Steamed about spinach.

From M., 4 June 2010 – finding inspiration in spinach?

Q: I have recently bought a bunch of English spinach (it’s winter here in South Oz) and I have not had time to cook it, so it is going horribly limp in the fridge. I usually end up steaming it as the veg to have with dinner, but this does not really inspire me. Can you suggest some alternatives?

A: Hi, and thanks for writing!

You answered your own question about inspiration – or lack of it – when you said that you steam the spinach. As I discussed here, spinach is part of the Amaranthaceae family, along with Swiss chard (silverbeet), quinoa, and amaranth. These used to be classified in a family called Chenopodiaceae, or, literally, “goosefeet,” named for their fleshy, ribbed leaves. Indeed, the best varieties of spinach – so-called “savoy” varieties – are thick-leaved, almost juicy, and richly textured. What accounts for this succulence? Spinach leaves are primarily water. Throw a bushel into a pot of simmering water, a hot saute pan, or a steamer basket, and within minutes you’ll have a small pile of damp, stringy leaves. Not particularly inspiring without seasoning or a finer texture.

Make something more delicious. For starters, please stop steaming the spinach. Firmer vegetables, like green beans or asparagus, can handle a steaming, but spinach really can’t. All the flavor winds up in the spinach-flavored steaming water below the basket, leaving you with nothing but a limp green lump. Instead, cook it quickly, sautéeing in oil in a hot pan. If you insist on boiling/steaming your spinach, chop it up and stir it into a flavorful sauce made with a béchamel sauce and a little grated nutmeg and black pepper for a quick creamed spinach. Or pour that combination into a gratin dish and sprinkle with a mixture of panko and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and bake until the crust is brown and the spinach bubbly.

Spinach with garlic and crushed red pepper

When you sauté spinach, you need to do it quickly, just until the leaves are glossy with oil and wilted. Don’t let them cook past that point. They’ll start turning limp in a hurry, and will be stringy.

Use locking tongs, not a wooden spoon, to grab the spinach and turn it over in the pan so the spinach cooks evenly. I like these tongs, from Edlund. They cost next to nothing and last forever. I’ve had the same pair for almost 20 years.

1 large bunch spinach, stemmed and washed well or 10-ounce package spinach leaves, washed
2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
salt and black pepper
olive oil
Optional: juice of 1/2 lemon

Place a pan over medium heat; when the pan is hot, add the oil. Add the garlic and the crushed red pepper, and sauté until you can just smell the garlic. Do not brown. Add the spinach and sauté about 2 minutes, until just wilted. Season with salt and pepper and the juice of 1/2 lemon if you are using it.

Sauteéd spinach with garlic and sesame seeds

Toasted sesame oil is a finishing oil, not a cooking oil. Nothing bad will happen to you if you cook with it, but you’re wasting the oil because the flavor dissipates on exposure to heat. Drizzle it on at the end of cooking.

1 large bunch spinach, stemmed and washed well or 10-ounce package spinach leaves, washed
2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1/2 tsp soy sauce
black pepper
canola oil
toasted sesame oil
2 tsp sesame seeds

Place a pan over medium heat; when the pan is hot, add the sesame seeds and allow the seeds to toast, shaking the pan. As soon as you can smell the seeds toasting, turn them out into a bowl or plate. Place the pan back on the heat and add the oil. Add the garlic and sauté until you can just smell the garlic. Do not brown. Add the spinach and sauté about 2 minutes, until just wilted. Season with soy sauce and pepper and just a drizzle of toasted sesame oil. Sprinkle the sesame seeds over the spinach.

Spinach with pine nuts and raisins

This is a classic Catalan dish – sweet and nutty, as well as savory. Perhaps you’re wondering why I’ve specified sliced rather than minced garlic. Minced garlic is more intense than sliced – as you mince garlic more and more finely, or crush it, the garlic cells release sulfur-based compounds that provide the distinctive garlic scent. In addition, minced garlic burns more easily – small pieces burn more quickly than large – and burned garlic adds an overwhelming bitter note to food.

1 large bunch spinach, stemmed and washed well or 10-ounce package spinach leaves, washed
2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
3 tbsp raisins
salt and black pepper
3 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
olive oil

Place a pan over medium heat; when the pan is hot, add the oil. Add the garlic and sauté until you can just smell the garlic. Do not brown. Add the spinach and sauté about 2 minutes, until just wilted. Add the raisins and the toasted pine nuts. Season with salt and pepper.

3 thoughts on “Steamed about spinach.

  1. Try doing something totally different by blending a cup of spinach leaves with 2 cups pineapple and 1 banana and 2 cups iced water. This makes for a very delicious and nutritious green smoothie with all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals from all these fresh fruit and your raw spinach.

    Try incorporating a glass of this to your day and you feel more energized, more inspired, and much healthier. If you’d like to understand more about green smoothies you can check out my website http://www.bestdietsever.com.

    cheers,
    Michelle

  2. Mark says:

    Try fried – deep fried – spinach. It takes about as long in the 350F oil as it takes to drop it in and get it out with a spider. Drain. Fine-grained sea salt and your favorite (light) vinegar is all it needs for topping.

    • I love flash fried spinach. Two words of advice when frying spinach (these apply to most flash fried greens – kale is terrific too, by the way). Don’t use the “baby spinach” you find in bags in the market. It doesn’t hold up all that well. Use the dark green, ruffly savoy-type leaves. And after you wash the leaves, dry them really well. If you don’t, you’ll have all kinds of crazy spattering- the larger the water pockets on the leaves, the more you run the risk of burning yourself with pops of hot oil.

      One of our favorite restaurants in DC – Rasika – serves a terrific dish, palak chaat, of flash fried spinach with a garniture of yoghurt, date chutney, tamarind sauce, mint, tomato, and red onion. I think the yoghurt may be sweetened with palm sugar and I also think they may add amchoor to the tamarind sauce.

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