by 1-inch rectangular tart pan. The tart could also be made using a baking sheet or a jelly-roll pan, as the filling is dense enough to hold its shape on its own.
1/2 cup pine nuts (about 3 ounces)
1 medium onion
1/3 cup olive oil
2, 10-ounce packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup crumbled feta (about 3 ounces)
1 tablespoon fine dry bread crumbs
7, 17- by 12-inch phyllo sheets
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a shallow baking pan toast pine nuts in middle of oven until golden, about 4 minutes, and cool. Finely chop onion and in a large heavy skillet cook in oil over moderately low heat, stirring, until softened. Squeeze spinach to remove as much liquid as possible and stir with salt into onion. Cook spinach mixture over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until any liquid is evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes, and cool slightly. In a large bowl whisk eggs until combined and stir in spinach mixture, pine nuts, feta, and bread crumbs until combined well. Filling may be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Bring filling to room temperature before proceeding.
Stack phyllo sheets and cover with 2 overlapping sheets plastic wrap and then a dampened kitchen towel. In a small saucepan melt butter and cool slightly. Lightly brush a 10 1/2- by 7 1/2- by 1-inch rectangular tart pan with a removable fluted rim with butter.
On a work surface lightly brush 1 phyllo sheet with butter. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon Parmesan evenly over buttered phyllo and repeat layering with 5 more phyllo sheets, butter, and 5 tablespoons Parmesan. Arrange last phyllo sheet on stack and lightly brush with butter. Transfer phyllo to tart pan, letting excess hang over edge, and spoon filling onto phyllo, spreading evenly. Fold edges of pastry over filling, leaving center uncovered, and lightly brush top of phyllo with butter. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan over exposed filling and bake tart in middle of oven until golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve tart warm or at room temperature.
Spinach and roasted red pepper gratin
4 10-ounce bags fresh spinach leaves
3 red bell peppers
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only), thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
1 large shallot, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup whipping cream
4 large eggs
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Swiss cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Heat large deep nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches (about 10 cups at a time), saute fresh spinach in dry skillet until bright green and wilted, about 2 minutes per batch. Transfer spinach to strainer. Squeeze spinach dry; roll in kitchen towel to remove excess water.
Char peppers directly over gas flame or in broiler until blackened on all sides. Enclose in paper bag; let stand 10 minutes. Peel, seed, and slice peppers into 1/4-inch-wide strips.
Melt butter with oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add leeks, shallot, and garlic; cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk cream and eggs in large bowl to blend. Whisk in all cheeses, salt, and pepper. Stir in spinach, leek mixture, and 2/3 of roasted red peppers (reserve 1/3 of peppers for topping). (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter 13x9x2-inch baking dish. Transfer spinach mixture to prepared dish. Bake gratin until knife inserted into center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Arrange remaining red pepper strips decoratively atop gratin and serve.