Spinach is one of those super foods that is universally despised by most children. For years, moms have been preparing it in creative ways to make it palatable. Today’s challenge is to make it less green and therefore considered edible.
Personally, I have always loved spinach. When I was pregnant with the twins, I couldn’t get enough of it. Raw. Cooked. Mixed in pasta. I joked with a side of serious that I would be quite content in a field of spinach with a cow roasting away on a nearby spit. My OB dashed my dreams, claiming there was no way I could ingest enough iron rich foods to meet the demands of a woman pregnant with twins and handed me a small jar containing enormous vitamins. I still craved spinach and copious amounts of beef. The latter made my husband very happy.
Iron is an important mineral because the body uses it to make hemoglobin, part of the red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. Without enough iron, you feel tired, weak, dizzy. You’ll be irritable, look pale and have the attention span of a toddler.
The body absorbs iron best from animal sources such as beef, turkey, clams and oysters. The iron in iron-fortified foods, like breads and cereals, come from plant sources, spinach and lentils, for example. Foods rich in Vitamin C, like orange juice and strawberries help the body absorb iron rich vegetables and legumes more efficiently.
Hoping to introduce spinach in an attempt to boost our intake of iron, I found a recipe for Beef and Spinach Cannelloni. At first glance it didn’t seem too labour intensive. Using pasta as a shell, however, was out of the question. My son has mentioned several times that he would try new foods if they were baked into a pie. Noted. Tucked almost out of sight, above the pie shells, in the freezer section, I found a single box of phyllo pastry. Hmmm…. something treat-like in texture and appearance just might be the ticket that inspires him to dig in. Even it does add a notch of complicated to the recipe.
The meat and sauce were quick and simple to prepare. I substituted a ready-to-eat lentil and vegetable soup for the chicken broth that the original recipe called for, removing 600mg of sodium from the recipe. And yes, wrapping up the filling in the pastry was indeed time consuming, but considering I made this with seven children under the age of 9 running around loose in the house, I can’t really say it was all that difficult.
Of those 7 rambunctious children, 4 are considered to be picky eaters. My son is choosy even by their standards. With trepidation, fearing their honest criticism, I put a plate of 20 in the center of the table, served two each to the toddlers, and let the five older kids help themselves. Within minutes, the heaping pile of pastry was reduced to crumbs. Samples went home with their parents who sent back encouraging compliments.
My son picked at the pastry, finding that part at least, tasty. He wasn’t ready to bite any deeper. Not yet. Then again, something new was on his plate and it wasn’t the end of the world.
Beef and Spinach Stuffed Pastry
You will need a large skillet and a medium saucepan.
Preheat oven to 375ºF
1 lb – lean ground beef, cooked and drained
1 small onion
1 tsp chopped garlic
1 pkg frozen spinach, thawed and drained
2 tbsp oil
2 tbsp flour
1 cup ready to eat Vegetable and Lentil soup
1 cup tomato sauce
1 pkg phyllo pastry
Vegetable cooking spray or melted butter
In a large skillet, over medium heat, sautée beef, onion and garlic. Add spinach. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, over medium heat add oil and slowly whisk in flour until smooth. Add soup and tomato sauce. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring often for for 1-2 minutes, until well blended.
Add the sauce to the beef and spinach mixture and combine well.
Layer 3 sheets of phyllo pastry, coating each sheet with vegetable spray or brushing with butter. Cut 2 – 3″ strips. Spoon the spinach mixture onto the bottom edge of the pastry and fold into triangles until the open edge is sealed. Spray top of stuffed pastry lightly before baking.
Place on a greased cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes or until golden.