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Spinach Brightens Salad, Meat Loaf

June 28, 1987|DIANA WILLIAMS HANSEN | Hansen is a Louisville-based cooking consultant specializing in microwaving

Not only is spinach high in Vitamin A, low in calories and versatile in cooking, it microwaves into a bright green, crisp side dish, rather than the soggy, flavorless vegetable many of us remember less than fondly from our childhoods.

Before cooking, you must always be sure to wash spinach well, usually in several changes of water. The water that clings to the leaves will provide enough steam when microwaving, so no additional water will be necessary in cooking. To microwave, place a dash of salt, if desired, and one-half to one pound freshly washed spinach in a one- to two-quart casserole dish. Cover and microwave at HIGH (100% power) about five to eight minutes, stirring after half the cooking time.

Season microwaved spinach with a dash of allspice or nutmeg, lemon juice, chopped mint or minced onion. Stir small cubes of cream cheese into hot spinach and serve after the cheese has melted slightly. Garnish with chopped hard-cooked eggs. Use well-seasoned microwaved spinach as a colorful omelet filling. Or serve in a cream sauce.

Simple, Tasty Cream Sauce

To make a good and easy cream sauce, combine two tablespoons each of butter and flour with half a teaspoon salt in a one-quart microwave-safe measuring cup or casserole. Add a dash of cayenne or hot red pepper sauce, if desired. Microwave at HIGH for one to two minutes until butter is melted and mixture is well blended and almost dry. Whisk in 1 cups milk or half and half and continue microwaving at HIGH for four to five minutes, whisking every two minutes. This makes enough sauce for a pound or more of spinach.

Or try the creative microwave spinach recipes that follow. The wilted spinach salad features a Pennsylvania Dutch-style sweet-and-sour dressing. You might be surprised at the moistness and fresh flavor that spinach gives to Savory Spinach Meat Loaf.

Thinly sliced fresh mushrooms, rings of red onion and chopped avocados are delicious and interesting toppings for this salad. To avoid diluting the dressing, be sure spinach is thoroughly dry.

SWEET-AND-SOUR WILTED SPINACH SALAD

3 slices bacon

1/4 cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon crumbled dried tarragon or scant 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh leaves

1/4 cup chopped celery

1 tablespoon sliced green onion

10 ounces spinach leaves, rinsed, dried and torn into bite-size pieces (about 8 cups lightly packed)

2 medium oranges, peeled and sectioned, each section seeded and cut in half

With scissors, cut bacon into 1-inch lengths and place in 3-quart microwave-safe casserole. Microwave at HIGH (100% power) 2 1/2 to 3 minutes until crisp. With slotted spoon, remove bacon to paper towels to drain.

To drippings in casserole add vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper and tarragon. Microwave at HIGH 2 to 4 minutes, just until boiling. Stir in celery and green onion. Gradually add spinach to casserole, tossing to coat each piece with hot dressing, until slightly wilted. Lightly toss in orange pieces and cooked bacon. Serve immediately. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

SAVORY SPINACH MEAT LOAF

10 ounces fresh spinach, rinsed and chopped (about 8 cups)

1 pound ground beef

1 teaspoon beef bouillon granules

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

2 tablespoons flour

2 eggs

1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

1/2 pound mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

Place freshly washed spinach with water clinging to leaves in 2-quart microwave-safe casserole. Microwave at HIGH (100% power) 2 1/2 to 4 minutes, until wilted and bright green, stirring often. Cool and drain well, pressing spinach to remove as much liquid as possible. In mixing bowl, combine cooled spinach, ground beef, bouillon granules, onion, flour, eggs and 1/2 cup cheese.

Pat meat mixture in even layer in 9-inch deep-dish pie plate or 10-inch standard pie plate. Cover with wax paper, folding edges of paper down over rim of pie plate. Microwave at HIGH 8 minutes. Remove meat loaf from oven and carefully drain juices, if any, from dish.

Cover loaf with mushrooms, lightly patting in even layer. Cover with wax paper and continue microwaving at HIGH 7 to 11 minutes, rotating dish 1/2 turn after 5 minutes, until mushrooms are browned and meat has lost all pink color.

Remove from microwave and sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup cheese evenly over top. Let loaf stand several minutes until cheese is completely melted. Cut in wedges to serve. Makes about 6 servings.

Note: If you use frozen spinach in this recipe, defrost just until soft and squeeze spinach, a small portion at a time, to remove all water before mixing with other ingredients.)

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