Spinach in the bag is fast food at its best

March 19, 1995|By Cathy Thomas | Cathy Thomas,Orange County Register

There's no doubt that fresh spinach is good for us, and it can be delicious, too. But it used to take so much time and devotion to clean it. The stems had to be cut or pulled off and the leaves submerged in plenty of cold water; sometimes it took two or three changes of water to remove every trace of grit and grime. Then it needed to be drained and dried.

Now it's in the bag, prominently displayed in the produce section. It's clean and ready to cook or eat raw.

Place several handfuls of clean spinach-in-the-bag in a microwave-safe casserole -- stems and all; the leaves can be left whole or chopped for easier eating.

If chopping spinach, use a stainless-steel knife to prevent discoloration. Sprinkle with a little water, about 1 teaspoon, and microwave, covered, for 2 minutes on high. For the best flavor, you will want the spinach to be just barely limp. Quickly drain the spinach and add the desired seasonings.

Conservative amounts of melted butter or margarine can be combined with balsamic vinegar or soy sauce and tossed with the cooked spinach. Or sprinkle on a little rice vinegar and some salt and pepper.

Fresh spinach can be sauteed quickly in a large skillet or wok. Heat a little Asian-style sesame oil or vegetable oil and add some minced garlic (and a pinch of dried red chili flakes if you like dishes a little spicy). Add the spinach and stir-fry just long enough for the spinach to be barely limp. Leave it as is or add a splash of prepared Asian black bean sauce.

Use Stir-Fried Spinach to add freshness and flavor to Chinese takeout food. It's delicious with meat or poultry-based dishes such as cashew chicken, kung-pao chicken or shrimp.

Cooked spinach tastes great combined with rice or pasta. Spinach can be cooked with a flavored butter such as a saffron butter. Large batches of the butter can be made quickly in the blender or food processor and stored in 1-tablespoon portions in the freezer. It's scrumptious on grilled fish or pork as well as spinach.

Once the spinach has cooked with the luscious butter mixture, it can be tossed with cooked pasta or rice.

Or make a quick Greek-style rice by cooking the spinach with plenty of lemon juice and garlic; toss it with cooked rice and garnish with crumbled feta cheese.

And don't be shy about cooking large quantities of spinach. Remember that 1 pound equals about 1 cup of cooked spinach.

Microwave Spinach

Makes 2 servings

6 ounces clean fresh spinach

1 teaspoon water

1 teaspoon melted butter, see cook's notes

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar or soy sauce

salt and pepper to taste

Cook's notes: If you prefer a fat-free dish, sprinkle on rice vinegar and season with salt and pepper, rather than using the butter mixture.

Procedure: Place spinach in a microwave-safe casserole or bowl. Sprinkle on water. Cover, either with a lid or plastic wrap. Microwave on high power for 3 minutes. Leaves should be limp, but not overcooked. Drain off liquid.

Meanwhile, melt butter and stir in either balsamic vinegar or soy sauce. Pour mixture over cooked spinach and toss.

Stir-Fried Spinach

Makes 2 servings

1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil or vegetable oil

pinch of salt

2 cloves garlic, minced

6 ounces clean fresh spinach

Cook's notes: If you like, toss in 1 tablespoon Asian black bean sauce with the cooked spinach. The black bean sauce is sold in the Asian specialty section of the supermarket.

Procedure: Heat oil in wok until hot. Add salt and garlic; saute 10 seconds. Add spinach and stir-fry on high heat, tossing ingredients until spinach is barely limp. Taste. Add salt if needed.

Fresh Spinach and Linguine With Saffron Butter

Makes 4 servings

SAFFRON BUTTER:

6 tablespoons butter

1 large shallot, minced

1 tablespoon minced basil

1/8 teaspoon ground saffron or saffron threads, soaked in 1 teaspoon hot water

1 1/2 teaspoons minced orange peel (colored part only)

pinch dried red pepper flakes

OTHER INGREDIENTS:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 medium red onion, diced

1 yellow or red bell pepper, cored and seeded, cut into matchsticks

10 ounces clean fresh spinach

1/2 cup chicken broth

salt and pepper

9 ounces fresh linguine

Procedure: Combine all Saffron Butter ingredients in a food processor fitted with the metal blade; process until blended. Set aside.

In a large skillet or wok, heat oil on medium-high heat. Add onion and bell pepper; saute until onion is softened and transparent. Add spinach, all but 1 tablespoon of Saffron Butter and broth. Cook, tossing frequently, until spinach is limp. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cook linguine according to package directions. Drain and toss with spinach mixture including liquid. Add last tablespoon of Saffron Butter and toss. Taste. Add more salt and pepper if necessary.

Greek-Style Rice With Spinach

Makes 4 servings

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 cups chopped clean fresh spinach

3 tablespoons lemon juice

4 cups cooked long-grain rice

1 to 2 tablespoons minced fresh basil

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese, preferably the type with sun-dried tomatoes and basil

optional garnish: sugar-snap peas that have been blanched in boiling water for 1 minute

Procedure: Heat oil in a heavy skillet or wok. Add onion and garlic and cook on medium-high heat until onion is softened and transparent. Add spinach, lemon juice and rice; cook, stirring frequently, until spinach is limp and rice is thoroughly heated. Toss in basil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Presentation: Arrange rice in a mound on a colorful platter. If desired, surround with blanched sugar-snap peas. Sprinkle rice mixture with crumbled feta cheese. Serve.

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