This is the time of year when local farmers’ high tunnels begin to burst forth with delicious green things. All manner of lettuces, spicy arugula and fresh Asian greens such as bok choy, tatsoi and mizuna become more abundant this time of year. And one of our favorites returns in its tender, splendid glory: spinach.
What’s in Season: Spinach
Spring spinach is particularly delightful. Farmers are harvesting it young, so it’s suitable for salads as well as cooking. You’ll typically find two types of spinach at the market. The first are the more ubiquitous, smooth-leafed varieties, and the second are the savoyed — or wrinkly — leafed varieties. They can be used interchangeably, but the savoyed add a bit of visual and textural interest, especially if you’re eating them in salads.
How to Buy
Depending on how you’ll use it, you can purchase baby or mature spinach. Size of the leaves is the primary indicator of its stage and, for the most part, farmers tend to bag their baby spinaches. There will also be less stem associated with baby spinach, and because it’s younger, it’s more tender and especially suitable for raw salads. More mature spinaches may be bunched, the leaves will be larger and the stems will usually still be attached. Mature spinach is suitable as a side dish as well as for salads that call for wilting the greens. Regardless of which type you’re purchasing, the leaves should be vibrant green and perky, with no yellowing or bruised leaves.
When to Eat
As with nearly all other greens, spinach should be eaten within one to two days of purchase. It can be stored in the crisper drawer in a plastic bag. Some people add a slightly damp paper towel to the bag to help it retain moisture. One thing I can’t stress enough is the need to rinse your spinach thoroughly before preparing. Spinach grows low to the ground and has a nasty habit of catching soil particles between its leaves. Even if the grower has rinsed it, giving it a thorough rinse in a couple changes of water will save you from the unpleasant experience of grit in your final dish.
How to Prepare
My favorite way to eat spinach is a simple preparation I learned while living in Japan. (Before that, I had no love in my heart for spinach!)
4 Tbsp. sesame seeds
1½ Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. mirin or sugar
½ lb. of spinach, thoroughly rinsed
Bring a pot of water to boil. Meanwhile, lightly toast the sesame seeds and then grind with a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder. (Food processors work, too.) Add the soy sauce and mirin (or sugar) and mix thoroughly. When the water comes to a boil, add the spinach and cook until it turns a bright green. Drain, and immediately plunge into cold water. Drain again, and then gently squeeze out any excess water. Roughly chop the spinach. Put the spinach in a bowl, and toss it with the sesame mixture until thoroughly coated. Serve!