How to Prep and Cook Fresh and Frozen Spinach for Delicious Results
Let lush, succulent spinach into everything from soups to sides. Here's how to get the best out of it.
Spinach, the first of the leafy vegetables to emerge in the spring—sometimes pushing through late-winter snow—brings bright color to a gray landscape. A relative of both beets and chard, spinach is classified into one of three basic types. Flat-leaf spinach has smooth, broad leaves. Savoy spinach, with dark green, curly and deeply crinkled leaves and semi-savoy spinach—a hybrid variety that has slightly crinkled leaves. Baby spinach, harvested early in its growth stage, has small leaves and a tenderer texture and sweeter taste than mature spinach.
Spinach is sold loose, in bunches and in plastic bags or containers. Look for slender stalks and crisp, dark green leaves with no signs of yellowing, wilting or sliminess. Spinach sold in bunches stays fresh longer than spinach sold in plastic bags. Fresh spinach should smell sweet, not sour or musty.
Pictured recipe: Spanakopita-Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms
Storing and Freezing Spinach
Store unwashed spinach in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. If desired, add a dry paper towel to the bag to absorb extra moisture and extend the life of the spinach.
Before cooking, cut any woody stems from mature spinach. (Baby spinach does not require stemming.) Swirl the leaves in a bowl of cool water. Let stand for 3 minutes. The sand and dirt will settle to the bottom. Repeat as needed. On the final rinse, use warm water. The warmth relaxes the crinkles in the leaves and allows any remaining bits of sand to be washed away. Spin dry or pat dry with clean kitchen towels.
Remove any woody stems and/or ribs; chop if desired. Most vegetables should be blanched (briefly cooked in boiling water) before freezing. To blanch spinach, bring 1 gallon of water per pound of spinach to a boil in a large pot. Add spinach, cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the spinach to a large bowl of ice water. Drain well; pat dry. Spread out in a single layer on a large baking sheet and freeze until solid. Pack the frozen spinach in quart- or gallon-size freezer bags. (Check out: The Best Frozen Food to Keep Stocked in Your Freezer.)
Cooking with Spinach
Spinach is classic with eggs—in omelets, frittatas and soufflés. Complementary flavors include garlic, sesame, ginger and chile; lemon, vinegar and Kalamata olives; and bacon and nutmeg. Baby spinach is best eaten raw—in salads and on sandwiches. For cooking, mature spinach is best—but when it's fresh and crisp, it's also great eaten raw. Spinach has a water content of between 80 and 90%. When it is cooked—even for the briefest time—it loses considerable volume. Flavor and texture also suffer from overcooking, so in general, the shorter the cook time, the better.
Pictured Recipe: Spinach & Mushroom Quiche
Sauté: Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add 4 cloves thinly sliced garlic and cook until beginning to brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 20 ounces mature spinach, stemmed and rinsed; toss to coat. Cover and cook until wilted, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and toss with 1 tablespoon lemon juice and ¼ teaspoon each crushed red pepper and salt. Serves 4.
Microwave: Place 1 pound stemmed and rinsed (but not dried) mature spinach in a large microwave-safe dish. Cover and microwave on High until the spinach begins to wilt, about 2 minutes, depending on the strength of your microwave. (Drain in a mesh strainer, pressing with the back of a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible, and return to the bowl.) Toss with 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds and 2 teaspoons each toasted sesame oil and reduced-sodium soy sauce. Serves 3.
Using Frozen Spinach
Frozen spinach makes a welcome addition to soups, stews, egg dishes and casseroles, just to name a few. To defrost spinach, it's best to do it gently in the refrigerator, or microwave for 1 to 2 minutes on defrost mode, taking care not to cook it further. Spinach retains a lot of water during freezing. Unless you are simply adding frozen spinach to a soup or stew, plan on squeezing thawed, frozen spinach dry before cooking with it.
Pictured recipe: Skillet Lemon Chicken with Spinach
Spinach is also a nutritional powerhouse—rich in iron, folate and vitamin C. If you battle migraine headaches, spinach could help thanks to its ample magnesium, a mineral often in short supply among migraine sufferers. In one study, people who downed a daily 600 mg magnesium supplement (one and a half times the Daily Value) for three months experienced 41% fewer migraines. One cup of cooked spinach provides 157 mg, or 37% of your recommended Daily Value.
1 cup cooked spinach: Calories 41, Fat 0g (sat 0g), Cholesterol 0mg, Carbs 7g, Total sugars 1g (added 0g), Protein 5g, Fiber 4g, Sodium 126mg, Potassium 839mg.