We hear the advice, “Eat more leafy greens!” but how… and why? According to the USDA’s nutrient database (basically the place every one of those food tracker apps get their information), just under half of the calories in spinach are protein. So then, for 1 cup of spinach you get mostly water and the rest of the space is split between protein and carbohydrate (like fiber and natural sugar), than a trace of fat. Compare that to 1 cup of chicken breast that holds about ⅓ of it’s calories from fat and the rest is protein. Yes, chicken breast is higher in protein per calorie, but it also offers much more fat and zero fiber. Plant based proteins such as spinach and peppers in our recipe today offer a variety of micro-nutrients such as iron and zinc that we get from protein foods plus the added benefit of nutrients like vitamin C that assist with iron absorption. Similarly, spinach offers calcium to support bone density which is very important for all ages from developing children to senior adults.
A bag of spinach costs $1.50 to $3.00 typically for a 5 ounce bag. If you have access to something like Sam’s or Costco you can find a 1-2 pound bag for $5. What a deal! Leafy greens like spinach can be cooked into almost any recipe or served raw for salad, sandwiches and wraps. Sweet peppers such as the small Italian peppers we use in this recipe, or the more familiar bell peppers, can be kept on hand for added flavor and nutrition in many meals. The nice thing about leafy greens is their flexibility in cooking. Can’t find kale or spinach? Try collard greens! Spinach cooks much faster and will also cook down in size when the leaves release water so keep that in mind. Kale, collards, and cabbage will take about as long as onions or peppers to soften in a pan (about 5-8 minutes on medium heat).
Today’s recipe is quick and easy! The corn tortillas we grill in the pan can be traded for a cold tortilla to make tacos or switched with bread for a panini. The result in flavor is nearly the same and it’s all good!
½ pound raw spinach
1 cup chopped sweet peppers
1 teaspoon oil (or 2 tablespoons water)
8 corn tortillas
1 cup sliced or shredded mozzarella cheese
¼ teaspoon garlic
¼ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon onion powder
Salt and pepper
½ lime, juiced
Combine cumin, paprika, onion powder, salt, pepper, garlic in small bowl and set aside. Warm oil in pan on medium high heat. Add peppers to warm oil and cook 5-8 minutes or until softened. Add spinach and seasoning mix to pan, cook 1-2 minutes. Remove vegetables from pan and set aside.
Add two tortillas to warm pan. Add 1 ounce cheese (sprinkle 1/8th of cheese or 1 slice) to cover tortilla. Add sauteed vegetables to cheese and add 1 ounce cheese then another tortilla. Cook 3 minutes or until bottom tortilla is browned. Carefully, use spatula to flip quesadilla. Brown second side about 3 minutes and remove from heat.
Optional: Serve with salsa or Greek yogurt mixed with chopped green onions or chives.
About the Author:
Patricia Mathisen, AND-DTR, ASCSM-Cpt
Culinary nutrition educator, food writer, Mother of Little Chefs. Linking nutrition to seasonal eating.
As a full-time mom and farmers market chef she created a culinary nutrition brand that encourages individuals and families to feel empowered to cook at home for healthful eating. Using local seasonal produce and conversation with local producers she appealed to a fast growing audience with the Nutrisha food blog and health supportive food brand.
Credentials include Bachelors education in Nutrition, Dietetic Technician Registered through Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and American College of Sports Medicine. Today Nutrisha is working with corporations, non-profits and families to bring accessible nutrition to the community. By applying nutrition fundamentals to home cooking, workshop participants and private clients can bring nourishment to their home kitchen and be empowered to cook the season.