A few weeks ago while wandering through the farmer’s market I found the most beautiful spinach from Glen Valley Organic Farms. Green is such a magnetic colour to me, and I could not take my eyes off of the chlorophyll-rich veggies. I am like a kid in a candy store when it comes to fresh organic produce and I always end up buying more than I need for the week. Good for the farmer and my compost but not my wallet!
As I was standing in line to pay for my treasures –eggs, strawberries, kale, lettuce, cucumbers and of course the spinach, my brain was searching for a new recipe; one that would store for awhile so that I would not have any waste and of course something that my young son would like –or at least be willing to give it a try. I remembered reading about pesto made with spinach and I thought this sounded good. So after purchasing the spinach, off I went in search of fresh basil. As usual, Nature Village Farms did not disappoint me, I love their beautiful produce and I found the loveliest bunch of basil leaves; along with some sweet carrots and luscious blueberries. I couldn’t wait to get home to wash, nibble on and store my fresh produce for the week!
I found a standard basil Pesto recipe and decided to make a few changes as most are made with pine nuts and I wanted to try almonds and sunflower seeds as both of these are rich in heart healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. Here is the recipe I came up with:
Heart Healthy Spinach and Basil Pesto
- 2 large cloves of minced garlic
- ¼ cup sunflower seeds (soaked overnight and rinsed well)
- ¼ cup almonds (soaked overnight and rinsed well)
- ½ cup of romano or parmesan cheese
- 2 cups of fresh basil leaves
- 2 cups of fresh spinach (about ½ bunch)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Wedge of fresh lemon juice
- Celtic sea salt to taste (optional)
The night before making this recipe, soak the sunflower seeds and almonds by covering them with filtered water and adding a small amount of apple cider vinegar. Before making this recipe, drain and rinse well.
In a food processor combine basil and spinach and pulse until finely chopped (you may have to stop the food processor a few times and use a spatula to push the greens down toward the blade). Then add the garlic, nuts and seeds, romano cheese, lemon juice and salt (if desired) and pulse until well combined. With the food processor running, slowly drizzle a thin stream of extra virgin olive oil through an opening in the lid; add until desired consistency. I served this recipe on fresh sourdough bread from A Bread Affair, mixed some with whole grain pasta and used as a veggie dip! Store tightly covered for up to a week in the fridge or in the freezer for up to 3 months. My aunt stores her pesto in ice cube trays and then uses them as needed. You can experiment with different oils, nuts and seeds and even herbs like mint or cilantro. I have tried using ½ flax oil and ½ olive oil and all pumpkin seeds and this was also very tasty. Have fun and don’t be afraid to try different combinations!
You may be wondering why soak the nuts and seeds prior to eating them? Nuts and seeds, as well as grains, all contain something called Phytic acid which is found in the outer layer (of the nut or seed) or bran of the grain. This layer prevents the grain, nut or seed from sprouting until it comes into contact with moisture, however when not neutralized through the process of soaking, phytic acid can combine with calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and especially zinc in the intestinal tract; blocking their absorption and can potentially lead to mineral deficiencies. When we soak (in slightly acidic water) prior to eating nuts, seeds and whole grains, the phytic acid is neutralized, numerous beneficial enzymes are produced, as well as, the availability of B vitamins increases. For example, the simple practice of soaking rolled oats overnight before cooking them the next morning greatly improves their nutritional benefits and also lessens the cooking time. For anyone interested in whole food nutrition, recipes and food preparation methods, a wonderful resource book is Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon.
This recipe is swimming in antioxidant rich vitamins and minerals –vitamins A, C and E, glutathione and selenium and phytonutrients that help protect us from disease. Almonds are rich in vitamin E, calcium, and magnesium and along with the olive oil, are high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Calcium is needed to stimulate contractions in the heart and magnesium supports the relaxation phase. Magnesium also calms the nerves –helping with anxiety and stress and relaxes the skeletal muscles helping to prevent cramping. Vitamin E, a fat-soluble antioxidant, travels through the body neutralizing free-radicals. We generate free radicals daily as a by product of metabolism; just by being alive, breathing, eating poor quality foods, exercise and interacting with toxins and pollution –to name a few. Free radicals are electrically-charged molecules that create damage to our cells unless neutralized by an antioxidant. We can protect our bodies from this stress by ingesting foods high in these micronutrients. We could also take supplements but when we eat the whole food we get the added benefit of the many amino acids, fibre, complex carbohydrates, fats and oils as well as phytonutrients not all found in a single supplement.
For example, just one quarter of a cup of sunflower seeds contains 90% of the body’s daily requirement of vitamin E and is rich in the mineral selenium. Selenium and vitamin E are better able to carry out their antioxidant functions together and nature has conveniently packaged them together in this wonderful tasting seed!
We cannot forget about spinach as this vegetable has been hailed a ‘superfood’! Just recently I was thumbing through the book SuperFoods, Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life by Steven Pratt, M.D., and Kathy Mathews and discovered that it contains a vast array of phytonutrients, including “beta carotene, plant-derived omega- 3 fatty acids (only a very few vegetables contain these fatty acids), the antioxidants gluthathione, alpha lipoic acid (spinach is the best source of this amazingly potent antioxidant), vitamins C and E, polyphenols, coenzyme Q10, thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin K, and the minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, and zinc. It also has chlorophyll, which may be a potent anti-cancer substance.” No wonder Popeye loved his spinach and it gave him so much strength and energy! On a side note, just by adding a small amount of vitamin C rich lemon to this recipe, it enhances the absorption of the minerals calcium and iron.
Basil is part of the mint family and like mint is also useful for digestive complaints. It is also an excellent source of vitamin K (helps with blood clotting), is rich in powerful antioxidant-rich phytonutrients that also have anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties. I love the strong taste of basil and look forward to this summer treat –especially raw, as the enzymes and full flavour are lost in cooking.
Finally, olive oil is both rich in vitamin E, monounsaturated fats and antioxidants. Up to 75% of olive oil is made of oleic acid –a monounsaturated fat. This fat is more stable than polyunsaturated vegetable oils and therefore less prone to damage. To avoid damaged fats, when purchasing olive oil, ensure that it is good quality –extra virgin, cold pressed and stored in a dark bottle (preferably glass).
I love the Farmer’s market because the food is so fresh, and alive with goodness. Nature is so wise and knows how to package everything together so that we receive the maximum nutritional value. We just have to have fun and try new ways of creating tasty, nutrient-rich meals. I love this pesto recipe and I hope that you enjoy it too!
Many Blessings of Health,
Kelly Kiss, RHN (Registered Holistic Nutritionist)