Summer is finally in full swing, and we are surrounded by greenery. We are in that glorious window of time when fresh, local spinach is at its best. Because we have bags of spinach on the shelf year-round, it’s easy to forget that like all vegetables, it’s best when picked hours, not days ago. When spinach is this good, it demands attention.
Spinach deserves top billing, once in a while. Tender, sweet and minerally in flavor, fresh and local spinach tastes better.
Of all the greens, spinach is the delicate one. I plant it every spring, knowing that if we get a spell of hot weather, my fledgling crop will go to seed and become bitter. I do it anyway, and make a point to get to the farmers market to buy the freshest local spinach in early summer, before the hot days hit. There is a variety called Malabar spinach that grows in heat, but it is much stronger tasting than my favorite varieties.
When we have our peak spinach, it’s time to make dishes that really play it up. A Greek spinach pie would be great, as would a spinach-stuffed lasagna. Big spinach salads are a must, whether you top them with feta or a jumble of fresh vegetables. And spinach is perfect for the wilted salad. Just heat the vinaigrette and toss it with the spinach, to soften the leaves.
Spinach is front and center in today’s recipe for a creamy soup, accented with tart lemon and dill. I love making creamy soups that are thickened with vegetables instead of flour. Here, you’ll cook a potato with the onions, and simply purée it for a creamy base. The potato mixture will be hot enough to wilt the spinach in a few seconds, so it’s really fast and easy.
You’ll have your choice of creamy additions: use milk, almond milk or any other milk, even sour cream. If you use skim, it will be thinner; if you use sour cream, it will be very thick. Use your judgment about adding more or less to get the desired texture.
Don’t forget the garnish — the crunch and spice of the paprika almonds really set off the creaminess of the soup, and the color makes it pop.
Because spinach deserves its moment to shine.
Robin Asbell is a cooking instructor and author of “Big Vegan,” “The Whole Grain Promise” and “Great Bowls of Food.” Find her at robinasbell.com.
Creamy Spinach Soup With Dill and Paprika Almonds
Note: This soup is easily customized for your dietary preferences. Use an unsweetened nondairy milk for a vegan soup, or go exotic with canned coconut milk. For the dairy lovers, use butter instead of olive oil to sauté the onions, and use whole milk, half and half, or even cream for the milk. From Robin Asbell.
• 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 large onion, chopped
• 1 medium Yukon Gold potato, 1 1/2 c. cubed
• 1 c. vegetable stock
• 1 bay leaf
• 1 tsp. fresh lemon zest
• 1/2 tsp.salt
• 8 oz. fresh spinach (about 8 c. leaves)
• About 1 c. milk
• 2 tbsp. fresh dill, plus sprigs for garnish
For Paprika Almond Garnish:
• 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
• 1/4 c. sliced almonds
• 1/2 tsp.paprika
• Pinch salt
To prepare soup: In a large pot, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat and sauté the onion over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes.
When soft and golden, add the potato, vegetable stock, bay leaf, lemon zest and salt, and raise the heat to bring to a boil. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes. Uncover and pierce a piece of potato with a paring knife to test it; it should be very soft. Remove the bay leaf.
Stir the spinach leaves into the hot potato mixture, just until the spinach wilts slightly, then transfer to a food processor or blender. In a food processor, purée the mixture until completely smooth. Add the dill and pulse to mix.
Scrape the soup back into the pan and warm gently.
To prepare the garnish: Warm 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add the almonds and sauté, stirring, until lightly golden, about 4 minutes. Take off the heat, add the paprika and salt, and stir to mix.
Serve soup in bowls, with almonds and paprika oil from sauté pan on top. Garnish with fresh dill and serve.
Nutrition information per serving:
Calories 220 Fat 14 g Sodium 490 mg
Carbohydrates 20 g Saturated fat 2 g Total sugars 3 g
Protein 6 g Cholesterol 0 mg Dietary fiber 4 g
Exchanges per serving: 1 vegetable, 1 starch, 2 ½ fat.