How to Cook Spinach (3 Ways!)

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Learn how to cook spinach using three different methods: steaming, sauteing and blanching. Either way, this nutrient-dense leafy green vegetable cooks in just minutes for a fast side dish or versatile ingredient.

How to Cook Spinach (3 Ways!)

Spinach is a staple in the kitchen as they’re easy to cook fresh or frozen. These leafy greens are a popular ingredient for salads and side dishes. Their flavor is mild, so it mixes nicely with other items while providing health benefits to any meal. It’s a fantastic addition to omelets, scrambles, lasagnas, and quiches.

There are a handful of different types of spinach to choose from. The most common being baby spinach which is typically eaten raw but does well with gentle cooking. Larger and more robust flat-leaf or curly-leaf is better tasting when heated up. There are three basic ways to cook fresh spinach, depending on the desired flavor, texture, and use.

How to cook spinach

  • Steaming quickly tenderizes and wilts the leaves down without much need of seasoning until after cooking.
  • Blanching immediately cooks the leaves in seconds and most often used as an intermediary step for a dish.
  • Sauteing uses dry heat to develop flavor on the surface and uses other flavoring agents.

Steamed spinach

Steamed spinach

Steaming spinach in a hot moist-heat environment allows large batches to be cooked in under 2 minutes. It requires a minimal amount of water to create steam compared to blanching. This process helps retain the bright green color while tenderizing the greens.

The cooked spinach can then be simply seasoned with salt and pepper. Squeezing a little lemon juice or balsamic vinegar over it can help cut the bitterness. Avoid adding directly in the pan depending on the type of cookware you’re using.

Blanched spinach

Blanched spinach

Blanching the spinach leaves in a large pot of salted hot water quickly wilts the greens in under a minute. This is great for rapidly cooking multiple batches of leaves. Make sure to quickly remove from the heat and cool it down under cold running water to halt the cooking process.

Squeeze out excess liquid to avoid it from becoming soggy or turning a muddy green tint. I use this method when making creamed spinach.

Sauteed spinach

Sauteed spinach

Start with heating olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. The fat will help to sear the leaves and add some light browning and quickly start flavor development. During this time other aromatics and spices like minced garlic, onions, bell pepper, or chili flakes can be added to the oil and briefly cooked.

Add the spinach a handful at a time, stirring until wilted, then add the rest of the leaves. This process will take a few minutes. When adding cooked spinach to something such as stuffed shells or a dip, it’s best to cook out as much water as possible, making sauteing the ideal option.

Removing the stem

Removing the stem of a spinach leaf

Larger spinach-like flat-leaf have a tougher and more prevalent stem, especially when sold in bunches. It can easily be removed in two ways. Use a knife to cut the stems off or the leaf can be held in one hand and the stems pulled down and off with the other.

Washing

Washing spinach in a salad spinner

It’s important to thoroughly wash spinach, specifically flat-leaf that’s freshly picked and contains a lot of dirt and debris. Plunge the leaves into a large bowl of cold water, swish around, and change out the water if needed if there’s a lot of sand or dirt.

As for pre-washed spinach, I still like to rinse the leaves with water for a few minutes in a colander to reduce any harmful bacteria that may be lurking in the crevices of the leaves. Dry them in a salad spinner, especially if sauteing.

Selection and uses

Most varieties of spinach are vibrant green in color with crisp stems. The leaves should look fresh and not wilted, signaling that the leaves are past its prime. Baby spinach and trimmed flat-leaf work well for smoothies, salad, and cooking. Curly-leaf spinach is best for sauteing, blanching, or steaming. Check the best by date on any packaging if available.

Storing

Store baby spinach or curly-lead in its original packaging (plastic bag or box) to keep it fresh. Store flat-leaf spinach unwashed, in a dry plastic, unsealed bag. Once the spinach begins to turn yellow or become brown and mushy, throw it away. This could be one to two weeks depending on the variety.

Substituting frozen for fresh

Frozen spinach is a convenient way to add the vegetable into meals. A 9 ounce (255 grams) frozen package of spinach leaves yields about 3/4 to 1 cup after reheating in the microwave, stovetop, or defrosted until cool running water in a colander.

This can be substituted for about 6 cups (8 ounces) of fresh spinach leaves. Make sure to drain the excess water before using it. The leaves are pretty chopped up, so it works best for dips, in egg dishes, pasta recipes, soups, and stews.

