The best ways to cook with spinach

Few vegetables have reached pop culture status quite like spinach, and for good reason. Just seeing Popeye chug down a can or two of spinach before defeating Bluto would make even the most finicky eater want to try this powerhouse green vegetable. According to a 2010 study, children who participated in various activities, including watching Popeye cartoons, increased their vegetable intake. The mighty leaves of spinach may have gotten lost in the shuffle of kale and collard greens in the past few years, but they pack a punch of vitamins, iron, folate, calcium, potassium, and fiber. And, let's be honest, it's hard to mess with a vegetable that has its own spokesperson.

Spinach + dip = bff

Hot. Cold. With artichokes. Without artichokes. Nestled in a (pumpernickel) bread bowl or adorned with crackers, carrot sticks, and celery sticks. If you're at a party but there isn't spinach dip, is it really a party?

Knorr spinach dip is the dip. Something about the cool and creamy texture and the perfect seasoning from the vegetable mix added in makes it a taste that's hard to beat. This will always be a classic, and it's hard to embellish on an original, but there are some other ways to breath new life into this appetizer staple.

As with everything, there are even two sides to spinach dip. And the opposite of cold spinach dip is a warm, gooey spinach artichoke dip. A standard on restaurant menus and center stage at game night, you could get lost in a bowl of this. Ali, the blogger behind Gimme Some Oven, shares her recipe for this classic duo. It's guaranteed to be a crowd pleaser, but it would taste just as good paired with a Netflix marathon of your choice.

OK, so maybe eating dip for dinner isn't the most nutritious way to enjoy spinach. But what if you added chicken to the mix? Your family or guests will be so enchanted with the spinach dip-stuffed chicken from Sugar Dish Me that no one would question your motives for sneaking dip into dinner.

A quiche come true

Earlier this week I saw a man buying a freshly made deep-dish spinach quiche, which proves that real men do eat quiche. Why are we so afraid of quiche? It's really just an egg pie. The crustless spinach quiche recipe from Food & Wine is likened to a frittata, and without a crust, gluten-free. Hoping for something a bit more decadent? The deep dish bacon spinach quiche from A Beautiful Mess is just what you need. And any quiche you choose to make will always pair well with a simple salad.

The other salad green

A wedge of iceberg, hearts of romaine, mesclun, even Belgian endive cups are all valid base lettuces for a spectacular salad. But when you want something slightly heartier, go for spinach to ensure that your salad isn't just a vehicle for dressing. Spinach can be dressed up in so many ways.

But before I toss any salad recipes your way, let's talk about the cleanliness of raw spinach. We've all been there, passing over the bunches of fresh spinach in favor of the triple-washed bags. Why would we clean spinach when some nice company has already taken the time to do it? Well, according to Jeri Barak, associate professor of plant pathology and executive member of the Food Research Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, there's a good chance that bagged, "ultra-cleaned" spinach may be harboring disease-causing bacteria like Listeria, which naturally occurs in soil. The common commercial washing methods can leave up to 90 percent of bacteria on the leaves. GAH! What should you do to reduce the risk? Purchase mature spinach bundles that are not bagged and take the time to wash them yourself. Your body will thank you.

Now that that's taken care of, let's talk about something much more delicious! It's just a fact that any recipe is better with bacon, and this recipe from Ree Drummond is no exception. Ree's "best spinach salad ever" is a savory spinach salad topped with mushrooms, egg, onions, and warm bacon dressing. It's completely drool-worthy. In the mood for something slightly sweeter? Epicurious has you covered with its spinach salad with Bosc pears, cranberries, red onion, and toasted hazelnuts, while a strawberry and spinach salad from Allrecipes has a 4.5-star rating. Any spinach salad will be a hit, especially with your newfound cleaning knowledge.

A steakhouse staple

Have you ever noticed that most manly, old-school steakhouses always offer creamed spinach as a side? Maybe it's a way to offset the ribeye and double-thick chops. Not that there's anything to complain about, especially when the creamed spinach is topped with bacon. Looking to have that steakhouse experience at home? Michael Lomonaco, chef at Porter House New York, shared his infamous creamed spinach with bacon recipe with Martha Stewart. I've had the pleasure of eating the creamed spinach at Porter House, and this recipe is more than worthy to make at home.

Sauteed spinach

Let's be honest, you probably shouldn't indulge in creamed spinach every night. Growing up, my mom would make spinach with garlic and oil nearly once a week. Now that is true Italian food, a delicious staple that I craved so deeply one night after moving to New York that I paid $9 just for a side dish. Now, I make it all the time, and Rachael Ray's recipe for wilted spinach with garlic and oil transports me to my mom's kitchen (as long as I skip Rachael's suggested nutmeg). My family prepared it more on the "wet" side, similar to a soup consistency, and we were encouraged to drink the garlicky broth, a natural remedy. Old Italian wives' tale? Maybe. Delicious and nostalgic? Absolutely.

Are you looking to make a sauteed spinach recipe that's spicier? Try out the Sichuan wild mushroom saute with New Zealand spinach from Appetite for China. The flavor volume is turned way up with both red pepper flakes and crushed Sichuan peppercorns.

