Eat Your Spinach…Or I Will

Mom's Sauteed Spinach

There were some foods that I would never touch as a kid. My palate was too Americanized for dishes that I perceived to be too ethnic. My mom made chicken drumsticks with fresh ginger. Didn’t like it. I turned up my nose at anything that was seasoned with fish sauce. There was a time when I preferred ramen to pho.

Now, I’d give anything for those barbecued chicken drumsticks with fresh ginger. I decided to give fish sauce another try about a dozen years ago when I saw Nacho Man dipping his spring rolls into it with gusto, and I’m glad I did. And pho–well, I’ve obviously made such an about-face that I named this blog after that dish. But there were other foods that I would always wolf down because I loved the way my mom cooked them. I’ll eat any tofu dish she sets in front of me, which I never considered strange until my friends started making yuck noises in high school. Whatever. I just ate their portions, too. Tofu is incredible and you’ll definitely be seeing some recipes posted here in the near future. Luckily, Nacho Man loves tofu.

But I’m here to talk about spinach. I’m not a big fan of raw spinach, but I’ve always loved the way Mom prepared it. Hot, wilted, spiced up with garlic and soy sauce and chili paste. Put it on top of a bowl of steaming rice and I’m in a very good place. It also makes a great side dish for tofu or chicken, pork, or fish.

I’ve seen other versions of this recipe that use balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, and red pepper flakes. So I’m not claiming that it’s authentic to any particular food culture; I just love the way my mom put her spin on it. I also like that it’s versatile enough that you can season it even if you don’t have the particular ingredients my mom uses and still get something really tasty.

The best thing about this dish? It’s a great way to use spinach that’s a little past its prime. I could tell you that I always use the freshest ingredients, but that would be a lie. We all have moments when we rifle through the crisper, desperately hoping to find something that hasn’t liquified in its plastic bag. I don’t want to waste food. I don’t think you want to, either. So let’s turn it into something really wonderful.

Mom’s Sauteed Spinach

Because you’re dealing with high heat and garlic, make sure you have all your ingredients assembled near the stove before you turn on the heat.

Seasonings for Mom's Sauteed Spinach


1 6-ounce bag of pre-washed baby spinach, or the equivalent of a fresh bunch of spinach

1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (alter to suit your tastes)

3/4 tablespoon of soy sauce (Right now we really like San-J organic, gluten free soy sauce, but use what you have on hand)

1/2 teaspoon of chili paste (available at Asian specialty markets or the international foods aisle of your local grocery store)

1 tablespoon olive oil for the pan


1. Wash the spinach, regardless of whether it’s pre-washed, and dry in a salad spinner or between paper towels or clean kitchen cloths.

2. Mix the chili paste into the soy sauce.

3. Heat a medium-sized skillet on medium-high heat. Add olive oil.

4. Add the garlic and stir constantly.

5. After about 20-30 seconds, add the spinach. Flip it in the pan so that it wilts evenly.

Wilt, Spinach, Wilt!

6. When the spinach is wilted, add the soy sauce-chili paste mixture.

7. Taste, and adjust seasonings accordingly. Better to err on the side of caution with soy sauce and chili paste. But if you like your food brackish and spicy, then have at it.

Serve immediately.

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