As part of my ongoing experimentation with weird food, I discovered a new vegetable at the farmer’s market this weekend. It was stacked up between the broccoli and the kale and it didn’t have a label. I had to ask the hippie girls behind the table what it was, and the response was: it’s orach. Its an heirloom spinach, they said. I bought two bunches.
From googling I learn that Orach (Atriplex hortensis), is not related to spinach, but its used like spinach. Its sometimes called mountain spinach and is one of the oldest cultivated vegetables. The romans grew it and considered it an aphrodisiac. It was prized in the kitchen gardens of the American settlers and documented in John Lawson’s History of Carolina in 1714.
The plant itself is kind of bushy and weedy, with thick woody stems so you have to clean it (which is kind of pain). The leaves are thin but there are lots of them; it also has a whole lot of tiny flowers clustered at the end of the stem that are kind of bushy raw but the bushiness goes away once they’re cooked and have kind of a crunchy texture. Overall orach has a stronger taste than spinach, but not quite as bitter as chard. Its good. I like it.
For future reference, however, one’s spouse may be somewhat apprehensive if you come home from the market brandishing a pile of weeds and proclaiming excitedly “Look! I bought a strange vegetable for dinner!”