How to sauté spinach

How to sauté spinach

Spinach is a dark green leafy vegetable native to Southeast Asia. This crop has been used as a source of food for centuries in Asia, and it had reached Europe by the eighth century CE, ensuring that spinach would follow along on the ride to the New World. Most markets that stock produce of any form carry spinach, often year-round, and it can also be found in canned and frozen form. There are a huge number of ways to use this vegetable, and it is extremely popular in many corners of the world.

The low-growing plant has roughly spade-shaped leaves, which may be crinkly in the case of the Savoy variety, or smooth in the case of the flat-leaf variety. When allowed to grow unharvested, the annual will go to seed in the late summer, allowing the leaves to die off. In rare instances, spinach grows as a biennial plant, typically in more temperate climates, but the best plants tend to be grown in cool climates, because spinach seeds like to be chilled for several months before sprouting.

Spinach leaves are tender, with a faintly bitter flavor. The plant is naturally rich in vitamins A and C, folate, calcium, and iron, which lead many people to regard it as a superfood and a valuable addition to the human diet. However, spinach is also rich in oxalic acid, which interferes with the body’s ability to absorb calcium and iron. Raw spinach in particular has a greatly reduced nutritional value, but even when cooked, it still contains some oxalic acid. This makes it difficult to benefit from the nutritional content of this vegetable. Furthermore, the oxalic acid will also interfere with the absorption of calcium and iron from other foods consumed at the same time.

The leaves can be eaten raw, for those who are less concerned about the nutritional value and more interested in flavor. Raw spinach is a frequent addition to salads. It can also be cooked in a variety of preparations, and included in things like soups, quiches, casseroles, burritos, sandwiches, sauces, and a number of other foods.

When selecting fresh spinach in the store, consumers should look for crisp, evenly colored leaves. If the leaves are still on the stalk, they should not be wilted at all and should be free of slime and spots. Spinach also needs to be washed very thoroughly, because it grows close to the ground, collecting grit and dirt, and sometimes a few slugs or snails hide in the leaves.

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Sure, vitamin-rich spinach tastes great raw, but we love to cook fresh spinach, too. It’s delicious sautéed, boiled, steamed, or drenched in cream. Here you’ll learn how to cook spinach in a variety of ways. We’ll also share some great spinach recipes, including an easy sautéed spinach recipe.

Spinach is a healthy, leafy green full of nutrients and vitamins. It's delicious raw in your favorite smoothies and salads. And while cooked spinach might make you think of shriveled mush, it doesn't have to be that way. In fact, when you cook spinach well, it's a delicious accompaniment to your favorite meals. Generally, the best way to cook spinach is on the stovetop. Sautéing spinach is an especially quick and easy way to cook spinach, which also evaporates excess moisture in the leaves. However, you can also boil or steam spinach in just a few minutes.

How to Cook Fresh Spinach

Before you start cooking spinach, you'll want to work with about 1 pound of spinach at a time (it should equal about 12 cups torn). It may seem like a lot, but it cooks down to a much smaller volume. Thoroughly wash and drain spinach. Remove stems and tear leaves into pieces, as desired. If you’re using baby spinach, the stems generally do not need to be removed, as they’re more tender. You also likely won’t need to tear the leaves into pieces, because they’re already smaller. If you're using prewashed baby spinach, sold in bags in the produce aisle, you can skip washing. Each of the following three methods for cooking spinach makes 4 side-dish servings.

How to Sauté Spinach

Here’s how to cook spinach on the stovetop, starting with our easy sautéed spinach recipe.

  • Heat about 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet ($40, Bed Bath & Beyond) over medium heat. Add 8 to 12 cups packed spinach, large stems removed.
  • Cook 1 to 2 minutes or until just wilted.
  • Stir in salt, pepper, and (if desired) balsamic vinegar or other seasonings to taste. If you want to dress up the side dish, garnish with crisp, cooked bacon pieces.

How to Boil Spinach

To cook fresh spinach in boiling water, place 1 pound washed spinach, covered, in a small amount of boiling salted water. If you're wondering how long to boil spinach, it should only take a few minutes. Once the steam starts to foam, begin your timer. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until tender. Try using boiled spinach in our velvet spinach recipe.

