Can You Put Fresh Spinach in Your Salad?

Published Categorized as Food
Fresh spinach leavesKostya Klimenko /Depositphotos

Did you know that you can put spinach in your salad? Yes, you read that right. Learn how to do so here!

Lettuce is the ubiquitous leafy green on the American dining table.

From the BLT to the hoagie and sub to the cheeseburger, from the grilled Romaine to the classic Caesar to the Waldorf salad, it’s hard to prepare a meal or grab a bite on the go without lettuce in it.

But what if you’ve run out of lettuce? Or if you, like many others, just don’t like the taste of lettuce—and you want to substitute it with something else? So, of course, you ask yourself: can that substitute be spinach?

Read on, because this is exactly what we will discuss in the you-asked-it, we-answered-it article of the day.

Can Spinach Go in a Salad?

Why, yes, fresh spinach can go in a salad, and it pairs well with anything that other leafy greens do! Baby spinach and mature spinach leaves are fantastic leafy greens to add to your salads, with baby spinach more tender and mature spinach more crunchy.

You can eat fresh spinach without cooking it. In fact, nutrition experts will encourage you to do so because fresh spinach is packed with fiber, folate, and vitamins A, C, and K, which makes it good for you (Livestrong).

But there’s one thing you need to keep in mind when eating raw fresh spinach. And it’s really important because it’s about food safety. You should always wash your fresh spinach—without compromise—before adding it to salad and eating it.

Why You Need to Wash Fresh Spinach

There’s a species of disease-causing bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes that lives in the dirt and, during harvest or packaging, can get on fresh spinach. If you don’t wash your spinach and it happens to have this germ, you can get food poisoning.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1,600 Americans contract listeriosis—the disease caused by Listeria monocytogenes—each year, and about 260 of them, or 16.25%, die from it.

Needless to say, you don’t want yourself or your family members anywhere near this statistic. So wash your fresh spinach thoroughly. But what does “thoroughly” mean?

How to Wash Fresh Spinach Leaves

The proper technique for washing spinach leaves? It comes down to a few simple things, really.

Before you rinse the spinach, wash your hands with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds. (After all, you don’t want to transfer germs from your hands to your food.)

Rinse the spinach leaves under cold running water. You can do so leaf by leaf, hold them in your hand, or put them in a colander and run the water over them. That’s your choice entirely and which method you choose won’t make much of a difference.

Pat the spinach leaves dry with a paper towel, place them on a clean tea towel, or put them in the salad spinner and spin until they’re dry. Then add to the salad, mix with the other ingredients, and dress the salad accordingly for serving.

Drying the spinach leaves, in case you were wondering, helps the dressing stick to them. Water and oil don’t mix well, as you probably know. So when the leaves are wet, they can’t hold on to the salad dressing.

What About Frozen Spinach?

Frozen spinach is blanched. In other words, it’s precooked. However, many people are surprised to learn that they shouldn’t eat frozen spinach without heating it first nevertheless, and we’ll go into the reasons why in a moment.

“Blanching” is a cooking technique in which the spinach is dipped quickly in boiling water, then submerged in cold water to stop the cooking process and allow the freezing to happen.

Every now and then something goes wrong in a freezing plant and a frozen food brand recalls its products nationwide. This recall usually occurs because the food becomes contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes during processing or packaging—and consumers get food poisoning because they eat it raw.

The likelihood of this happening to the bag of frozen spinach in your freezer is minimal. But if you ask me, it’s not worth the risk. To minimize this risk, you simply need to heat the frozen spinach until it’s steaming and too hot to touch. The heat kills disease-causing bacteria and makes your food edible.

What to Pair Fresh Spinach With

Fresh spinach goes great with cherry and grape tomatoes, black and Kalamata olives, red and white onions, and avocado. In salads, fresh spinach also goes well with fruit, such as strawberries, peaches, pears, and apples.

As for animal products, boiled eggs and grilled (or roasted) chicken go best with fresh spinach. The cheeses that go well with this leafy vegetable are Italian hard cheeses such as Parmesan and Pecorino, but also soft cheeses like mozzarella and feta.

There’s hardly a salad dressing that doesn’t taste great with fresh spinach, from cream and cheese sauces to classic oil and vinegar blends to syrupy dressings with honey balsamic vinegar or reduced pomegranate juice.

When in doubt, keep it simple: Spinach, tomatoes, black olives, and thin slices of parmesan cheese dressed with extra virgin olive oil and apple cider vinegar is my favorite.

By Jim Stonos

When Jim isn't in the kitchen, he is usually spending time with family and friends, and working with the HCW editorial team to answer the questions he used to ask himself back when he was learning the ropes of cooking.