Let us set the scene: you are standing in your kitchen trying to decide what to make for dinner. You’re tired and hungry. You want something fast and easy, and you have a big pile of fresh spinach courtesy of your CSA or local farmers’ market. The quickest thing to do, short of eating it raw, is to sauté the greens but you’ve already done that this week … twice.
Luckily, even with just one main ingredient, there are so many unique and exciting ways to prepare a meal. Think of it as wearing the same dress but accessorizing it differently each time so it always becomes a brand new, different outfit. Cooking works the same way, so let’s give spinach a makeover and dress it up 10 different ways. Here’s creative ides to stir-fry and sauté spinach for a quick, easy dinner.
1. Basic Spinach Sauté
Before we get all fancied up with new ways to stir-fry and sauté spinach, let’s go over how to prepare spinach for a basic sauté. Start with about two pounds of spinach. It may look like a lot, but believe us, it will wilt down. If you have baby spinach, you don’t need to cut off the stems like you do for bigger spinach leaves. Remove any yellowing or wilting leaves. Even if the spinach says it has been pre-washed, wash it. Just fill the sink with cold water, put the spinach leaves in a colander and dunk them into the water. Agitate the leaves to shake off any grit. Dry the spinach in a salad spinner or between two clean kitchen towels. Make sure it’s dry because wet spinach does not sauté well.
Heat your favorite oil in a large saute pan or skillet over medium heat. Add some minced or sliced garlic (about three cloves) and sauté until it is golden and softened (about two minutes). Increase the heat to medium-high and add a few handfuls of spinach to the pan. Stir the leaves in the garlicky oil while they wilt down. Then add another few handfuls of spinach and stir until they wilt down. Continue doing this until you have wilted down all the spinach.
Spinach releases a lot of water when it cooks so keep stirring and cooking the spinach until the liquid evaporates, about five minutes. Don’t overcook the spinach or it will become gray and mushy. When the spinach is wilted, remove the pan from the heat. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg and serve. If you like, grate some lemon zest over the spinach for a burst of brightness.
Mushrooms and spinach go really well together making this a great flavor combination when you choose to stir-fry and sauté spinach. You can use white button mushrooms, cremini, chopped portabellas, shiitake or any mushrooms you like. Heat the oil in the skillet and add the mushrooms first. Cook, while stirring, until the mushrooms are browned and softened. This should take about 5-7 minutes. Season the mushrooms with garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper. Wilt in the spinach in handfuls as described above, stirring often. Serve warm. If you’re feeling adventuresome, try making this Sautéed Mushroom and Spinach One-Pot Pasta, pictured above.
Many spinach recipes have bacon in them for added fat and flavor. We can make a healthier and more compassionate version of those recipes by using Coconut Bacon, pictured above, or Shiitake Bacon. Sauté sliced garlic in oil for just a minute until it softens. Add chopped veggie bacon to the skillet and cook for another minute. Wilt in the spinach, by the handful, until it is tender, stirring often. Mix in a spoonful of balsamic vinegar for rich flavor. Season with salt and pepper and serve warm. Garnish with more chopped veggie bacon, if you can’t get enough of it.
When you add beans to any recipe, it transforms from a side dish to a meal. You can add black beans, kidney beans, black-eyed peas or whatever beans you like most. Choose between all the possible ethnic flavors to season the dish with. For an Ethiopian dish, sauté minced garlic and thinly sliced ginger in oil until softened and browned. Add one small diced onion and sauté until golden. Mix in a tablespoon or two of Berbere, an Ethiopian spice blend, and toss to coat the onions. Add 1 ½ cups of beans and 2 diced plum tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes soften and break down, about five minutes. Wilt in the spinach, by the handful, stirring often. Serve the dish as is or over quinoa.
Spinach has a distinct but mild flavor so have fun and add some heat with Indian spices. Sauté chopped scallions, chile peppers, thinly sliced ginger and garlic in oil with yellow mustard seeds. Cook until the garlic browns and the mustard seeds pop, about one minute. Add spinach, letting it wilt, handful by handful. Cook, stirring often, until the spinach is tender. Season with ground cumin, turmeric, salt and pepper and serve warm. For another Indian spinach recipe, try this Alu Palak, pictured above, or Curried Comforting Potatoes with Spinach.
Espinacas Guisadas is a simple Mexican dish of sautéed spinach. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté chopped onions, minced green chile peppers such as Serrano or jalapeno, and minced garlic for several minutes until softened and fragrant. Add 2 diced plum tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes start to soften and break down. Wilt in the spinach, by the handful, stirring often until tender. Season with Mexican spices such as cumin and coriander as well as salt and pepper and serve warm with tortillas and hot sauce. For another Mexican recipe, try these Tacos with Spinach, Mushrooms, Potatoes and Caramelized Onions, pictured above.
Spinach is a perfect ingredient for stir-fries since it is tender and wilts so quickly. Give your spinach an Asian twist by heating equal amounts of vegetable oil and sesame oil in a pan over medium heat. Sauté sliced or minced garlic until it is fragrant, about one minute. Wilt in the spinach, by the handful, and stir often. Mix in a spoon or two of soy sauce or tamari and cook for another minute or two. Add a few dashes of Sriracha hot sauce, if desired. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds.
Many Italian dishes are very simple with few ingredients but lots of flavor. To make an Italian spinach sauté, heat extra-virgin olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté minced garlic until browned, about a minute or two. Add a pinch of crushed red pepper to the oil and stir. Wilt in the spinach, by the handful, stirring often. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and squeeze fresh lemon juice over the greens. Garnish with basil, if desired.
9. Sephardic Spinach Saute
Spinaci con Pinoli e Passerine or Spinach with Pine Nuts is a classic dish in Italy, Spain, Turkey, and Greece. It is simple yet elegant. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add minced onion, shallots or scallions and minced garlic and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add in dried currants or golden raisins that have been plumped up in hot water and drained. Mix in a handful of toasted pine nuts. Sauté for a minute until the raisins and pine nuts are warm. Wilt in the spinach, by the handful, until tender. Sauté until everything is warmed through, remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper.
10. Jamaican Spinach Saute
Last but not least, this is my favorite way to sauté spinach or callalloo. Callalloo is a green similar to spinach that is a staple in Jamaican cooking. I adore Ital or Rastafarian food which is clean, healthy, and usually vegan. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté one sliced onion until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add 6 sliced garlic cloves and just ½ teaspoon of chopped scotch bonnet peppers (unless you can handle more but start with a little because they are very hot) and cook for 2 minutes until softened and fragrant. Wilt in the spinach, by the handful, stirring often, until tender. Season with thyme, salt and pepper and serve warm.
How much fun was that? We traveled all over the world with spinach and came up with 10 different and delicious ways to stir-fry and sauté spinach. One main ingredient plus one pan equals 10 flavorful recipes and zero boredom. Try any of these recipes with other greens such as kale, collards or chard for added variety. For more ideas, check out 10 Flavorful Ways to Cook with Spinach and How to Add Ethnic Flavors to Your Dishes by downloading the Food Monster App which is available for both Android and iPhone. It’s a great resource with over 10,000 recipes and new recipes added daily.
Lead image source: Alu Palak: Curried Comforting Potatoes with Spinach