Recipes with spinach

Spinach yield

Spinach is made up of about 90% water, so when cooked it loses a huge amount of volume. Depending on the leaf size, variety, if chopped, and how it’s packed into the cup will slightly differ the yield. One pound (16 ounces) or about 12 cups of packed fresh spinach wilts down to about 1 1 /2 to 2 cups cooked. Approximately 1 ounce (28 grams) of baby spinach is ¾ cups packed before cooking.

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How to Cook Spinach (3 Ways!)

Learn how to cook spinach using three different methods: steaming, sauteing and blanching. Either way, this nutrient-dense leafy green cooks fast!
Pin Print Review
3.9 from 10 votes
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time5 mins
Total Time20 mins
Servings 4 servings
Course Side
Cuisine American

Ingredients

Steamed Spinach

  • 1 pound spinach, baby, flat-leaf or curly-leaf spinach
  • Water as needed to cover the bottom of the pot
  • Kosher salt, as needed for seasoning
  • Black pepper, as needed for seasoning

Blanched Spinach

  • 1 pound spinach, baby, flat-leaf or curly-leaf spinach
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, for seasoning water

Sauteed spinach

  • 1 pound spinach, baby, flat-leaf or curly-leaf spinach
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt, as needed for seasoning
  • Black pepper, as needed for seasoning

Instructions 

Steamed Spinach

  • Remove the stems from the spinach or leave on if using baby spinach. Wash the spinach and shake off excess water.
  • Add about 2-inches of water in the bottom of a pot with the steamer insert placed on top.
  • Add spinach to the pot, cover and boil the water until steam is formed. Work in batches if needed.
  • Steam the spinach until the leaves are tender and slightly wilted, 1 to 2 minutes depending on the type of spinach.
  • Season spinach with salt and pepper to taste.

Blanched Spinach

  • Remove the stems from the spinach or leave on if using baby spinach. Wash the spinach and shake off excess water.
  • Bring 2 quarts of water and 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil in a large pot.
  • Add a third of the spinach and blanch for 30 seconds. Transfer cooked spinach to a colander. Repeat with the remaining spinach.
  • Run cool water over the spinach to stop the cooking process until they are cool to the touch.
  • Gently squeeze out excess moisture from spinach using your hands.
  • Season as desired or reserve to use in other recipes.

Sauteed spinach

  • Remove the stems from the spinach or leave on if using baby spinach. Wash the spinach and dry well in a salad spinner.
  • Heat a large saute pan over medium heat, then add the oil.
  • Once the oil is hot add spinach, a handful at a time, stirring to slightly wilt before adding the next handful.
  • Saute until all the spinach is wilted, about 2 to 4 minutes.
  • Season with salt and pepper.

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Nutrition Facts
How to Cook Spinach (3 Ways!)
Amount Per Serving
Calories 52 Calories from Fat 9
% Daily Value*
Fat 1g2%
Saturated Fat 1g5%
Sodium 203mg8%
Potassium 1266mg36%
Carbohydrates 8g3%
Fiber 5g20%
Sugar 1g1%
Protein 6g12%
Vitamin A 21267IU425%
Vitamin C 64mg78%
Calcium 239mg24%
Iron 6mg33%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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7 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. angelica says

    With the stems of the spinach can I cook them (saute) down first and then add the leaves. Are the stems nutritious and flavourful.? Thx

  2. Patrick says

    Thank you Jessica. Can’t tell you how happy I was to receive your email, a few minutes of normalcy in these harrowing times we are living through. And I will be certainly be sautéing spinach this week thanks to you.
    All the best to you and yours.

  3. Bill Ososki says

    Made the chicken enchiladas with your recipe. They were fantastic, especially the from scratch enchilada sauce! Thank you Jessica! One little comment, I followed the recipe and saved some of the enchiladas in the refrigerator to eat a couple days later. Seemed like much of the sauce disappeared. When I prepare next time, I plan to make extra sauce.

  4. Ian Dive says

    Glad to have found you, Jessica!
    I’m an eighty year old man who is learning to do more cooking as my wife is less able sometimes.
    (I was looking for ways to cook spinach-I hate it when it’s a soggy wet lump!- when I arrived at your advice page.
    Will be back, I’m certain.
    From a lockdown cottage in Norfolk UK.

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