Monday, October 29, 2012

Rescuing Spinach

And other dark greens.

How did it get such a bad name?  Well there is the canned version (grey-ish), the over cooked version (slime-ish), and the tough raw kind that squeaks on your teeth (also sandy-ish).  Oh, yeah, and the sautéed baby kind that can taste so (urk) bitter.  And then there was the poison spinach from California.

But spinach does not deserve this kind of press.  The whole point of spinach is that is SO good for you, but tasty and easy too.  And that is where frozen (Thank you Mr.Birdseye) comes in.  First of all, it is already cleaned, chopped and blanched (no sand, softened and that bitterness rinsed out), second so easy to get organic that way, and third and best, if you leave it in your freezer a few extra days/weeks because plans change, it does not melt in the back of your fridge into semi-intelligent slime based life forms.  
            Spinach is one of my very favorite answer to the question, “what veggie to have tonight?” when I just can’t think of anything else.  Besides, if you try this and hate it, you aren’t out very much cash.  Oh, and the reason you’ll never see this on the Food Network? 1) Food people think everyone knows this stuff (we don’t), and 2) there is NO way they could pad this out into a whole show.  It’s too simple and won’t make anyone feel inferior.

            This is the way I was shown back in my much earlier, bumbling cooking days.  Guess what? I still use it as a starting point and a fall back position.

Dawn’s Spinach… with Variations
These are the basics – use it with everything dark green
that’s been blanched and frozen

These amounts are for 1 box/bag of spinach (12 or 16 oz.? not important) 
Only have a partial bag?  Don’t sweat it, use a little less of the other stuff… or not.

skillet/sauté pan + 1 lid
stirring spatula/spoon
cutting board

1 bag/box frozen spinach
1/4 C water
1 smallish onion (or ½ a big one)
olive oil – enough to moisten skillet
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbs butter (if you are feeling super fancy)

Chop the onion
Heat the skillet and oil over pretty high heat, until a piece of onion starts to sizzle (2 - 4 min)
Dump in the onion, add a pinch of salt and sauté to give it some color – brown around the edges, translucent in the middle.  If it’s turning black, turn down the heat. 
Dump in the spinach and the water
Spread it out over the skillet and clap on the lid for about 4 minutes (This will steam and melt the spinach)
Take off the lid, stir the spinach, add salt and pepper to taste.
If you are feeling fancy, drop in the butter and stir the spinach to make it shiny and extra tasty.
Done!  Was that so hard?

Substitute soy sauce for salt and sesame oil for butter

I Don’t Like Onions
Substitute 1-2 smashed/pressed garlic cloves for the onion
(or 2 tsp bottled minced garlic)

I Love Garlic
Add above garlic to the onions when they are almost done.

I’m Feeling Southern / I Don’t Want Spinach / I’m Sick of Spinach Variation
Substitute frozen mustard and or collard greens, or some blend of spinach/mustard/collard…. hard to go wrong there.

Southern II
Crisp up a piece of bacon cut into small pieces in the oil before adding the onion.  Remove the crispy bacon pieces before adding the onion, and add them in at the end.

Oh NOs!  I have raw leaves.
This work with raw as well - but you might get the bitterness - depending on when/where/how/how long the spinach was grown.

What to do:
Long Way - Blanch and then sauté as above. (Blanch?! What'e Blanch?  check back in, I'll link this in a few days to my Blanching post)
Short Way - stir the raw (rinsed - and torn if they are huge) leaves into the cooked down onion.  A bit at a time as they wilt and shrink.  Then add the water - and proceed with the steaming.  This can take the 4 minutes - or up to 10 or 20 minutes depending on the toughness of your leaves.  (Spinach takes just a few minutes, kale and mustard green takes much longer.)
Taste test for tenderness and bitterness.  When the leaves are a nice texture they are ready.  If they are bitter add some vinegar a splash/tsp at a time.  Rice vinegar, Cider vinegar and Balsamic vinegar all do a good job here.

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