How to Steam Spinach

To steam fresh spinach on the stovetop, add water to a pot fitted with a steamer basket ($20, Target). Place 1 pound spinach on the steamer. When water boils, cook spinach for 3 to 5 minutes or until tender.

How to Cook Canned Spinach

Store-bought canned spinach is fully cooked. To cook, simply place the spinach, along with the liquid from the can, into a saucepan and cook until heated through. Drain and serve. You can optionally add a little butter and season with salt and pepper (though taste the spinach first, as many canned products already contain plenty of sodium).

How to Cream Spinach

For a creamy side dish, you can easily add richness by adding some butter and cream to boiled spinach. Find the full instructions in our easy creamed spinach recipe.

Spinach cooked with garlic and olive oil in a skillet on stove top, then sprinkled with freshly squeezed lemon juice and lemon zest. Easy instructions on how to cook spinach the easy way, the natural way.

How to sauté spinach

This is the recipe for the best cooked spinach. It’s cooked with a minimum of ingredients, with the addition of just olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Tasty, quick, healthy, and beautiful side dish! Scroll down to see how to cook spinach. Spinach goes great with pasta, grilled meats, steak, and chicken. It’s very easy to make, inexpensive, paleo, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free!

Cooking tips

If you have too much spinach, or want a steakhouse quality side dish for your grilled meats, this is the right recipe for you! The secret to how to cook fresh spinach properly is to not overcook it.

  • Spinach really requires only a couple of minutes of cooking, and then you just let it wilt, off heat, in a covered pan. That’s pretty much all there is to it, plus you also sauté some garlic for flavor.
  • When cooking the garlic, make sure it doesn’t burn so keep stirring at all times.
  • Add just a touch of fresh lemon juice to your cooked spinach. Do not add a lot, only about a quarter of a small lemon. Do not use bottled lemon juice as it is too acidic!
  • Finally, top the spinach with lemon zest! Again, not a lot of lemon zest, just a touch to add a subtle citrus flavor.

That’s how easy it is to cook spinach!

How to sauté spinach

How to cook spinach on stove top

Heat olive oil in a skillet on medium heat. Add 3 cloves of minced fresh garlic and saute the garlic for about 1 minute, constantly stirring.

Add spinach, a handful at a time, and adding another handful as spinach wilts, and cook, uncovered, on medium-high heat for only a minute or two

How to sauté spinach

This is what the spinach looks like after being cooked only for 1 minute and having been sitting for 2-3 more minutes, off heat, in a covered pan (the photo right below). See how pretty it is, and it has that steakhouse beautiful texture to it?

Spinach doesn’t need more than 1 minute of cooking in a preheated skillet. If you cook it longer, the texture will suffer (it will be crumbly), and spinach can acquire some sort of bitterness to it.

How to sauté spinach

Top the spinach with finely grated lemon zest which adds just the right amount of kick!

How to sauté spinach

Easy main dishes to go with cooked spinach

Similar side dishes

If you liked this freshly cooked spinach, you might also like these freshly cooked green veggies:

A colorful, versatile, nutritious and delicious side dish for any night of the week.

How to sauté spinach

Easy Sauteed Spinach

Sautéing spinach is dead easy. You are simply wilting in in a hot pan until it’s cooked the way that you like it. You can stick with just salt and pepper for seasonings, or add other spices and fresh herbs as you like. It’s a perfect simple side dish, and SO versatile.

Is Sauteed Spinach Healthy?

Yes! Extremely healthy, in fact a nutritional bombshell of a side dish: It has nice amounts of iron, calcium, vitamin C, and a whopping amount of vitamin A. ½ cup cooked spinach only has about 35 calories.

How to sauté spinach

I like to use baby spinach in this dish, but you can definitely use mature spinach leaves. Just chop them coarsely before sautéing and know that the leaves are less delicate so they may take an extra minute or two to cook down.

How much Cooked Spinach Does Raw Spinach Make?

