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If my 10-year-old self could see me now...writing about spinach, ordering spinach salads, stuffing spinach in my green juice—I wouldn't recognize me! The fact is, what I once looked at as a gross, bitter green is now an invigorating addition to many of my favorite dishes. This week's star ingredient of the season, spinach is more than just a leafy base for salads, it is a versatile vegetable used in anything from smoothies and yogurts to savory bread puddings.

Star Ingredient of the Season: Spinach

Positioned at the top of nature's list of superfoods, spinach is loaded with fiber, calcium, iron and vitamins (twice more than most other greens!), and high levels of potassium, protein and beta-carotene. It's considered a natural anti-oxidant, actively protecting the human body against cancer and other diseases. The taste is subtle enough that it makes a great addition to salads, smoothies, and juices. It tends to blend together well with more potent fruits and vegetables, so that you enjoy their flavor while getting the high nutritional value from the spinach.

Spinach tends to grow through the winter into the spring. The plant prefers a cooler soil and does well before temperatures get too warm. While at the peak of freshness, you will see spinach utilized in all kinds of interesting ways on Houston restaurant menus. A variety of seasonal fruits are paired with leafy green spinach to create hearty salads, and spinach is added to juices and smoothies at juice bars to provide a powerful afternoon boost.

While the healthy options are an obvious choice for spinach to team up with, it is the decadent spinach dish that excites me. A dish where superfood meets super deliciousness...

Image: Megha Tejpal

In a Starring Role at: Backstreet Cafe

Backstreet Cafe
1103 S. Shepherd Dr.
713-521-2239
backstreetcafe.net

Backstreet Cafe has long been known for its delicious, inventive dishes. The cozy restaurant housed in a converted home off Shepherd Drive in River Oaks has been a Houston staple for over 30 years. Two floors of dining space, a full bar and picturesque patio are only a few of the reasons Houstonians keep returning time and time again. The restaurant promises quality dishes for lunch, brunch and dinner, even offering a separate vegetarian menu with fantastic options. It was on this menu that I discovered the savory spinach bread pudding, a hearty breakfast dish featuring this week's star ingredient.

Full of flavor, the savory spinach bread pudding is loaded with spinach, mushrooms, pine nuts and mascarpone cheese. It is a decadent meal to say the least, and one that can be enjoyed at breakfast, or even lunch and dinner. While the spinach is subtle enough to let the flavors of the other ingredients shine through, it still acts as a key component to the dish.

I wouldn't trade your green juice in for this full-flavored (read: rich) dish every day, but to treat yourself to something different, the savory spinach bread pudding is the way to go this season.

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