December 20-22, 2021 Good for the Heart, Good for the Eyes

Amidst these stormy days, we once again salute our loyal delivery people, who weave their way through roads and alleyways – often facing nightmare traffic – in stormy weather or scorching sun to bring you the abundant yield of Chubeza’s field.
When they deliver your boxes, please give them last week’s empty box for us to reuse (best folded flat). We thank those who have been diligently returning the boxes – we’ve been able to reuse over half! Some of the boxes can be used 3 or 4 times, allowing us to cut back significantly on new production of boxes. We thank you kindly for your part in this endeavor! To make it easier to store the box from week to week, we advise you to slice the tape and flatten the box. Here’s a short instructional video of how to flatten the box, made especially for you by our delivery staff.

_________________________________

After many weeks that were too warm for comfort, we are finally experiencing rainy and stormy days. Here at Chubeza we prepared for the inclement weather by spreading Agril protective cloth over the greens, and by reenforcing the growth houses to stand strong in the wind. Most importantly, we completed this round of planting just in time for the rain. Between barrages of rain, we hope to be visited by a friendly wintery sun to dry the veggies and warm ‘em up.

Our greens, too, would love some sun, which they consider their best of friends. After lapping up the rain, their leaves thirstily drink up the sunrays, absorbing them within to generate energy for healthy growth. In honor of the rain and the greens of warm and cold, I’ve decided to tell you a bit about our spinaches – one, an actual spinach and member of the Amaranthaceae family, and the second, the New Zealand spinach from the family of coastal plants, who masquerades as spinach.

I chose to write about them because here in the Middle East, we are used to warmer seasons, which is why the New Zealand spinach adjusts better to the warmth of our country than the wintery spinach that needs cold weather. Every winter we receive a deluge of questions from you as to what these greens are. Our response “Why, it’s spinach!” is met with such confused replies as, “But we thought spinach is the little green leaves on the long stem….??” So, here goes:

Meet the Spinach:

spinach.jpg

The origins of spinach are in central Asia: Afghanistan, North India, Uzbekistan, Southwest Asia and perhaps Persia. For years it was grown in the Mideast, in the central Orient and in China. It migrated to Syria and Saudi Arabia, and from there to North Africa. In the eleventh century, the North African Moors brought spinach to Spain and introduced it to the Europeans. A popular plant in the Holy Land, spinach is mentioned in the Mishnah and Talmud as a vegetable used for cooking and in soup. Spinach provides a good opportunity to discuss the power of culture, of colorful stories and folk tradition vs. the power of exact (?) sciences. Like many vegetables, spinach began its culinary life as a medicinal herb, used to treat constipation and digestive problems.

In Tractate Brachot, Rav Chisda notes: “A dish of spinach is good for the heart and for the eyes, and even more so, for the intestines.” I am always amazed at how precise folk medicine is without having the scientific tools to actually examine the medicinal herbs it recommends. Years of experience, together with knowledge which is passed on from generation to generation, maybe even a tad of intuition or spiritual abilities, all come together to provide good health advice. For I am pretty sure Rav Chisda never entered the chemistry lab or studied biology or botany, and yet, he hit it right on the nose. Spinach is one of the richest antioxidant sources, especially high in lutein, which contributes to healthy eyes and can also reduce the danger of arteriosclerosis, heart disease and cancer. The high levels of oxalate are those responsible for its beneficial ability in regulating bowel movements (more about the health virtues of the spinach later).

The next thing I thought about while studying spinach is its best friend, Popeye the Sailor Man. When Popeye encounters trouble, he wolfs down spinach straight from the can, gaining immediate, incredible strength. The funny thing is, Popeye is the result of… a typo. In research conducted in 1870, a decimal point typo erroneously attributed its iron content to be ten times the actual value… But here comes the power of storytelling and the one-eyed sailorman. If you conduct a short survey among your friends and ask them which vegetables are richest in iron, they will probably name spinach among them. And to complicate matters, though spinach is in fact rich in iron (not ten times richer, but still…) and also calcium, our ability to absorb these elements from spinach is rather limited, as the oxalate binds them together, preventing their absorption in the body.

But spinach boasts other advantages. Beyond the lutein mentioned previously, spinach is rich in vitamins K, A, C, beta carotene and folic acid. It is rich in chlorophyll, which contributes to protection from cancer-inducing substances (lung cancer, for instance). It contains Quercetin which is an antioxidant, an anti-inflammatory, and a specific enzyme that assists in lowering blood pressure. Spinach juice is the best vegetable juice to prevent cancerous cells, and it also lifts the mood because it is truly delicious!

There are two groups of spinach varieties: those with prickly seeds, considered to be more resistant to cold weather, and the smooth-seed varieties, which deal better with warm temperatures. The hybrid varieties we have today are suitable for different climates. Another way to differentiate spinach varieties is by the leaves: there are the crinkled curly leaves (savoy spinach) and flat, smooth ones, and there are some intermediate varieties (somewhere between smooth to crinkled). In Israel, spinach also grows in its wild form, from the center of the country to the north, in wintertime and spring. Its leaves are soft and milder, and they usually taste more refined. In northern markets, you can buy it fresh, and in Galilean restaurants this is a major ingredient in local dishes at this time of the year.