The most important thing to know is that a voluminous amount of uncooked spinach results in a somewhat startlingly small amount of sautéed or cooked spinach. All of this depends on whether you chop the spinach, and how finely or roughly, and how long you cook the spinach, but it’s general guide.

How to sauté spinach

  • 5 ounces of raw spinach (the size of a typical container or “clamshell” of baby spinach) yields about 1/2 cup of cooked spinach.
  • 8 ounces (1/2 pound) equals about 2/3 cup.
  • 1 pound of uncooked spinach will get you about 1 1/3 cups cooked spinach.

Why Does Spinach Cook Down to Such a Little Amount?

Because it’s a lettuce, and contains a lot of water. If you cooked down any lettuce, the same thing would happen, it’s just that most of us eat lettuces uncooked, so this fact isn’t all that well known.

How to Sauté Fresh Spinach

1. Heat up olive oil and/or butter in a pan over medium heat.

How to sauté spinach

Start by heating up some fat in the pan over medium heat. This can be oil of any sort (I default to olive oil for pretty much anything other than Asian cooking, and even then a mild olive oil is fine), or butter. I love a combination of the two, olive oil and butter—say a couple of teaspoons of each.

2. Add some chopped member of the onion family.

How to sauté spinach

Add some chopped member of the onion family, such as onions, shallots, leeks, or garlic. Sauté for 1 minute for garlic, up to 3 minutes for leeks, and about 2 minutes for shallots or onions., until softened and slightly golden brown. For 8 ounces of raw spinach, use about 1 teaspoon minced garlic, or a few tablespoons chopped leeks, shallots or onions. My favorite is sauteed spinach with garlic, but I also love the other variations as well.

3. Season with salt and pepper.

How to sauté spinach

4. Start adding the spinach.

How to sauté spinach

Start adding the spinach. You’ll be doing this in batches, probably unless you have a humungous pan or you are cooking a smaller amount of spinach. The spinach will wilt down quickly as you saute it. You can add a tablespoon of water if the spinach seems to be sticking at all to the pan, or if you just want to make the cooking go faster.

5. Taste and see if it needs more seasonings.

Once it’s wilted to the degree you wish (there is no wrong answer on that by the way – some people like their spinach barely wilted, while others are doing for a dense, super soft result), taste and see if it needs more seasonings.

6. Transfer to a serving bowl or dish.

How to sauté spinach

Transfer it to a serving bowl or dish and give it a final light sprinkle of kosher salt.

What Does Sautéed Spinach Go With?

(What doesn’t it go with?? But here are some thoughts):

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This easy spinach recipe is one of the best ways to cook spinach! Sauté spinach, olive oil, and garlic for a nutritious and delicious side in just minutes. Popeye would approve!

How to sauté spinach

Elise founded Simply Recipes in 2003 and led the site until 2019. She has an MA in Food Research from Stanford University.

How to sauté spinach

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Popeye was the best thing that ever hit the spinach industry. When I was a kid you couldn't pay me to eat lima beans or peas, but spinach? I begged for it; we all did.

Especially if it came from a can.

We wanted to be cool like Popeye, who could knock Bluto to Kingdom Come just by downing a can of spinach, which always conveniently found its way to Popeye's mouth when his situation was most dire.

Our parents worked hard to convince us that cooked fresh spinach was just as good, if not better than the canned stuff.

How to Cook Spinach

My father prepares spinach this way at least once or twice a week, usually with fresh spinach from the farmer's market. According to dad, he overcooked it for years, until he learned that you shouldn't cook spinach beyond the point that it just wilts.

Spinach releases a lot of water as it cooks. So my father's trick is to drain and dry the spinach leaves as well as you can, using a salad spinner if need be, before cooking them.

Then, sauté some garlic in olive oil in a large wide pan, and add the cleaned, drained, and dried spinach leaves to the pan. Pack the pan with spinach; cover and cook for only a minute or two tops.

