Basic Saute Spinach Recipe

April 25, 2016 2 Comments

sauteed spinach recipe

“I’m strong to the finish, cause I eat my spinach…”

This sauteed spinach side-dish is a huge hit in our house and one we go back to time and time again. There are lots of ways you can alter this recipe by adding a little of this or a little of that but we like to keep it nice and simple.

We’ve been lucky our two daughters have enjoyed spinach from a young age. A great source of vitamin C, but also vitamin K & A plus minerals like manganese, folate, magnesium and iron. If it was good enough for Popeye, it should be plenty good for me and my girls.

Give It a Bath

Unless you’re purchasing triple-washed bagged spinach, make sure you give it a good wash and rinse. I’ve found over the years that fresh spinach leaves collect a lot of sand and soil and an occasional small stone or pebble mixed in too. It’s really important to clean it really well to avoid any cracked molars.

I like to use a salad spinner to give this noble green a bath to remove the sand and soil, then drain the water and repeat until all the water is clean. It usually takes 2 or 3 times. Then I’ll give it the spin cycle in the salad spinner to dry.

Fresh Spinach to Cooked Spinach Conversions

You’re going to be surprised by how much the spinach cooks down. You might start with a big pan bursting with fresh spinach only to end up with a small pile at the end. After a little research I found these yields for cooked spinach:

1 pound of fresh spinach yields 10 cups torn raw leaves

2 ounces raw spinach yields 1 cup raw spinach

1 pound fresh spinach yields 1 cup of cooked spinach (1/10)

According to the USDA’s new MyPlate guidelines, 1 serving of spinach is 2 heaping tablespoons of cooked spinach. How much you serve to your family and friends may vary from the government’s portions.

Basic Saute Spinach Recipe

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 6 minutes

Total Time: 11 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Basic Saute Spinach Recipe


2 tablespoons olive oil

5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1 1/2 pounds fresh spinach, cleaned & dried

Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 Lemon

Extra virgin olive oil for finishing (use the best you have)

How To Prepare At Home

Prep all the ingredients.

Heat a large saute or fry pan (one that is big enough to hold all the spinach). You can also use a large soup pot or Dutch oven if necessary.

When the pan is hot, add the garlic and saute until lightly browned and be careful not to let it burn. If it does, toss it and start all over. There's nothing worse than the taste of burnt garlic in anything you cook.

Add the cleaned spinach. Season with salt and pepper.

Most recipes will tell you to toss the spinach with the garlic and oil but I'm going to tell you that's almost impossible. There is so much spinach in the pan if you do try to stir it, spinach is going everywhere.

Most recipes are also going to tell you to cover the pan and I'm also going to tell you the same. Maybe in a large pot or Dutch oven this will work, but not in a saute pan. Sometimes I put an extra large cover from one of my stock pots on top and wait for the spinach to cook down.

Other times I don't add any cover and the spinach still cooks down. Just takes a little longer. You can always let it cook down some and then add the cover but remember, it only takes 2 - 3 minutes to cook down completely before you want to uncover the pan and finish cooking for an additional minute or two.

When the spinach cooks down enough so you can stir with a wooden spoon, be sure to stay with it, keep an eye on it and give it a stir now and then or risk the chance of the spinach burning to the pan.

When cooked to your satisfaction, transfer the cooked spinach to a serving bowl and finish with a little of your best grade extra olive finishing oil. Don't drown it, just enough to give it a little extra flavor.

Stir, taste and adjust seasoning with a little salt & pepper.

I think a squeeze of lemon takes sauteed spinach to another flavor planet but not everyone does, especially my two daughters. So instead of squeezing the fresh juice from half of lemon over top, I quarter it and serve them on each plate. This way the person eating the spinach can decide plus it gives the plate some extra color.


Alternative Method

The recipe above is how we saute spinach in our house now but when I first learned how to make this dish, I did it a little differently. I would start by heating up a pan and adding just washed and mostly dried spinach to the pan without any oil or garlic.

Cover and let the spinach cook down some. If I needed to cook more spinach, I would add it as there was room in the pan. Continue cooking, adding and cooking until all the spinach is cooked down.

Transfer the spinach to a colander and let the spinach drain over a bowl or in the sink. I’d use a large serving spoon to remove some of the liquid from the spinach but not too much.

Now I would go back, wipe out the pan carefully with a dish towel and reheat the pan over medium heat. Add the oil, saute the garlic for a minute or two and then add the cooked spinach back to the pan.

This way the spinach is much more manageable and I’m sauteing both the garlic and spinach at the same time.

Season with salt and pepper and finish as described above.

Either way works well and really just depends on what method you’re most comfortable with.

Alternative Ingredients

Think of this recipe for sauteed spinach as a basic starter. It’s incredible just like this but you can play around, have some fun by adding some other ingredients to give it even more complexity.

In our house, our favorite extra is toasted pine nuts but toasted sesame seeds, almonds, cashews or most other nuts would work well too.

Instead of garlic, how about a little minced shallot or what about both?

I mentioned how a squeeze fresh lemon on top when serving really pumps up the taste so now I’m thinking a little lemon zest added to the spinach would be a great addition. That takes me to the idea of trying the zest of other citrus fruits like grapefruit or orange.

Instead of finishing the dish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, why not try a pat of butter to add some richness.

Want to give it a little heat, I might add some red pepper flakes or a dash or two or three of Sriracha Hot Chili sauce.

Need some additional fat which provides even more flavor, you can always start by sauteing up a little bacon or pancetta if available. You see bacon bits in spinach salads all the time so it must be a great pairing.

Spices – here’s where you can go in any direction you want to go. Fresh ginger, cumin, turmeric, mustard; the list is endless and isn’t that grand?


So for a great side dish to almost any meal you put on the table, learn this technique for making saute spinach at home and keep trying different ingredients to come up with your own “family” recipe.



Last modified on Sat 20 April 2019 12:31 pm

Filed in: Side Dish Recipes

Comments (2)

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  1. Cynthia Booker says:

    Pine nuts, lightly toasted before adding to the finished spinach, is one of my favorites. To punch it up a bit more, sprinkle parmesan over before serving.

  2. Frances says:

    Is there anyway that you can make this ahead of time (ie 1 hr before) and keep it warm until ready to serve (warming oven), without jeopardizing the taste and texture? I’d like to make it but not at the time of party but right before guests arriving.

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