The How To Cook Spinach The Healthy Flexitarian Way provides you with easy delicious recipes, videos, inspiration, fabulous flavour combinations, and the best techniques for cooking spinach.
When it comes to dark leafy vegetables, spinach and Swiss chard are powerhouse choices.
Good raw in salads, it is also delicious when cooked and served as a side dish. In addition to its role as a vegetable, it can serve as a bed for poached eggs, fish, or chicken breasts. Pureed, it forms the base of numerous sauces. It is also used in various stuffings (mixed with other vegetables, particularly sorrel) and makes an excellent souffle, tart, or mould.
This is a rather comprehensive flexitarian spinach cooking guide. Use these links to jump to a section:
- Cooking Techniques
- Flavour Profile
- Spinach Recipes
- Dietary Value
- In The Pantry
- At The Green Grocer
- In The Food Garden
A Few Facts About Spinach
Spinach originated in the heart of the Persian Empire and was introduced to Europe in the 11th century via the Arab invasions of southern Spain. The 12th-century Arab writer Ibn al-Awam gave it the title ‘prince of vegetables’. It traveled eastwards from Persia with far more success than westwards.
Spinach was very fashionable in the 17th century when it was often cooked with sugar and used in sweet dishes.
Spinach is an essential ingredient for Florentine dishes. It is also very popular in French cuisine.
Because of its pronounced bitter flavour, people either love or hate spinach. Le Prudhomme in Flaubert’s Dictionnaire des idées reques declared: “I dislike it, and I’m happy to dislike it because if I liked it I would eat it, and I cannot stand it.”
Popeye was wrong and spinach is not a great source of bio-available iron. Although it contains good supplies of iron, it also contains oxalic acid, which limits how much iron the body can absorb.
Popular Cooking Techniques: Raw, steam, wilt, saute, stir-fry, boil.
How To Wash and Prepare Spinach
Spinach, especially Swiss chard, needs careful washing to get rid of the sand and grit in which it is grown.
Trim off the stems and place the leaves in a bowl or sink of cool water. Stir the leaves with your hands, then remove them. The sand and grit should settle to the bottom. Empty the sink or bowl and repeat the process until the leaves are free of particles.
If you are making a salad, dry the clean leaves in a salad spinner or on paper towels.
If you will be cooking the spinach, you don’t need to dry the leaves. Chopped spinach cooks more quickly than whole leaves.
How To Saute Spinach
I love spinach. It is best sauteed in a little oil because if you blanch it, it tends to lose its flavor [to the blanching water]. I like to add some garlic to it, and from there you can go almost anywhere. Sauteed spinach is delicious with a poached egg. – Gabriel Kreuther, The Modern (New York City)
Whole spinach leaves can be blanched or microwaved briefly (2 minutes) before stir-frying or sauteing in a drizzle of oil and stock (5 minutes).
How To Cook Spinach In The Microwave
Spinach can be microwaved on high for 2 to 3 minutes (for 225g). Steaming in the microwave is, like steaming on the stove, a moist-heat cooking method that preserves all the nutrients of spinach. It is also a low-fat cooking method. You can steam spinach in the microwave using a microwave-safe dish, a microwave steamer or, in a pinch, a food-grade plastic bag. For more spinach microwave cooking techniques visit Leaf TV.
How To Cook Spinach On The Stove
Wash and trim the spinach. Place the wet leaves in a large pot. Cook the spinach over a gentle heat, turning the leaves all the time until they have wilted – this should take no more than 2-3 minutes.
Do not use any additional water, just what the leaves have been washed in. Once the spinach has wilted, cook for a further minute. Drain if necessary. Season. If you prefer, stir in a large lump of butter when cooked.
Three Ideas For Serving Steamed Spinach
Summer Spinach Soup
Puree steamed spinach with some fresh garlic and plain yogurt. Top with spring onions or chives and serve cold as a summer soup.
Quick Pasta Sauce
Puree steamed spinach with flat-leaf (Italian) parsley and lemon juice.
Spinach Salad Dressing
Make a salad dressing in a blender (or use a bowl and hand blender) with pureed steamed spinach, parsley, basil, garlic, salt and pepper. Slowly add olive oil and lemon juice.