More Great Spinach Recipes

How to Wash, Dry and Prep Spinach

  • Most baby spinach in pre-packaged bags comes pre-washed, but we recommend washing and drying it anyway.
  • Mature spinach that are sold in bundles are not pre-washed and can be gritty. Best to trim or de-stem them and at least double wash them by dunking them in a sink full of cold water.
  • No need to de-stem baby spinach. You can cook the bunches stems and all. However, with more mature spinach, you’ll want to trim off most of the large stems, since they can be stringy.
  • A salad spinner makes quick work of drying spinach, but you can also leaves dry by placing them between two clean kitchen towels. Cloth towels absorb more water than paper ones.

What to Serve With Sautéed Spinach

Easy Sautéed Spinach

Ingredients

2 large bunches spinach , about 1 pound

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, sliced

Method

Cut off the thick stems of the spinach and discard. Clean the spinach by filling up your sink with water and soaking the spinach to loosen any sand or dirt. Drain the spinach and then repeat, soaking and draining. Put the spinach in a salad spinner to remove any excess moisture.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet on medium high heat. Add the garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds, until the garlic just begins to brown.

How to sauté spinach

Add the spinach to the pan, packing it down a bit if you need to with your hand. Use a couple of spatulas (or tongs) to lift the spinach and turn it over in the pan, so you coat more of it with the olive oil and garlic. Do this a couple of times. Cover the pan and cook for 1 minute. Uncover and turn the spinach over again. Cover the pan and cook for an additional minute.

How to sauté spinach

How to sauté spinach

After 2 minutes of covered cooking the spinach should be completely wilted. Remove from heat.

How to sauté spinach

Drain any excess liquid from the pan. Add a little more olive oil, if you wish. Then, sprinkle with salt to taste. Serve immediately.

How to sauté spinach

Wow, is this sauteed spinach something to write home about! Let’s go on record: Alex and I both love cooked spinach in recipes. But we didn’t think we liked straight-up sauteed spinach…until now. This spinach is scented with garlic, wilted until it’s bright green in a bit of olive oil. It’s finished off with lemon juice to give it a brightness. The flavor is fresh and vibrant, not lifeless and mushy as you would expect. This healthy side dish uses 3 large bunches of spinach, and Alex and I accidentally ate it all ourselves. It was that good.

How to sauté spinach

How to make sauteed spinach taste good (really!)

Are you intrigued? What are the secrets to the very best sauteed spinach? Well, a few things that apparently cooks in 1950’s America weren’t privy to. Even better: it takes only 10 minutes to make! Here are all the secrets to making spinach taste amazing:

  • Cook it with whole garlic cloves. This infuses a subtle garlic flavor throughout, without being too overwhelming. It also minimizes the risk of browning or burning the garlic.
  • Don’t overcook it! Cook just until its wilted. So many sauteed spinach recipes overcook it until it’s limp and lifeless. Don’t make that mistake too! Pull it from the heat when it’s just wilted and still a lovely green color.
  • Add a squeeze of lemon at the end. Add hint of fresh lemon juice adds brightness to the flavor. Use only real lemon juice (none of that bottled stuff).
  • Salt it perfectly. Many sauteed spinach recipes are too bland. Add that salt! Spinach soaks up so much that you won’t need a lot. Salt it until the flavor pops, but not so much that it tastes salty. (Keep tasting to get it just right!)

If you want to eat more spinach, this is the recipe for you.

Really! This sauteed spinach comes out so flavorful, you’ll find yourself sneaking more of it onto your plate. (Well, we did.) An interesting thing about spinach: its volume fresh seems very large, but when it’s sauteed it wilts into almost next to nothing.

When you see 3 large bunches of spinach, you’ll swear there’s no way you could ever eat them. And you couldn’t if they were fresh. But saute it down with olive oil and it loses most of its volume. Alex and I accidentally ate this recipe just the two of us in one sitting! So it’s a GREAT way to eat spinach without even realizing it. This easy plant based side dish is so delicious, even your dad might get over his childhood phobia. (I’m hoping mine will.)

How to sauté spinach

Fancy it up: add a topping!

Take this sauteed spinach over the top by adding a fancy topping! Our Sauteed Rainbow Chard recipe features a topping of Parmesan cheese and toasted pine nuts that adds savory flavor and crunch. This Italian-style topping takes this spinach the extra mile and would be great for a dinner party.