A la Florentine

Just seeing eggs Florentine or chicken Florentine on a menu automatically alerts us that there is spinach in the dish. But, if "A la Florentine" translates to "in the style of Florence," how did spinach get wrapped up into this? That's where Catherine de Medici, wife of King Henry II steps in. Credited with introducing several Italian items to the French, including spinach, she requested that any dish containing spinach be labeled Florentine. Regardless of its roots, we're just glad there are so many ways to enjoy spinach. You could plan an entire day's worth of meals featuring Florentine specialties, starting with this 5-star Taste of Home recipe for eggs Florentine squares. Just right for brunch or for a breakfast-for-dinner meal, the editors' even suggest pairing the recipe with a Chardonnay for optimal enjoyment.

When lunchtime rolls around, a big meal may not be something you can stomach. But a cozy bowl of soup and maybe some crusty bread would definitely hit the spot. The creamy, steamy chicken Florentine soup from Sheila at Life, Love, and Good Food is a bowl full of home-cooked love. And the topper? She includes a bonus recipe for homemade croutons if your bread isn't quite fresh from the oven.

It's 5:30, and you promised dinner would be ready by 6. Does this sound like your typical night? Not to worry, Giada De Laurentiis, television chef and queen of Italian cooking is here to help. Her chicken Florentine style entree will be ready in 30 minutes and also pairs well with Chardonnay. Anyone else sensing a delicious trend?

Cheers!

These days, almost every town has at least one juice bar, unless you're in New York like me and there's one on every block. While I'm within walking distance of so many establishments, the cost can be prohibitive. For instance, 12 ounces can cost upward of $8 — talk about sticker shock. But drinkable spinach is definitely worth the effort, and if you're easing into your first spinach-infused drink, go bananas. The easy spinach and banana smoothie from Hurry The Food Up is not only a delicious way to drink your veggies, it's vegan, too! Are you ready for something a little more adventurous? EatingWell's spinach-apple juice may be the choice for you. Packed with fruits, veggies, and spicy ginger, this homemade blend will make you glad you're eating well.

It's Greek to me

Spinach is synonymous with spanikopita, or spinach pie, a staple of Greek cooking. Pairing the vegetable with feta cheese, spices and folding it into little pillows of phyllo pastry isn't just art, it's love. I'm drooling just thinking about the savory homemade triangles from Poseidon Bakery here in New York City. The shop is so authentic, they still make their own phyllo dough! Spanikopita can be a bit tricky but the Spinach and Feta Phyllo Triangles from Epicurious take the guesswork out of this delicacy. No time to wrap individual triangles? Scrumpdillyicious has you covered with their Spinach and Feta Spanikopita Strudel. And, if you're still craving spanikopita, but the thought of working with phyllo dough is just too intimidating, you can always opt to make the Spanikopita Loaded Potatoes from EatingWell. You'll never look at a twice-baked potato the same way.

Pizza party

Is there a food more desirable than pizza? Think about it, maybe a pie topped with spinach and ricotta cheese finished with roasted garlic? Pure comfort. For me, making pizza or even stromboli at home is a no-brainer because I don't have to wait for the delivery guy. But if you're unsure where to start, I got you. First thing, think about the dough. Some pizza places will sell you dough balls, and I can tell you from experience that Trader Joe's and Whole Foods have decent fresh dough for sale. If you have time, though, make it yourself. It's worth it. You can find my own personal recipe here, or try a gluten-free cauliflower crust like this winner from Food Network host Katie Lee.

Once you've got the crust in order, the fun begins. It's hard to resist spinach when it's married with fresh garlic and three types of cheese, like in Cooking Light's three-cheese white pizza with spinach. In the mood for something a little more? This spinach garlic pizza from Gimme Delicious uses marinara sauce and incorporates herbs, spices, and mushrooms. For many, like Chris Clarke of Door to Door Organics, stromboli is a pizza-like favorite. In her recipe for spinach stromboli, Chris pairs fresh spinach, garlic and the Italian cheese trifecta: ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmesan for a savory bundle just waiting to be shared. With these recipes coming out of your oven, it'll definitely be time to party.

Sweet spinach

By now, it seems like we've explored all the ways to cook with spinach. Well, what if I told you that spinach isn't just for a savory meal? It's true! While baking with zucchini, carrots, and even avocado has become commonplace, baking with spinach is a newer adventure. But the mighty green leaves of spinach are slowly making their way into more and more desserts. The key seems to be incorporating spinach with richer flavors, like chocolate or peanut butter. Brooklyn Farm Girl's chocolate spinach brownies with peanut butter frosting has both. And the secret ingredient can stay between us. Perhaps you're more of a fudge brownie-type person? (I'm not arguing with you.) The Kitchen, Food Network's cooking talk show has an outrageous version that's a must try.

There's always that one uber-adventurous eater out there, and The Cracker Box Kitchen makes just the cake for you. Spinach cake with cream cheese frosting is a Technicolor masterpiece (no food coloring here). Three layers high, this green delight is offset by a tangy, sweet frosting; it's a cake that would even make the Grinch turn a little emerald with envy.