Leaf spinach cooks up quickly, making it a handy way to incorporate green vegetables into your diet even when you're on a tight schedule. Simple cooking methods that maintain the leaves' nutritional value yield colorful side dishes, an attractive bed for a serving of lean meat or fish or a mild accent to spicy international cuisine.
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A low-calorie source of fiber, vitamins and antioxidants, leaf spinach is available year-round in bundles fresh from the growers or loose-packed in cellophane bags. Remove the stems from both the smooth-leaf and crinkly, savoy-leaf varieties and rinse well before cooking to eliminate any sandy grit that may still be present from the growing fields.
Place washed spinach in a large microwave-safe bowl. The leaves should still be damp from rinsing. Allow a half pound of raw spinach, about two handfuls, per serving.
Cover the bowl loosely with wax paper, paper towel or plastic wrap. Microwave on high for three to four minutes.
Check the spinach for tenderness with a fork after letting the bowl sit for one minute. Small spinach leaves will be ready to serve immediately. For larger, thicker leaves, microwave for another minute, then fork-test again. Continue microwaving in one-minute increments until the spinach is tender.
Set a steamer basket in a large cooking pot with 1 inch of water in it. Cover the pot with a lid and bring the water to a boil over high heat.
Place a 1/2 lb. per serving of washed spinach leaves, whole or torn into 2-inch pieces, in the steamer basket. Set the lid securely on the pot to keep the steam in the kettle. Cook for five minutes.
Lift the lid to insert a fork into the spinach. If the leaves are tender, remove from the heat and serve promptly. Place the lid back on the pot if the leaves are not yet softened. Continue cooking, testing with a fork every two minutes, until the spinach is soft and ready to serve.
Pour 1 to 2 tbsp. olive oil or sesame oil into a large frying pan. Add several cloves of minced garlic or half a small onion, thinly sliced. Cook at medium high heat just until the onion or garlic takes on a light golden-brown color.
Spin 1 to 2 lbs. of washed spinach leaves in a salad spinner to remove excess moisture. Place the spinach in the heated pan using tongs to avoid splatters.
Turn the spinach over with tongs until the leaves are coated with oil and the garlic or onion pieces are thoroughly incorporated. Cook for two to three minutes, continuously turning the leaves, until the spinach is wilted. Serve immediately with a splash of lemon juice and a scant pinch of salt, if desired.