Although there will probably always be some tiny seed, exotic fruit or under-appreciated vegetable waiting to take the health-food world by storm, spinach has long been the quintessential “superfood.” Not only are these dark, leafy greens low in calories, they’re also packed with an impressive array of vitamins, minerals and beneficial substances. Cooking spinach enhances some of its most important benefits – as long as you stick to healthy methods.
Steaming is a gentle, efficient and fat-free method for cooking baby spinach. With just a large pot, some boiling water, a steamer basket and a tight-fitting lid, you can turn fresh baby spinach into tender, wilted greens in just three to five minutes. Steamed spinach is an ideal accompaniment for a piece of grilled fish, poultry or meat. The vitamin A and antioxidant carotenoids in the vegetable become more readily available when heated, and easier for your body to absorb when consumed with a little bit of fat.
Baby spinach sauteed in olive oil is a more substantial – but equally healthy – dish. After heating up a bit of olive oil in a skillet, toss in some fresh spinach and stir it until it wilts. For a shot of flavor, add some minced garlic about half-way through the five-minute cooking time. Using a cast-iron skillet boosts the dish’s iron content – while spinach is naturally high in iron, it also contains oxalic acid, a compound that makes its iron less available. Although spinach shrinks by about 90 percent when it’s cooked, you should generally saute large amounts in batches to avoid overcooking.
Boiled spinach may sound more utilitarian than the delicately steamed variety, but it’s a good option if you don’t have a steamer. To boil baby spinach, all you need is a large pot, some water and a strainer. Let the water come to a full boil before you add the spinach, so it cooks quickly and retains as much of its vitamin C and B vitamin content as possible. Boil the greens just until they’re wilted, or for about three minutes. Drained boiled spinach can be drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice and eaten as-is, or pureed and used to make a nutritious dip, sauce or ravioli stuffing.
Cooking with baby spinach is a quick and convenient way to boost your intake of dietary fiber, potassium, magnesium, vitamins A and C, folate and antioxidants. Fold chopped baby spinach into an omelet or add it into scrambled eggs as they cook. Stir the vegetable into a pot of soup or stew just as it finishes simmering – it will be cooked to bright-green perfection for serving. You can also cook spinach in the microwave -- just four minutes in the microwave will eliminate any E. coli, microbiologist Charles Pavia of the New York Institute of Technology notes in an interview with the "Los Angeles Times." But this method may leave you with a crisp, unappetizing meal.