A perfect ingredient served plainly can be an extraordinary thing. But in the real world perfect ingredients are all too rare – and there are few ingredients whose flavors can’t be helped along by a pinch of this or a splash of that. – Page and Dornenburg, The Flavor Bible
Spinach has a bitter taste. It has a moderate ‘volume’ which means that it can overpower more subtle flavours. It also means that it will stand up reasonably well to other stronger flavours.
Matches Made in Heaven
Understanding what herbs, spices and other seasonings will best bring out the flavor of whatever it is you’re cooking is some of the most important knowledge any cook can master. – Page and Dornenburg, The Flavor Bible
Matches made in heaven are considered classic pairings. Those in all caps are “Holy Grail” pairings and are especially widely practiced.
Herbs and Spices
Dill, GARLIC, lovage, NUTMEG, PEPPER black and white, SESAME SEEDS, sorrel.
Foods and Seasonings
Anchovies, artichokes, bacon, BUTTER unsalted; CHEESE: aged, Emmental, feta, goat, Parmesan, ricotta; CREAM / MILK, eggs esp. hard-boiled, lemon juice, mushrooms esp. shiitake, mustard Dijon, olive oil, onions esp. sweet, pine nuts, potatoes, raisins, SALT kosher and sea, shallots, soy sauce, sugar (pinch); VINEGAR balsamic, cider, red,wine, rice wine, sherry; walnuts.
French, Italian, Indian, Japanese.
Fabulous Flavour Symphonies
Whilst the matches made in heaven are widely practiced duets, the fabulous flavor symphonies are trios, quartets, and quintets.
spinach + garlic + mushrooms
spinach + garlic + sorrel
spinach + bacon + walnuts
spinach + chives + goat cheese + mascarpone
spinach + feta cheese + lemon juice + oregano
spinach + bacon + garlic + onions + cider vinegar
spinach + cumin + garlic + lemon + yoghurt
spinach + fennel + Parmesan cheese + portobello mushrooms + balsamic vinegar
Spinach Also Goes Well With…
When putting your own twist on recipes, explore these spinach flavor enhancers.
Herbs and Spices
Basil, cayenne, chives, cumin, curry, fennel, ginger, marjoram, mint esp. spearmint, mustard seeds, paprika sweet, parsley, pesto, red pepper flakes, saffron, Tabasco sauce, thyme fresh.
Foods and Seasonings
Almonds, apples, chard, chicken esp. grilled, chickpeas, crab, cream cheese, creme fraiche, fish, greens collard, lamb esp. grilled, lentils, mascarpone, pancetta, pasta, pecans, prosciutto, quince, salt cod; sauces bechamel, Mornay; scallions, shrimp, smoked salmon, sour cream; stocks chicken, vegetable; tomatoes, tuna, vinaigrette esp sherry, yoghurt.
Happy and successful cooking doesn’t rely only on know-how. It comes from the heart, makes great demands on the palate, and needs enthusiasm and a deep love of food to bring it to life. – Georges Blanc, Michelin Three-Star Chef in Vonnas, France
- Easy Sauteed Spinach | Feasting Not Fasting
- Spinach Salad with Bacon | Pinch and Swirl
- Creamed Spinach | The Novice Chef
- Green Smoothie | Beauty Bites
- Italian Orzo Spinach Soup | Gimme Some Oven
Because sauteeing is one way of how to cook spinach that you should master, I’ve included two recipes you can try.
First up is Christy, the voice behind Feasting Not Fasting. She says that even with all the lip service given by Popeye, spinach has had a bad rep for a while now. It can be slimy and weird when done wrong and we all probably have had bad sauteed spinach at one time or another. Well, fear not spinach haters – better spinach is on the way!
Christy’s sauteed spinach recipe is easy peasy. It can be done in 15 minutes and goes well as a side to all kinds of main dishes. Fish, chicken, other veggie entrées, whatever really.
Or try Nagi from RecipeTinEat’s Garlic Sautéed Spinach. It’s another super quick sautéed spinach that will pair beautifully with most proteins. It takes mere minutes to cook and is a great way to incorporate a vast volume of greens into a meal without even realizing it. And the garlic flavour is fabulous!
Spinach salad recipes with bacon come in so many varieties, but this is Marissa’s absolute favorite. Imagine a delicious spicy-sweet honey and black pepper dressing coating a hearty salad of spinach, bacon, avocado, hard-boiled egg, mushroom, shallot, and tomato. It sounds amazing, right!?
