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How to stem and clean fresh spinach

Some varieties of spinach have flat, smooth leaves, others have thick, crinkly leaves, but they're all best when young and tender.

Fine Cooking Issue 28
Photos: Scott Phillips
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Check the stem to gauge tenderness and age

A thin, flexible stem indicates a tender, young plant. Choose these spinach leaves for salads or recipes where the spinach is served raw. Thick, fibrous stems mean more mature, tougher plants, which are best suited for cooking.

Shop for crisp, bright green leaves with no dark, bruised patches or yellowing. I like to buy loose leaves or bunches so I can judge their quality. Store fresh spinach in a dry plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper, where it will keep for two to three days.

Spinach stems, even of some young leaves, are fibrous, stringy, and difficult to eat, especially after cooking. Remove the stems before washing (see the photo above right); discard them or save them to add to a vegetable stock. I don’t bother removing the stems from truly tender, small leaves with equally tender, thin stems.

Notoriously sandy, spinach must be washed carefully

To clean spinach, swish in a basin of cold water, let sit for a minute, and then lift into a colander to drain. Dump the water and repeat (see the photo at right). After doing this, taste a leaf. If you detect even the slightest bit of grit, wash the leaves again.

Related recipe: Spanish Braised Spinach with Chickpeas


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