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spinach alternatives

Spinach Alternatives

We’re always told to eat spinach, but what are the other leafy greens that can fill this role in our diets? I f you visit a dietician or look for a healthy diet on the Internet, chances are that you’ll be told to eat lots of leafy greens. Spinach is the first one that springs to mind – a staple in our diets and our gardens. But is it? What most of us (including the supermarkets!) call spinach is actually Swiss chard! Here’s a list of some spinach alternatives as well as some greens that you might have in your garden but have never eaten before!

Common alternatives

Spinach

It’s hard to say that spinach is an alternative to spinach, but real spinach is an alternative to what we call spinach (Swiss chard). Real spinach generally isn’t as resilient to our hot conditions as Swiss chard is, but those tender baby leaves make the effort of growing it worthwhile.

Varieties: Ball Straathof ‘Matador’ and ‘Viroflay’ are two nice varieties to grow as baby spinach, to be eaten raw or cooked. They are annuals but can be grown all year. Ball Straathof also has ‘New Zealand Spinach’, which also goes by the common names of sea spinach or dune spinach. This is a quick-growing, very tough plant that spreads. It is best cooked because the raw leaves can make your tongue tingle. Add it to chilli bites so that you can pretend they’re healthy.

Kale

We all know kale – it has been the byword for health for a few years now. What we may not know is how good it can look in the garden – there are so many beautiful varieties that you should try. Kale can be cooked like spinach or used raw – some people also bake it into a crisp.

Varieties: The most beautiful kale in our eyes is ‘Cavolo Nero’, also known as black palm kale, black kale, Tuscan kale and more. Raw Seeds sells it as ‘Dinosaur Kale’, and it is a spectacular garden plant with its dark leaves and palm-tree like shape reaching up to 1.2m in height. Kirchoff’s, Stark Ayres, Ball Straathof and Raw Seeds all have kale varieties worth trying, such as ‘Chou Moullier’ and ‘Vates Blue Curled’.

Asian greens

Some of the nicest tasting leafy greens are often clumped together under the banner of ‘Asian greens’ and they are delicious spinach alternatives and needn’t be limited to the wok. Included in this group are pak choi, tatsoi, mizuna mustard and Chinese cabbage, and any of them or all of them will make a worthwhile addition to the veggie garden and larder.

Varieties: Ball Straathof has ‘Pak Choi’ and ‘Mizuna Mustard’ available, while Mayford offers Chinese Cabbage ‘Chihilli’, Kirchoffs has Chinese Cabbage ‘Michilli’ and Raw Seeds has Chinese Cabbage ‘Pak Choi’

Beet greens

Beetroots are one of the easier crops to grow, but almost every single one of us grows them only for their roots. Well, if you haven’t at least tried the leaves as a cooked green then you’re both missing out and wasting them. Beet leaves can be steamed, braised, sauteed, , added to stews or soups, and eaten raw. They’re tasty and full of vitamins, so don’t waste them.

Varieties: These days there are some wonderful options to try including ‘Chioggia’ (pink and white rings), ‘Rainbow Mix’, ‘Red and Gold’, all from Raw Seeds.

Radish greens

Like beets, we all grow radishes for their fiery little roots, but the greens are also very palatable as spinach alternatives. Radishes are the perfect plant for beginners and for the impatient, because they germinate in just a few days and will be ready for harvesting in 3 – 4 weeks. As long as you leave a few leaves on the plant to feed the growing root, you can pick them continually for use as a green.

Varieties: The traditional radish varieties are actually hard to beat, but they come in all sorts of shapes and colours these days. There are long ones that are shaped like carrots, and some that are white, red, purple and yellow – there’s even one coloured like a watermelon with a green outside and pink inner (‘Watermelon’). You don’t have to pick just one though – opt for a mix, like Radish ‘Easter Egg’ from Raw Seeds

Turnip greens

Turnips don’t seem to be the most fashionable veggie these days, but they do have a lot to offer. They add a delish tang to stews or soups, and they’re actually very healthy, full of fibre and nutrients like vitamins A, B1, B3, B5, B6, B2, C, E, K and folate (one of the B vitamins), as well as minerals like iron, manganese, potassium, calcium, magnesium and copper. They even have decent levels of omega-3 fatty acids. The leaves are similarly nutritious, and considering that they’re normally tossed in the compost you’re getting a lot for nothing with these spinach alternatives.

Varieties: Because they’re not cool there aren’t all sorts of interesting varieties to try: you’re limited to the familiar ones with a purple top that fades into white. Kirchoff, Ball Straathof and Mayford offer ‘Early Purple Top Globe’ or ‘Purple Top’, which is recommended harvesting young as a sweet baby veg.

Canola

When we South Africans think of canola, we probably think of those endless fields of yellow in the Western Cape, where it is grown for the oil-rich seeds. It can, however, also be grown in the home garden for its greens, its seeds or its yellow flowers (which bees love!). The big leaves are quick to cook because their stem is fairly insignificant.

Varieties: Canola often goes by its older name, the unfortunate ‘rape’ that is derived from the Latin word ‘rapa’, for turnip, to which it is closely related. Rape ‘English Giant Essex’ or just ‘English Giant’ is the only variety commonly available, and it is sold by Starke Ayres and Ball Straathof.

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