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Fast-growing Okinawan spinach thrives in hot, humid climates

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Question: The Okinawan Spinach Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette at Piatti Restaurant at the Kiahuna Plantation on the south shore of Kauai tasted beyond perfection.

The spinach leaves grew in the garden behind the restaurant. I have never seen "Okinawan" spinach in any literature, and no seed companies offer it. Can you please investigate and tell me the botanical name and origin of Okinawan spinach, including a source? — Randy Peterson, Sunnyvale, Calif.

Answer: Fast-growing Okinawan spinach, a member of the plant family Compositae, grows well in hot, humid climates such as Indonesia, where the tender leaf shoots and oung leaves are the main product from the perennial vegetable. In the markets of Taiwan, the shoots are tied in bundles as sold for inclusion in soups, stews and stir-fry dishes.

Viable seed from Okinawan spinach is rare, so cuttings usually propagate the green. To plant: cut spiraled roots, so that all roots grow downward; plant in full sun or partial shade. Once established, the plant is one of the easiest vegetables to grow, because it is virtually weed free and does not require much fertilization. Green manure from woody legumes is a good source of nutrients, and harvesting stimulates growth — and mites, caterpillars and grasshoppers with a yen for the tender greens will gladly help harvest.

My source, the Tropical Rural and Island/Atoll Development Experimental Station in Hakalau, Hawaii (TRIADES) informs me that in Hawaii, a 160-foot raised bed of organically grown Okinawan spinach can produce 5-8 pounds per week, continuously

At the helm of Piatti restaurant in the Kiahuna Plantation, a historic plantation noted for its large open-air verandah overlooking manicured gardens, Brazilian cherry wood floors, koa trim and hand-painted wall murals, is executive chef David Abel, whose culinary creativity infuses the menu with Pacific-Mediterranean flair. Okinawan spinach is popular as a bed for grilled fish or doused with tangy citrus vinaigrette.


OKINAWAN SPINACH SALAD

Citrus Vinaigrette:

1/4 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed

1/4 cup orange juice, freshly squeezed

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley

2 tablespoons minced shallot or onion

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

Salad:

1 cup Citrus Vinaigrette

10-ounces Okinawan spinach (or substitute fresh baby spinach)

2 large oranges, segmented

1/2 cup shaved or grated Parmesan Reggiano

1 ripe avocado, diced (optional)

In a small mixing bowl, combine lemon juice, orange juice, olive oil, honey, parsley, shallot, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper and whisk to blend. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, toss spinach with citrus vinaigrette until all leaves are coated. Divide spinach equally between 4 salad plates. Garnish each plate with orange segments and Parmesan cheese. If desired, add avocado. Serve immediately. Yields 4 servings, salad portion size.


E-mail: amercarte@aol.com

Diane Howard is a columnist for Hunt House America a la Carte welcomes recipe requests. Send the complete address of the restaurant along with your name, address and phone number to: America a la Carte, PO Box 5994, Austin, TX 78763-5994 or fax 512-453-2145.