Steaming spinach preserves its bountiful nutrients and, if done correctly, creates a flavorful, vibrant dish. However, cooking time is so short that it is easy to overcook the leafy green, yielding an unappealing green mass that can only be rescued via disguise, in dishes such as quiche, creamed spinach and spinach dip. Proper cooking and seasoning transforms your spinach-eating experience from a chore to a pleasure.
Steam it Lightly
When steaming spinach, there is a fine line between perfectly cooked and overcooked. Fresh spinach just needs to wilt, which can take under a minute once the water comes to a boil. Exact cooking times depend on how much spinach you're steaming at once: if you're just cooking a few leaves it will likely take seconds and if your steamer is densely packed it may take several minutes. Spinach, like most green vegetables, grows more intense in color as it cooks, and starts to lose color as it overcooks. Stop cooking it once it grows bright green and wilts slightly. A glass-lidded pot can help you closely monitor changes in color.
Season it Well
Steamed spinach does not need to be eaten on its own. Seasoning perks up the flavor and also ties it in with other dishes you're serving. Spinach seasoning need not be complicated: you can use any commercially prepared salad dressing or seasoning sauce, or you can prepare your own simple seasoning from oil, vinegar, salt and a judicious dose of spices. Try a squeeze of lemon, lime or orange juice, or use soy sauce and toasted sesame oil when pairing steamed spinach with Chinese food.
Use Quality Spinach
All spinach is not created equal. Vibrant, fresh spinach from the farmers market has more flavor and vitality than industrially processed spinach that has been sitting in plastic on the grocery shelf. Farmers who sell directly to the public in relatively small quantities can choose to grow varieties with exceptional flavor over varieties that hold up well during shipping and extended storage.
Eat it Fresh
Steamed spinach is dramatically more appealing if you eat it fresh out of the steamer rather than letting it sit, or refrigerating it and eating it another day. Freshly cooked spinach has vitality and texture, while spinach that has been sitting can grow slimy in texture and musky in flavor. Because spinach steams so quickly, leave it for the last minute and steam it right before serving. Set up the steamer, adding water and spinach, but don't turn on the heat until just a few minutes before you'll need it.
Devra Gartenstein is a self-taught professional cook who has authored two cookbooks: "The Accidental Vegan", and "Local Bounty: Seasonal Vegan Recipes". She founded Patty Pan Cooperative, Seattle's oldest farmers market concession, and teaches regular cooking classes.