Is it better to use spinach bunches or baby spinach leaves?

Good question! Either works. Spinach in bunches actually works great here! This is what we used, and it’s the perfect way to use bunch spinach. Because you’re cooking it down and adding flavor, it’s not as “in your face” as it could be in a salad. But baby spinach leaves or spinach that comes as leaves in a box also works!

A note on sustainability: Alex and I do love the convenience of buying pre-washed baby spinach in plastic boxes at the grocery. But because we’re working to minimize our single use plastic consumption, we’ve been trying to buy more greens in bunches lately. Yes, it does take a little longer to wash and prepare: but it’s worth it in the long run.

How to sauté spinach

Does sauteed spinach make you stronger?

Well, yes and no! It doesn’t make you strong like Popeye said it would. However, it does fill you with vitamins and nutrients, which can make you healthy and strong! Spinach is one of the 20 best vegetables you can eat. Here are some of the benefits that this sauteed spinach offers as a healthy side dish:

  • High in calcium, more than other vegetables
  • Very high in Vitamin K and Vitamin A
  • Low in calories (1 cup of raw spinach has 45 calories)

More delicious spinach recipes

There are lots more tasty spinach recipes that we love. If you’re looking to eat more leafy greens outside of this easy side dish…here’s how to do it!

The best sautéed spinach! In less than 10 minutes you can transform a large bundle of spinach into wilted, garlicky, flavorful leaves. It makes for the perfect side dish and it’s welcomed as a “super greens” addition in all sorts of meals and recipes.

How to sauté spinach

Sautéed spinach is hands down one of my favorite side dishes. It’s incredibly easy to make, and nutrient-packed! And when you add minced garlic, a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkle of salt it becomes this delicate, savory side dish that’s also extremely versatile.

If you’re a spinach lover like me, you’re likely a pro at adding it to recipes. You can sneak it into a green smoothie, bake it into a spinach artichoke dip, create a base for a spinach berry salad, or fold it into egg muffins. But don’t forget to enjoy it on it’s own, by quickly sautéing it in a pan. It’s the perfect side dish that’ll spruce up your favorite weeknight dinner recipes.

Impressive Spinach Benefits

Popeye was definitely on to something! These little leaves are a nutritional powerhouse that boasts tons of health benefits.

  • Loaded with nutrients. Including Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Folic Acid, Iron, Calcium and more.
  • Powerful anti-inflammatory benefits. That’s why spinach is one of my favorite anti-inflammatory foods! It’s rich in antioxidants and alkalizing to the body.
  • Great for eye, heart, and muscle health. This is all thanks to the numerous vitamins and minerals.

How to sauté spinach

Sautéed Spinach Ingredients

For this recipe, we’re creating a garlic-infused oil to coat the spinach and help it wilt down.

  • Baby Spinach: You can use bundles of fresh spinach or pre-washed packages of baby spinach.
  • Olive Oil: A drizzle of olive oil is my go-to, but you can also swap one tablespoon of oil for butter or ghee for a more buttery flavor.
  • Garlic: I’m using 3 garlic cloves for just the right amount of garlicky goodness. But feel free to use more or less!
  • Salt and Pepper: A sprinkle of seasoning ties all the flavors together.

Find the printable recipe with measurements below.

How To Sauté Spinach

Make sure to give your leaves a good wash if you’re using a fresh bundle. But if you’re using it straight out of the box, there’s no need to re-wash.

  • Sauté the garlic. Drizzle oil in a pan and sauté the garlic for about 30 seconds. Just make sure to not overcook the garlic.
  • Sauté the spinach. Use tongs to flip the spinach so all sides are coated in oil and garlic. Then cover the pan, let it steam for a minute or so, then stir again. After a few minutes it should be completely wilted.
  • Season and serve. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then serve it up with a few tasty options listed below!

