In Season Spinach

Fresh and tender spinach leaves add color and earthy flavor to a range of dishes, from pizza and pasta to spanakopita, schnitzel and sag paneer. A rich source of vitamins A, C and K, as well as calcium, magnesium, potassium, fiber and folate, spinach is good for so much more than salad.

Grünauer

The spätzlepfanne, or spinach spätzle, at Austrian and German restaurant Grünauer in Kansas City is one of the few vegetarian dishes on the menu – but also one of the best sellers. Chef de cuisine Matthias Seyfrid, who was born and raised in Germany, says customers rave about the spätzle. “It’s a winner in so many ways: It’s hearty, satisfying and best of all, it’s vegetarian,” he says. Spinach is used to give the spätzle its distinct sage-green color. Seyfrid purées fresh spinach and water in a blender until smooth. He then stirs the purée into a bowl with eggs, salt, pepper and flour to make the spätzle dough, which he likens to Italian pasta. He lets the dough rest while he sautés mushrooms, peas, carrots and asparagus before adding thin slivers of the dough to the pan to cook together. The finished spätzle is served with a little Parmesan sprinkled over top. “The spätzle has a creamy mouthfeel to it, plus the earthy flavor of the mushrooms and carrots,” Seyfrid says.

Grünauer, 101 W. 22nd St., Crossroads Arts District, Kansas City, Missouri, 816.283.3234, grunauerkc.com

Aya Sofia

Many of the menu items at Aya Sofia in St. Louis are inspired by co-owner-chef Mehmet Yildiz’s childhood spent in western Turkey. The restaurant serves a range of Mediterranean and Lebanese fare, with Yildiz drawing inspiration for his Turkish dishes from his mother’s recipes, including her version of börek, a baked phyllo-dough pastry traditionally filled with cheese and meat or vegetables. “We normally eat it for breakfast and special occasions in Turkey,” Yildiz says. “When guests come to your house, you give them Turkish tea and börek.” At Aya Sofia, Yildiz fills the savory pastry with fresh spinach, parsley, eggs, and Feta and ricotta cheeses. He layers the ingredients in a pan – a layer of phyllo dough, then the spinach, parsley, egg and cheese mixture, then another layer of phyllo, and so on – and bakes it until crispy on top. Aya Sofia also serves firinda makarna, which Yildiz describes as a Turkish mac ‘n’ cheese, made with fresh spinach. He combines cooked pasta in a pan with spinach and béchamel sauce topped with Feta and mozzarella cheeses, and then bakes it in the oven until bubbling and brown on top. “If I go to Turkey to visit my mom, she always makes börek for me, and she’ll serve it anytime, or as a snack. And then firinda makarna might be served once or two times a week if you ask for it. It’s a very home-style meal.”

Aya Sofia, 6671 Chippewa St., St. Louis Hills, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.645.9919, ayasofiacuisine.com

Jina Yoo’s Asian Bistro

The Drunken Salmon at Jina Yoo’s Asian Bistro in Columbia, Missouri, was partially inspired by chef-owner Jina Yoo’s youth spent in South Korea – or at least the “drunken” part was, Yoo jokes. She makes the entrée by soaking 8-ounce Norwegian salmon fillets in sake for several days to “give the fish an almost umami flavor. “In Korea, we use sake for fish all the time,” she says. The salmon is served with tempura spinach, made by dredging fresh baby spinach leaves in a house tempura flour blend and then lightly frying it until crispy. “Tempura shouldn’t be too bready,” Yoo says. “There’s a certain technique to making sure it’s breaded and fried lightly, yet still very crisp.” The tempura is served with a wasabi-soy dressing that nicely cuts through the richness of the fried spinach. The side dish ended up being so popular that Yoo added it to the selection of starters at the restaurant and even gave it an endearing name: Popeye Crunch. “People love it so much, and they wanted to be able to order it separately,” Yoo says. “I named it – I have to have interesting names on my menu.” Yoo has plenty of opportunities to come up with more creative dish names as she gears up to open a new bao bun and ramen restaurant in downtown Columbia early next year.

Jina Yoo’s Asian Bistro, 2200 Forum Blvd., #108, Columbia, Missouri, 573.446.5462, jinayoos.com

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