Give a warm welcome to your new favorite weeknight side dish. Stir-frying a big bag of spinach has become one of my favorite ways to get greens on the plate these last few weeks, and a few slices of garlic in the mix makes the spinach feel all grown up.
Easy, Fast Spinach Side
Even in the world of fast stir-fries, spinach is a speedy dish. Grace Young, author of Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge and my personal stir-fry guru, reassured me that from start to finish, stir-frying spinach should take two minutes, tops. If you usually buy baby spinach, it can even go in the wok without any real prep work; if you prefer larger bunches, just strip out the tough parts of the stem and chop or tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces.
Make Sure the Spinach Is Dry
One thing Young did make sure to emphasize when talking with me is that the spinach needs to be as dry as possible before going into the wok, otherwise the spinach will steam and become soggy. Spin the washed spinach leaves in a salad spinner, or press it between towels and let it air dry.
Stir-Fry Until the Spinach Collapses
Imagine the spinach at the end of a long workday, collapsing on the couch and breathing a sigh of relief. That's what should happen in the wok as you stir-fry — cook the spinach on high heat, stirring it and flipping it, until the moment it goes from rigid to wilted. As Young describes it, "The spinach is bright green, it’s shiny, and it’s just gone limp." That's when you put it on a plate and eat it.
Also, with spinach, there's no need to cover the pan the way you sometimes need to with other stir-fries. Spinach cooks quickly and doesn't need the extra help from a lid to get it to wilt. High heat and a hot wok are all you need.
Add a Pinch of Sugar
Young's parting words of advice were to add a pinch of sugar to the spinach. "It's weird," she admits, "You don’t really taste it at the end, but it brings out the flavor of the spinach." Just 1/8 teaspoon should do the trick.
More Stir-Fry Basics
How To Stir-Fry Spinach with Garlic
What You Need
10 to 16 ounces spinach or baby spinach
2 to 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon sugar
Salad spinner or clean kitchen towels
14-inch flat-bottomed carbon steel wok (not nonstick)
Wok spatula, fish spatula, or another spatula with a thin, metal blade
- Wash and dry the spinach: Spin the washed spinach in a salad spinner or press thoroughly between kitchen towels to make sure the spinach is as dry as possible before cooking. Spinach with a lot of water on the leaves will steam in the wok and become soggy.
- Chop the spinach into pieces: Remove any thick, tough stems. Chop or tear the spinach leaves into roughly 2-inch pieces. Baby spinach can be stir-fried as is.
- Heat the wok: Set your wok or skillet over high heat until a drop of water evaporates within a second or two of contact.
- Add the oil: Pour the oil down the side of the pan. Swirl to coat the bottom and lower sides of the wok evenly.
- Stir-fry the garlic: Stir-fry just until fragrant, 10 to 20 seconds.
- Add the spinach: Add the spinach to the pan all at once. Stir to mix in the garlic and coat the spinach with oil.
- Stir-fry until just starting to wilt: Stir-fry the spinach until you see the edges of the leaves start to soften, 30 to 60 seconds.
- Add the salt and sugar: Sprinkle the salt and sugar evenly over the spinach.
- Stir-fry one more minute: Keep moving the spinach around the wok until the spinach has just barely collapsed and wilted, but is still bright green.
- Serve immediately: Transfer the spinach to a serving plate and serve immediately.
- Stir-frying other greens with this technique: You can stir-fry other soft greens with this technique, like arugula, romaine lettuce, or watercress.
- Add more flavor: Try stir-frying a teaspoon of minced fresh ginger along with the garlic. You can also season the finished spinach with soy sauce or tamari, or make a quick sauce of equal parts rice wine, chicken broth, and soy sauce and add this after uncovering and before stir-frying the spinach.