Wild spinach (AKA Sabnach)  looks like this:

Compared to those two, the New Zealand spinach – or as it goes by in science land, Tetragonia tetragonioides, is not a member of the Amaranthaceae family, but rather of the Aizoaceae’s, characterized by fleshy plants that thrive along the seashores, in sand and dunes, but do well in the desert too. It has been native to Australia and New Zealand for many years, where the aborigines and native Maoris would gather it for food. When the Europeans reached the continent, they were taught which plants were edible, enabling them to survive. They coined the local plants and animals used for sustenance (including the wonder-plant tetragonia) “bush tuckers.”

Upon his fleet’s arrival to the Eastern coast of Australia in 1770, Captain Cook was justifiably concerned lest his sailors contract scurvy, a disease caused by lack of vitamin C. At sea, the crew was nourished solely from preserved food, so whenever they reached shore, the captain would set out in search of good fresh leafy greens to boost their diets. In Australia, his botanist chef found the tetragonia, and after enjoying its taste and nutritious value, they brought it home to England. It immigrated here over the last century and can be found growing wild on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, specifically in the Sharon region (Hadera-Tel Aviv). And this is how it looks:

New_Zealand_Spinach
The Brits, already very fond of greens, were delighted to receive this exotic plant, and by the beginning of the nineteenth century it was to be found growing in the best of English vegetable gardens. Afterwards, there came a period when the tetragonia was passed over for hybrids and other “advanced” plants, but over the past decades, in keeping with the worldwide trend for local, homegrown products, the venerable plant is experiencing a comeback. White-aproned Australian chefs now gather it in the fields or purchase it from gourmet farmers. In leafy-green-loving Asia, too, it was happily received, growing across Eastern Asia and used as a substitute for Asian greens in stir-fried vegetable dishes.

Though genetically unrelated to spinach, the New Zealand spinach received its name because it is used as a spinach substitute—but with one major edge over its namesake: Unlike spinach, which requires a cold climate and will not germinate in extreme heat or will bloom prematurely, New Zealand spinach is heat-resistant. On the other hand, it is very sensitive to cold, and frost will completely destroy it. This special relationship resulted in the New Zealand spinach becoming a good substitute for spinach during summer, while true spinach assumes the stage in winter, and does well in Israeli winters as well.

In Israel, the substitution game became even more complex, with a small link to our Chubeza as well. During the siege of Jerusalem in the 1948 War of Independence, in an attempt to find dietary solutions for the besieged residents, the idea arose to gather wild mallow (chubeza). Schoolchildren were organized to go out and gather mallow leaves, which were then passed on to Tnuva, which packaged and marketed them as “New Zealand Spinach.” Around the world in just a few words: a Jerusalem mallow, marketed as New Zealand spinach, serves as a substitute for true spinach (which has its origins in Iran).

And what’s it really like as a disguised spinach? The mildly salty taste of New Zealand spinach is similar to that of true spinach, but they do not look alike. The New Zealand mate’s diamond-shaped leaves are much smaller and fleshier. It can substitute for spinach in any recipe, and in some dishes can replace Swiss chard, with whom it shares a fleshy texture, definitely fleshier than that of the thinner spinach. This fleshiness allows it to retain more volume in cooking, thus when substituting for spinach or Swiss chard, use only half the amount of leaves called for in the recipe.
When you cook New Zealand spinach, separate the leaves from the coarser-textured stems that are harder to cook. It is not recommended to consume these greens raw: the leaves contain cartonoid antioxidants which are important nutrients, but in their raw form they are oxalates which complicate digestion (particularly for those with gallstones or kidney problems.) To remove most of the oxalates for easier digestion, blanch the New Zealand spinach for a few minutes, and then wash the leaves.

At this time of the year, both varieties of these greens are growing at Chubeza. Sometimes you receive the winter spinach (as we call it), while at other times you get the New Zealand spinach and a chance to enjoy the “original” and its dressed-up counterpart…. You can find recipes for both these guys in the recipe section on our site.

Cut the spinach! And enjoy this stormy week,
Alon, Bat Ami, Dror, Orin and the Chubeza team

__________________________________________

• This week, some of you will be receiving fresh onions, just-picked from the field. We don’t dry out their green shoots, but send them to you in a fresh bunch so that you can use it all — the green shoots (like scallions) as well as the tuber onions (like “dry” onions).
• In these cold days, the bell pepper is already finding it difficult to redden, and the time has come for our final harvest of the year. This week’s boxes will contain a one-time visit of green peppers. They’re sweet and delicious—-enjoy!!

B’tayavon!

WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?

Monday: Kohlrabi/beets, broccoli/Jerusalem artichoke/fresh peas, green peppers, cabbage/cauliflower, lettuce, daikon/turnips/fresh onions with shoots, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, parsley/dill/coriander. Small boxes only: celery or celeriac. Free gift for all:  New Zealand spinach/winter spinach

Large box, in addition: Fennel/eggplant, Swiss chard, sweet potatoes/slice of pumpkin, kale/arugula/tatsoi.

FRUIT BOXES: Red apples, avocado, clementinas/red oranges, oranges/pomelit, bananas.

Wednesday: Kohlrabi/beets, broccoli/sweet potatoes, cabbage/cauliflower/Jerusalem artichoke/garden or snow peas, green peppers/eggplant, lettuce, daikon/turnips, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots/slice of pumpkin, parsley/dill/coriander, New Zealand spinach/winter spinach/arugula/tatsoi.

Large box, in addition: Fennel/fresh onions with shoots, Swiss chard/kale, celery or celeriac.

FRUIT BOXES: Red apples, avocado, clementinas, red oranges/oranges, bananas.