Spicy Braised Spinach

20150301_183129Spring is a great time to get good spinach, whether from the garden or the store. I had only canned spinach when I was growing up. (Hey, Popeye ate canned spinach!) I didn’t realize spinach was edible until I grew some myself. 😆 You can buy good fresh spinach at the store but if you want to have a little spinach patch, you need to plant soon. (Check to see when is the right time for your region.) It’s a cool weather crop; once the weather warms up it will “bolt”, which means flowering and setting seed. The good news is that if you plant an heirloom or open pollinated variety you can save the seed and plant it when you have cool short days again. The bad news is that the plants leaves become bitter when it bolts, so it’s best to stop harvesting leaves then.

The thing to keep in mind, though, is that spinach cooks down tremendously, so if you’re planting, plant a lot. When you’re cooking it, you can heap it up in a pot or pan and end up with very few servings. A big bunch of fresh spinach from the store will yield only two generous servings when cooked. If the bunch is not so big, two not-so-generous servings.

It cooks fast, so this should be the last thing you do for the meal. Wash the spinach and let it drain in a big colander while you prepare the rest of the meal. (Snip off most of the stems; they’re edible, but with a big bunch of spinach, there may be more stems than you want.) Then heat a small amount of garlic oil in a big skillet or pot. (I use Boyajians.) Using garlic oil adds a bit of flavor, but you really don’t need much oil. You can saute a small amount of garlic in oil before adding the spinach if you don’t have garlic oil.

A no fat option is to just put a tiny bit of water in the pan or pot. The spinach contains enough moisture to cook itself: a small amount of oil or water is just to get it started and prevent that bottom layer of leaves from sticking.

Heap the spinach in when the oil is warm. I cook this on medium or medium-low heat. The bottom layer will wilt very quickly. I turn the mass of leaves and move them around with tongs so they all get in contact with the bottom of the pan. After giving the mess of greens a couple of turns, sprinkle with Hungarian hot paprika, then mixed it all up, until all the spinach is wilted. This only takes a few minutes. How much hot paprika you sprinkle on depends on how spicy you want it.

The spinach, garlic oil, and paprika make a delicious broth. There’s not much of it, though. If you strain the spinach before serving, the broth would be a good over rice or mashed potatoes, or as an addition to a soup stock. Or you can serve the spinach — broth and all — in a bowl then turn the bowl up and drink it after the spinach is gone. 🙂



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