Iron-Rich Spinach Asparagus Pesto

In January I made a promise to offer a monthly theme for practicing mindfulness. Sometimes being mindful can be as simple as listening to your body. After several weeks of intentionally eating very little animal product I began to feel tired, spacey and a little dizzy. Anemia runs in my family, and I especially notice the symptoms when my activity level is highest, like when I recently trained for a half marathon. My body is craving iron.

Quick note on iron. As I’ve learned through my studies with Andrea Nakayama at the Functional Nutritional Alliance, symptoms of anemia can occur even when we’re ingesting plenty of iron. The deficiency is due to a weakened ability to absorb iron, which is commonly linked to low stomach acid. This condition is known as hypochlorhydria, which in turn is also linked to symptoms of heartburn and GERD. A quick way to test that you have enough stomach acid is to drink a full eight-ounce glass of water with one teaspoon of baking soda first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. Think about some kind of food that activates your salivary glands, mustard does it for me, but whatever makes you salivate. Wait ten to fifteen minutes and if you have ample stomach acid, that acid reacts to the baking soda by causing you to belch. If there is little or no belching, you likely have low stomach acid. If it seems your stomach acid is in deed lacking, a simple and gentle strategy to induce production is by drinking a tall glass of water with a few squeezes of lemon or a teaspoon fermented, raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar first thing in the morning and/or before meals.

Regarding iron in your diet, we tend to think of beef as the hero, but the foods highest in iron include organ meat, soy, clams, and spinach. In fact spinach contains more iron gram for gram than ground beef!

It’s a fantastic time of year to bring more fresh spinach into our diets as Spring is nearing and our bodies start to crave more greens. One of my favorite methods for sneaking more spinach onto the plate is in pesto. Bonus if you choose to go dairy-free – replacing parmesan with spinach makes a lovely vegan pesto.

I leave you with this recipe for asparagus pesto, featuring not only iron-rich spinach, but also one of our favorite Spring veggies, asparagus. Enjoy as a sauce with grilled or roasted poultry and meat, with eggs, in a sandwich, or add a dollop to a green salad, as I have here, with a poached egg added for protein.


Vegan Asparagus Pesto

1¼ cup pine nuts, divided
1 bunch asparagus spears (about 1 lb), trimmed of tough ends
2 cups baby spinach leaves
*2 cloves garlic if raw, 3 cloves if roasted
Juice of ½ lemon
Zest of ½ lemon
¼-¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

*Note: roasting garlic cloves is optional. The result is a creamier texture with less bite than raw.

Preheat your oven to 375°F.

OPTIONAL STEP: Place peeled garlic cloves in an oven proof dish and rub with enough olive oil to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast for 35-45 minutes, until golden. Set aside to slightly cool.

Spread pine nuts onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil and bake for 4-5 minutes, or until just golden brown. (Be careful, these delicate nuts burn easily!) Set aside to slightly cool.

Bring a medium sized pot of salted water to a boil. While the water is heating, cut asparagus stems in half. Place in boiling water to blanch for 3 minutes, until just tender. Drain and rinse under cold water. Slice asparagus tops from their stems and set aside.

Add the asparagus, spinach, 1 cup of the pine nuts, garlic, lemon juice and lemon zest into the bowl of a food processor. Begin to purée and with the motor running, slowly drizzle in the ¼ cup of olive oil until a paste forms. If you prefer a thinner pesto, continue adding oil until desired consistency. Add a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper, taste, and adjust seasonings as necessary. Use asparagus tops and extra pine nuts to garnish.


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