No guide on how to cook spinach would be complete without a recipe for making creamed spinach.
This creamed spinach recipe by Jesica, the voice behind The Novice Chef, is extra creamy, full of flavor, and only takes 20 minutes to make. It is exactly like the creamed spinach you get at an old school fancy steak house and it’s epically delicious.
Bonus, it’s low carb, keto diet approved, and naturally gluten-free! If you have any leftovers, they reheat great. You can also freeze them with equally great results!
Oh, and you can make a big batch and keep it hot in a crock pot on the warm setting for a party.
It’s no secret green smoothies make us feel awesome. Stella, the voice behind Beauty Bites, says she feels clean, light, hydrated and annoyingly full of energy when having one. It’s just… most of them are too green.
But this one… this one is perfect. It’s creamy, super healthy and it’s so so delicious without being overly sweet or overly grassy.
This Italian Orzo Spinach Soup recipe is quick and easy to make and so delicious and comforting. Ali, the creator of the recipe, says she sneaks a few handfuls of spinach into just about any soup she makes since it’s such an easy way to add extra greens (that have such a mild flavor) to any meal.
Spinach Nutritional Value
One cup of raw spinach, or half a cup cooked, contains about 7 calories and only 1 gram of carbohydrate. Most of the carbohydrates found in spinach come from fiber, making spinach a very filling vegetable. In addition, one cup cooked contains half a day’s worth of vitamin A, five percent of daily iron needs, vitamin K, vitamin C and other B vitamins, such as B6, riboflavin, and folate. [Source: VeryWell Fit]
Health Benefits of Spinach
Multiple studies have validated spinach’s ability to protect against cancer. It prevents the body’s cells from undergoing mutations, reduces the risk of lung cancer and blocks the formation of nitrosamines, which are potent carcinogens.
The vitamin A and precursor beta-carotene found in spinach are important for eye health and the vitamin K found in spinach may help protect against asthma and may have a positive impact on blood glucose.
Spinach is also one of the non-animal sources of iron. Iron is essential in many biological functions, such as oxygen transport and storage, energy metabolism, and DNA replication and repair. Iron-deficiency is a common cause of hair loss, which can be prevented by an adequate intake of iron-rich foods like spinach.
Serving spinach with orange slices or a squeeze of fresh lemon juice will increase the absorption of the many minerals found in spinach.
Store bagged spinach in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. Also, store loose spinach leaves in plastic bags in the crisper. Both kinds keep for up to four days.
Large harvests can be frozen. Thoroughly clean and trim. Blanch whole leaves for 2 minutes. Cool completely in iced water. Drain well, and pack in freezer containers. Use within 6 months.
Swiss chard (curly leaved spinach), is sold either in bunches or in bags year-round. It has its origin in Italy and is a member of the beetroot family.
True spinach is a cool season crop and difficult to grow in hot conditions. It is however available year-round in bags in the refrigerator section. Pre-packaged baby leaves are also available.
What To Look For
Select spinach with leaves that are crisp and springy in texture and that have a clear green colour. Avoid wilted leaves and leaves with bruises or yellow spots. Choose thin stems over thick stems – a sign of younger leaves. Finally, use your nose: fresh spinach should smell sweet and fresh, not musty.
Bagged spinach should feel resilient when you squeeze the package.
Spinach does best as an autumn crop because the days are getting shorter and it doesn’t bolt so readily. Sow the seeds 4 to 8 weeks before the first autumn frost date.
In areas with mild winter some varieties of spinach can be grown as a winter crop. It won’t take hard frost unprotected.
You can gather whole plants (thinning out, to begin with), or you can pick individual leaves as soon as they are of sufficient quantity and size. Don’t take too many leaves from any one plant and don’t let the leaves get larger than 15cm.
Once the plants start to produce you should harvest regularly and enthusiastically. Spinach doesn’t usually stay in peak condition for very long, so take advantage of it. Freeze any excess.
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For more information on how to cook spinach see these books I’ve referenced:
Larousse Gastronomique: The World’s Greatest Culinary Encyclopedia, Completely Revised and Updated
Mastering the Art of French Cooking (2 Volume Set) by Julia Child
The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs
Prescription for Dietary Wellness: Using Foods to Heal by Phyllis A. Balch CNC
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