Cooked leafy greens have been one of the staples in my diet ever since going paleo in 2010. Prior to that, I had never cooked leafy greens before in my entire life. The only time I ever ate them was if someone else cooked them (and that was pretty rare), or I'd eat baby greens raw in salads. Since cooking tasty leafy greens is old hat to me now and so simple to do, I haven't put much thought into sharing recipes for them before now (except for my Brazilian garlicky collard greens). You know what? I've actually gotten a LOT of questions from readers, friends, and family about how to get more cooked leafy greens into the diet, so I'll try to share more recipes in the future.
I'll start with one of the easiest, fastest, and I think, tastiest: wilted baby spinach. My husband and I can go through 2 pounds (sometimes more) of baby spinach a week, usually eating it wilted. We especially like having it with eggs and/or bacon for breakfast. If you are participating in the 14 Day Green Breakfast Challenge, this is an easy way to stick to it! But, this recipe goes well as a side dish with just about anything, not just breakfast foods.
If you are following a paleo style diet or otherwise omit dairy from your diet, one common question is "from where do you get your calcium"? It turns out that leafy greens in general are an excellent source of calcium. This recipe is for spinach, though, so let's look at just how nutrient dense it is when cooked: it's an excellent source of folate and riboflavin (B2) and a good source of vitamin B6 and thiamine (B1) and supplies some niacin (B3); it's an excellent source of calcium, iron, magnesium, sodium, and manganese, and a good source of phosphorus, copper, and selenium and supplies some zinc; it is also an excellent source of vitamin K1, vitamin E (as alpha tocopherol) and vitamin A (as beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, which are the which are the provitamins that our bodies must convert into usable Vitamin A). Sources: 1, 2, 3
The Importance of Fat
Not only is spinach rich in minerals and water-soluble vitamins, it's also an excellent source of several of the fat-soluble vitamins (A,E, and K...no D in spinach). Research has shown that it is critical to consume adequate fat alongside greens so that your body can actually utilize the fat-soluble nutrients, especially the carotenoids (vitamin A). If you're interested, have a gander at these articles for a taste of the science:
- Carotenoid bioavailability is higher from salads ingested with full-fat than with fat-reduced salad dressings as measured with electrochemical detection.
- Carotenoid absorption from salad and salsa by humans is enhanced by the addition of avocado or avocado oil.
- Meal triacylglycerol profile modulates postprandial absorption of carotenoids in humans.
Organic vs. Conventional
Since spinach is on the Environmental Working Group's "Dirty Dozen" list for high pesticide residue, I try to always buy organic. In addition to avoiding pesticides, organic spinach has been shown to be significantly more nutritious than conventionally-grown. However, I like to keep a "good, better, best" mentality with my food purchases and DO NOT beat myself up when I have to go into the "better" or "good" categories. Organic and/or locally sourced is best, conventional that's rinsed with a fruit/veggie wash to remove some pesticide residues is better, and conventional spinach rinsed with plain ol' water or water with a splash of distilled vinegar is still good.
Side note: if you are on a tight budget and trying to stick to a paleo/real food diet and have to make some compromises, I recommend opting to spend more money to obtain higher quality meats than to spend more on organic or local produce. Do your best to budget for grass-fed beef/lamb/goat and pasture-raised pigs and poultry, and save money by buying conventional produce.
Anyway, back to the recipe. Feel free to jazz it up with some garlic, if you like. Just mince it or press it, cook it in the oil for a minute or so (until it's nice and fragrant), and then add the spinach. I rarely do this, because I love the flavor of spinach by itself.
First, I'll just show you in photos so you can see the "Disappearing Spinach Act" as I call it. It's amazing how much it cooks down! I still sometimes catch myself giggling over just how tiny it gets once cooked. What starts out as 2 cups packed ends up as barely 1/2 cup cooked. The printable recipe is at the end of the post.
Note: this is a small serving. I usually cook 2 cups for my husband and myself to split as a side for breakfast. Increase it as necessary depending on your need. Cook a whole pound to serve to 2-4 people as a side for dinner. Enjoy!
Wilted Baby Spinach
Prep time: 0-5 minutes
Cook time: 5-10 minutes
Total time: 10-15 minutes
Yield: 1/2 cup
- 2 cups baby spinach, packed
- about 1/2 Tbsp cooking fat (coconut oil, butter/ghee, bacon fat, etc.)
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- optional: 1/2 - 1 clove freshly-minced or pressed garlic
- optional: squeeze of fresh lime or lemon juice
- Rinse (or don't -- I don't rinse triple-washed greens that say you don't have to) your spinach using a colander. If using conventionally grown spinach, optionally soak in a bowl of water with some produce washing solution or a splash of distilled vinegar. Rinse off solution thoroughly. Let it dry a bit by tossing in the colander, or you can use a salad spinner if you wish.
- Heat about 1/2 Tbsp of cooking fat on medium or medium-low heat in a frying pan or pot for about a minute. I used my #20 Cousances dutch oven here.
- Optional: If using garlic, add it now and allow to cook for about a minute, or until the garlic is fragrant.
- Add spinach to the heated oil and gently toss it to distribute the oil.
- Stir spinach frequently as it wilts and cooks down. It is really incredible just how much it reduces in volume as it cooks.
- Cook until all of the spinach is wilted and has turned a darker and more vibrant green color. Optional: squeeze some fresh lime or lemon juice over the spinach and stir to incorporate before removing from cooking vessel. Season with sea salt and pepper to taste and serve.