Spinach, whether fully mature leaves or the tiny tender leaves of baby spinach that is readily available in most supermarkets, cooks quickly, making it ideal for steaming. Steaming in the microwave is, like steaming on the stove, a moist-heat cooking method that preserves all the nutrients and delicate flavors of spinach. It is also a low-fat cooking method. You can steam spinach in the microwave using a microwave-safe dish, a microwave steamer or, in a pinch, a food-grade plastic bag. Regardless of the vessel, it's a quick and efficent method to get food from fridge to dinner table in a matter of minutes.
Cleaning and Choosing Spinach
The younger the spinach, the more flexible the stem is. Because cooking softens the tough fibers in vegetables, you do not need to select only young, tender leaves. Look for bright green leaves that have no bruising or dark or yellow areas.
Clean spinach by soaking and swishing in a bowl of cold water to loosen any dirt clinging to the leaves. Repeat with fresh water until the leaves are squeaky clean and there is no debris at the bottom of the soaking bowl. If the stems are very tough, cut them off.
How to Cook Spinach in the Microwave
To steam spinach in the microwave, place the leaves in a microwave-safe bowl while they are still wet. If the leaves are still wet, there is no need for additional water. Cover with with a microwave-safe lid or a piece of plastic wrap. Leave one corner of the plastic wrap open to allow moisture to escape during cooking. Microwave spinach on high until all the leaves have turned dark green and are fully wilted. It will take roughly 3 minutes to steam a 1/2 pound of medium-sized spinach leaves.
Using a Steamer or a Bag
You can also blanch spinach in a microwave steamer. A steamer allows you to season the steaming liquid so that the scent and flavor clings lightly to the cooked leaves. Fill the bottom part of the steamer with stock, wine or water and seasonings, such as garlic cloves. Steam the spinach, covered with the vented lid, for 3 minutes on high for a 1/2 pound of spinach.
A steamed spinach recipe can also be prepared in a microwave-safe plastic bag, as long as it can be partially sealed. Because the seal in a plastic bag is much tighter, it will take less time to cook. Microwave spinach on high for about 2 minutes. As is the case with the basic steaming method, keep your leaves moist or sprinkle a few drops of water into the bag before cooking.
Using Steamed Spinach
Steamed spinach has a mild, vegetal taste, even if you season the steaming liquid. Because of this, it can be dressed with lemon juice, salt and pepper for a low-fat side dish, or it can be mixed with melted butter or cheese for something more decadent. A classic use of steamed spinach is to mix with soy sauce, toasted sesame seeds, sesame seed oil and steamed tofu for a light, healthy Japanese dish. For something fast yet satisfying, crumble feta onto the hot spinach and stir, letting the heat of the leaves melt the cheese, and serve on toast. For breakfast, consider topping steamed spinach with garlic with a fried or poached egg and a side of buttered toast.
Rachel has worked professionally as a chef and writer on food since 2010. In addition to a Bachelor of Arts degree, she holds a diploma in classic culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute. She has an active interest in wine, fine dining and sustainable agriculture.