Spinach and Artichoke Dip Recipe, Spotlight on Artichoke, Why You Should Choose Glass for Food Storage, Getting the Recommended Amount of Fruits and Veggies, and The Connection Between Exercise and Brain Health
One of the greatest benefits of following a Mediterranean diet is that the all-important servings of fruits and vegetables are built in. But finding good produce can be a challenge in the dead of winter—this week’s newsletter has ideas to help. My spinach and artichoke dip recipe shows that the comfort foods we crave now can be healthy, too. And though it’s more tempting than ever to park yourself on the sofa, new discoveries on exercise and brain health will make you want to do more than get up to go to the fridge!
Spinach and Artichoke Dip
- Spinach and Artichoke Dip
So much better than store-bought, this dip for chips and crudités also makes a great topping for baked potatoes.
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
- 8 ounces baby spinach leaves, rinsed, patted dry, and coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup cream cheese softened at room temperature
- 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 4 ounces artichoke hearts, roughly chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh dill or 1/4 teaspoon dried dill
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
Heat a sauté pan and add the olive oil and the baby spinach a large handful at a time. Sauté until completely wilted and all the liquid has evaporated. Let cool while you proceed.
In a large bowl, use a spatula to fold together the mayonnaise, sour cream, cream cheese, and yogurt. When blended, add the cooked spinach, artichokes, garlic, dill, lemon juice, and onion powder.
Season to taste with the salt, pepper, and optional red pepper flakes for an added kick. Drizzle with olive oil before serving.
Yields about 3 cups
Healthy Ingredient Spotlight
It’s easy to be intimidated by the look of artichokes and easy enough to buy them jarred or frozen when using them in recipes. But a freshly steamed artichoke makes a tasty light lunch or great vegetable-based first course. Native to the Mediterranean region, but also grown in California (where it’s the state vegetable!), artichokes are low in calories and rich in potassium, fiber, and antioxidants. They are also a good source of vitamin C, folate, and magnesium.
Here’s how to steam whole artichokes, according to the California Artichoke Advisory Board: Wash under cold running water, and then pull off any small or discolored petals near the base of the stem. Working one artichoke at a time, cut off the last half inch of the stem and use a vegetable peeler to take off the stem’s outer layer. Next, cut off the top quarter of the artichoke, and place it in a large bowl filled with 4 cups of water and a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice, to avoid discoloration. When all the artichokes are prepped, bring 2 inches of water to a boil in a large stockpot, add a steaming rack, place the artichokes on the rack, cover the pot, and steam until a petal near the center pulls out easily, between 25 and 45 minutes, depending on their size.
To eat, pull off a petal, one at a time, dip it in olive oil, melted butter, or vinaigrette, and pull it through your teeth to get the pulpy portion of the petal. Discard the rest of the petal and repeat until they’re all gone. Use a grapefruit spoon to scrape out the exposed fuzzy layer, or the choke, in the center of the base and discard. What’s left is the sweet heart of the artichoke to enjoy along with the stem.
Healthy Kitchen Nugget
Choose glass for food storage
If you rely on plastic containers for storing and reheating food, consider the benefits of switching to glass. Even BPA-free plastic has chemicals that can be released into food and have a negative effect on your endocrine system when ingested, a problem you avoid with glass.
Not only do glass containers last almost indefinitely, but when necessary they can be recycled easily—something that simply isn’t happening with plastics. Look for glass containers that can be stored in the freezer as well as the fridge.
Try to buy frozen foods packaged in paper, but if your favorites only come in plastic, move the contents of the bag to a glass bowl when you’re ready to defrost them. If it’s necessary to release the food from the packaging, run the bag under cool water for a few seconds, then transfer it.
For Your Best Health
More fruits and veggies, please!
A startling CDC report released on January 6 showed just how few Americans get the recommended daily 1.5-to-2-cup equivalents of fruit—just 12.3%—and the 2-to-3-cup equivalents of vegetables—only 10%. As part of a healthy diet, these food groups support immune function and help prevent obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and even some cancers. Of course, eating fruits and veggies can be harder to do in the winter months when seasonal produce is almost nonexistent and the temptation to eat comfort foods is high.
Try a two-pronged strategy to boost your intake. First, remind yourself to get these daily servings: Write out a daily diet plan that includes them, so they’ll be front of mind. Next, make shopping for produce more of an adventure. Explore the produce section of your favorite stores to look for new and exotic imported fruits and vegetables—now is a great time to try them. Then check out the frozen foods aisle for selections that were flash frozen at harvest for best flavor, like corn kernels, sweet peas, raspberries, and melon chunks, among others. You’ll get a taste of summer by using them in your favorite warm-weather recipes.
Explaining the exercise–brain health link
A recently published study in Nature got us closer to understanding how exercise slows cognitive aging and why it’s tied to better brain plasticity and less inflammation within the hippocampus. Lab experiments showed that exercise leads to higher levels of a naturally occurring protein in the blood called clusterin. Clusterin can bind to certain cells in the brain and reduce inflammation, a precursor to brain diseases like Alzheimer’s. Researchers studied a small group of people with cognitive impairment who followed a set exercise program for six months and found that they were able to increase the level of clusterin in their blood. One takeaway is that it’s never too late to start getting more physical activity for better brain and body health.Get More Recipes In Your Inbox!