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Six Ways to Cook and Serve Spinach

Spinach and strawberry salad

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Spinach has just the right balance of flavor—sharp and hearty but not overpowering. It is equally versatile raw or cooked.

There are two main types of spinach: flat-leafed and savoy or crinkle-leafed. The more tender and mild tasting of the two is flat-leafed especially the baby varieties. Savoy spinach has a stronger flavor with a slightly bitter aftertaste.

Spinach and strawberry salad
Spinach and strawberry salad

How to choose spinach

  • Select spinach with crisp and dark green leaves that have a fresh fragrance.
  • Avoid leaves that are limp, damaged, or discolored.
  • Small baby spinach will have the most flavor and tender texture; older leaves will tend to be bitterer in flavor and have a chewier texture.

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Spinach in the kitchen

How to store spinach

  • Spinach can be refrigerated in a plastic bag for up to 3 days.
Spinach and grapefruit salad
Spinach and grapefruit salad

How to prep spinach

  • Spinach leaves should be separated and cleaned in a bowl of cold water to loosen grit and dirt or soaked in a bowl of salty water for 10 minutes to remove bugs and then rinsed under cold running water to remove dirt.
  • Wash spinach just before using it so that it does not become soft. Remove the stems once washed unless the spinach is very young.
  • Spinach will shrink when cooled.
Spinach salad with eggs
Spinach salad with hardboiled eggs and sprouts

Spinach serving suggestions

  •  The dark green leaves of fresh spinach will add color to a lettuce salad.
  • Spinach can be served raw in sandwiches and salads. Just add a little lemon juice.
  • Add orange segments and almonds to a fresh spinach salad and toss in a sweet-sour dressing.
  • Add cubes of cheese and sliced fresh peppers and mushrooms to a spinach lunch salad.
  • The classic spinach salad includes bacon, mushrooms, hard-boiled egg quarters with warm mustard, and bacon fat dressing.
  • A spinach salad can be topped with grilled Portobello mushrooms and strips of spice-marinated grilled chicken.
  • It can be served with a basic béchamel sauce or a rich Mornay sauce.

Spinach cooking suggestions

  • Spinach can be baked au gratin or puréed.
  • Try spinach with a horseradish sauce or with melted butter and a little garlic.
  • Serve spinach with spring vegetables such as baby carrots and young fava beans.
  • Eggs, fish, poultry, and meats that are served on a bed of spinach, usually with a sauce, are often appended with the phrase à la Florentine. The term originated in 1533 when Caterina de Medici traveled from Florence to marry the king of France. She brought along her favorite Florentine cooks who used spinach in many royal dishes.
Wilting spinach
Wilting spinach

How to wilt spinach

  1. Cook spinach in a saucepan or a skillet with just the water that clings to the leaves after washing.
  2. Add a sprinkling of salt and place the pan over low heat.
  3. Cover the pan so that the spinach steams in its own liquid.
  4. Shake the pan occasionally to prevent the spinach from sticking to the bottom. Spinach will cook in 4 to 6 minutes wilting down to about an eighth of its volume.
  5. Drain and press out the remaining liquid.
  6. Chop and serve with lots of butter.

Wilted spinach can also be prepared with minced garlic sautéed garlic in olive oil or hardboiled eggs.

Steamed spinach
Steamed spinach

How to steam spinach

  1. Wash the spinach and arrange it so that all the stems are going in the same direction.
  2. Place a steam basket in a pot with an inch or two of water; the basket should not touch the water.
  3. Bring the water to a boil and set the spinach in the basket.
  4. Steam the spinach for 2 to 4 minutes.
  5. Arrange the spinach on a serving dish, spoon melted butter over the spinach, and serve with lemon wedges.

Spinach butter cooked in a saucepan

  1. Wash and clean the spinach.
  2. Crosscut the spinach into 2-inch lengths.
  3. Melt butter in a saucepan and layer in the spinach, sprinkle each layer with a bit of salt.
  4. Cover and cook over moderate heat; the spinach will wilt in 2 to 5 minutes.
  5. Spinach will cook in the water it’s cleaned with if it seems dry add a bit of water.

How to purée spinach

  1. Wilt the spinach as directed above.
  2. Drain or dry the spinach as much as possible.
  3. Purée in a food processor or chop it by hand, add 4 to 6 tablespoons of melted butter, 2 tablespoons of heavy cream, and a dash of nutmeg, then blend well.

How to make creamed spinach

  1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil.
  2. Plunge washed and trimmed spinach into the boiling water and cook for about 1 minute.
  3. Remove the spinach with a slotted spoon and chill it in iced water to stop the cooking.
  4. Drain the spinach and chop it finely.
  5. Put a cup of light or heavy cream and 2 tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.
  6. Cook stirring occasionally until the spinach has absorbed a lot of the cream and thickened about 10 minutes.
  7. Add a bit of nutmeg and pepper to taste and serve hot.
Spinach soup
Spinach soup

How to make spinach soup

  1. Wash and clean the spinach and cut off large stems.
  2. Sauté diced onion for several minutes in olive oil and butter until it softens.
  3. Add minced garlic and cook for 1 more minute.
  4. Add 4 tablespoons of flour and cook for 3 or 4 more minutes
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in 2 cups of heated vegetable stock or water.
  6. Return to the heat and add the spinach, a bit of chopped parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Cook until the spinach wilt; cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
  8. Puree with an immersion blender or in a blender.
  9. Add milk or water to the desired thickness.
  10. Heat and adjust the seasoning.
  11. Serve garnished with sour cream or yogurt.

Spinach flavor partners

  • Spinach is a good match for veal, poultry, fish, aged cheese, cream cheese, eggs, egg noodles, garlic, mushrooms, nutmeg, onions, shallots or sour cream.

Spinach nutrition

  • Spinach is a rich source of vitamins A and C and B, but it contains oxalic acid which inhibits the body’s absorption of calcium and iron.
  • One cup of fresh spinach contains about 10 calories.
Spinach in garden
Spinach in garden

Get to know spinach

  • Spinach grows as a rosette of dark green leaves to about 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm) tall and about 6 to 8 inches (15-20 cm) across. Smooth leaf varieties have thin, tender, sweetly flavored leaves. Crinkle or savoy-leaved spinaches have broader, thicker leaves that hold up better when cooked.
  • Spinach originated in the Iranian desert near Dasht-e-Kavir and was transplanted to Persian gardens in about the fourth century. The name spinach derives from an old Persian name aspanākh—isfanakh—which means “a green hand”.
  • Spinach was brought to Spain by the Arab conquerors as early as the eighth century and from there spread to the rest of Europe. The Arabic name for spinach was esbanash; in Spanish the name became espinaca. The first English cookbook reference to spinnedge came in the fourteenth century and referred to it as the Spanish vegetable.
  • Popeye the Sailor Man made his first appearance in American comics in January 1929, the creation of E.C. Segar. Popeye’s strength was derived from spinach. He often quipped, “I’m strong to the finish ‘cause I eats my spinach.” American consumption of spinach grew by 33 percent in the years immediately following the first appearance of Popeye.

The botanical name for spinach is Spinacia oleracea.

Spinach articles on Harvest to Table:

How to Plant and Grow Spinach

Spinach Seed Starting Tips

How to Harvest and Store Spinach

Spinach Growing Problems: Troubleshooting

Six Ways to Cook and Serve Spinach

How to Grow New Zealand Spinach

How to Grow Malabar Spinach

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Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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