How to sauté spinach

A Few Questions Answered

  • Why does spinach shrink so much? Spinach contains about 90% water, causing it to wilt down as it cooks. So when you think you’re cooking up a large batch, keep remember that it will reduce drastically in size!
  • Is boxed baby spinach or fresh spinach bundles better? Both are great for sautéing. But if you want bigger leaves for a side dish, fresh bundles are a better choice. Just make sure to trim the stems before cooking.
  • Can you use frozen spinach? While I personally prefer fresh spinach, you can certainly use frozen in a pinch. Just make sure to defrost and thoroughly drain it before sautéing.

Spruce Up Your Sautéed Spinach

Garlic is a mainstay when it comes to cooking up leafy greens. But here’s a few ways to incorporate different flavors and textures.

  • Spice it up. Add a sprinkle of chili pepper flakes or diced red peppers.
  • Make it zesty. Squeeze in lemon juice as it’s wilting and give it all a stir.
  • Beef it up. Sauté it with small bacon pieces, chopped onions, bell peppers, or mushrooms.
  • Add toppings. Sprinkle on grated parmesan cheese or toasted pine nuts.

Ways To Serve Or Use Sautéed Spinach

  • Serve as an easy side. It tastes great alongside baked chicken breasts, any chicken thigh recipe, prime rib, or seafood such garlic butter shrimp or dijon baked salmon.
  • Top it on a warm base. This makes for an easy, savory topping on a bowl of oatmeal with a hard boiled egg. Or a grain bowl with roasted sweet potatoes, roasted broccoli, and a poached egg.
  • Sneak it into recipes. With how small it becomes when cooked, it’s great for sneaking into recipes such my green shakshuka, one-pan chicken and rice, zucchini noodles with chicken and parmesan, and tons more!

How to sauté spinach

Storing And Reheating

While this is best served fresh, you can also store and reheat leftovers.

  • How to store leftovers. Keep them in an airtight container and store in the fridge for 2-3 days.
  • How to reheat sautéed spinach. Simply microwave it for 30 seconds, or until warmed through.

More Sautéed Recipes

Quick and easy weeknight dinners means more sautéed recipes. It’s such a quick-cooking method!

Sautéed Spinach Recipe Video

While this recipe is easy to make, it always helps to watch a quick video!

If you make this recipe, let me know how it turned out! I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.

How to sauté spinach

Spinach is a green, leafy vegetable that is rich in vitamin A — and when you cook spinach, its vitamin-A content more than doubles. The amount of iron in spinach also increases after you cook spinach. One way to prepare spinach is to saute it. Serve sauteed spinach as a side dish. Allow yourself extra time when you make this dish, since you must thaw frozen spinach before you can saute it.

Video of the Day

Step 1

How to sauté spinach

Place a large colander in the kitchen sink and pour the frozen, chopped spinach into it. Cover the spinach with a pot cover or dinner plate to keep out any airborne debris. Wait about two hours for the frozen spinach to thaw.

Step 2

How to sauté spinach

Squeeze the water out of the spinach with your hands, and then place the spinach in a medium-sized bowl. Wash your hands with soap and water before doing this.

Step 3

How to sauté spinach

Remove the skins from the garlic cloves and place the cloves on the cutting board. Mince the cloves with a small, sharp knife. Do the same with the onion.

Step 4

How to sauté spinach

Put the olive oil, or the butter, in a medium-sized pan, and place the pan over a medium to high heat. Wait for the oil or butter to get hot, and then add the minced garlic and diced onion to the pan. Saute the garlic and onion until they are soft, roughly two minutes.

Step 5

How to sauté spinach

Put the spinach in the pan and saute the garlic, onion and spinach for 60 seconds. Give the spinach one quick stir after 30 seconds.

Things You’ll Need

Chopped, frozen spinach

Small garlic cloves

Small, sharp knife

Olive oil or butter

Onion, finely diced

Soup spoon, optional

Remove the water from the thawed, frozen spinach by pressing the spinach against the sides of the colander with a soup spoon if you'd rather not touch the vegetable with your hands. You can also press the water out of the spinach by placing a bowl — or a small, flat dish — on top of the spinach in the colander and applying pressure to it.

Add a little salt to the sauteed spinach if desired.

Spice sauteed spinach with a pinch of red-pepper flakes, or black pepper.