But first, my spinach pitch:
Spinach is delicious, versatile, healthy and easy to prepare. If you don’t like spinach, maybe you haven’t had it prepared well. You can add spinach to lots of other dishes or add an herb, condiment or spice to spinach and change its taste to suit your mood. Popeye was right. A half cup of cooked spinach or a cup of raw spinach has more than the recommended daily amount of Vitamin A and has lots of other vitamins and minerals. (Popeye really touted the Vitamin A content, not iron, in spinach. If you like detective stories, read the true Popeye-spinach story here.) Spinach is simple to prepare and lightening quick to make.
Now to the basics:
Buying spinach – how much and what type to buy?
- Buy it fresh. Unless you can’t get fresh spinach and have a recipe where frozen spinach would be indistinguishable taste-wise, choose fresh over frozen. I have never used – and can’t envision using – canned spinach. If you are feeding more than 2 people or enjoy having spinach frequently, a 5 pound bag from Costco or similar place makes sense. If you’re not going to eat that much soon – buy a smaller amount, as spinach does not last long (beyond a few days, or at most a week.)
- The 3 types of spinach: flat or smooth leaf, savoy (crinkly dark leaves), and semi savoy (leaves that are slightly curly.) Baby spinach is the smallest leaves of flat leaf spinach. I like it because it is typically more tender than the larger flat or curly spinach leaves. You can usually find baby spinach pre-packaged and refrigerated in the produce (fruits and vegetable) section of the grocery store. If you get the larger leaf kind, pinch off the biggest stems, as they tend to be a bit tough. You may also want to chop or slice the spinach if the leaves are large.
- Spinach cooks down. A tightly packed cup of raw spinach makes less than 1/2 cup cooked. (Typically a 1/2 cup cooked is described as 1 serving.) So for cooked spinach, you need what looks like a mountain (or at least a small hill), but cooks down to a small bowl.
What to do with fresh spinach
- Store it correctly. Spinach should be refrigerated in an airtight container. I prefer a plastic bag with the air squeezed out.
- Clean it well. Don’t clean spinach until just before you are doing to use it. If your fresh spinach is not pre-packaged, immerse it in water, move the leaves around to get into the crevices (smoosh them in water is my technical term for that step) and use a salad spinner or colander to drain the water out. If the spinach is packaged and labelled “triple washed or pre-washed, you can just rinse it. If you’re eating it raw, dry it well between two paper towels. If you’ll cook it, leave the spinach damp, but not soaking.
- Get the most out of it nutritionally. In order to maximize the nutritional value of spinach, eat it with a food rich in Vitamin C. Such foods – citrus fruits such as oranges or grapefruits (or their justices) or tomatoes – improve absorption of the iron and calcium in the spinach.
- Eat it raw. Spinach is a great salad staple. I like to mix it with various types of lettuce or serve it as the salad green, with hard boiled egg, tomato and any other salad veggies you like, such as cucumber, carrot, celery, and red or green pepper. Spinach is also great as a salad with crumbled blue cheese, a few walnut pieces, and thin slices of apple or pear.
- Steam, microwave or sauté it. For microwaving or steaming, just the water left on after washing is enough. To microwave enough for 2 people, put 2 cups of raw spinach in a microwave-safe, covered dish and cook on high for about 2 minutes. Let it rest in the container for 1-2 minutes. To steam, put the raw spinach in a covered pot on a medium heat for just a few minutes, moving it around with a fork mid-way through. To sauté, pre-heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil, then add the spinach and keep moving it around. If you like garlic or onions, use crushed garlic and/or thinly sliced onion cooked on low heat until it softens in the oil before you add the spinach. Or add lemon juice afterwards. Either way, seasoned with salt and pepper, it’s simple and delicious. For a spicier version, add a dash of cayenne (red) pepper or crushed red pepper flakes to the oil or after cooking if it has been steamed.