This sweet, savory, and tender stir-fry spinach is the perfect side dish for your next weeknight dinner. In 10 minutes this aromatic dish will fill your kitchen with mouthwatering flavors! A simple yet flavorful stir-fry dish.
I'll walk you through how to pick the best spinach and the ultimate way to cook it so you'll never have soggy spinach again. As a bonus, I'm sharing my favorite flavor booster for this dish and all you need to know about Taiwanese spinach if you happen to have access to the sweetest variety.
- 🌱 what type of spinach to use
- ✨ why you'll love this stir-fry recipe
- 📋 key ingredients
- 🌱 how to pick spinach
- 📖 substitutions
- 📖 variations
- 🔪 instructions
- 💭 top expert tip
- 🍲 equipment
- ❄️ storage
- 💭 faq
- 🥬 more vegetables
- 👨🍳 COOKING WITH KIDS
- stir-fry spinach with garlic (+ Taiwan spinach and bonus flavor booster)
- 🌡️ food safety
🌱 what type of spinach to use
This recipe works especially well with whole spinach, especially when it's in season (May to October in the U.S.). That's when the stems are super sweet.
You can stir-fry any spinach and get a pretty tasty result, but I highly recommend Taiwan spinach if you can find some in your area.
Whereas “regular” spinach consists of mostly just the leaves, Taiwan spinach has sweet stems that create a robust flavor profile before you even add flavor boosters.
All Taiwanese spinach is considered Chinese spinach, but not all Chinese spinach is Taiwanese! Chinese spinach can refer to a larger variety of spinach as a whole.
Today I’ll share how to properly wash, chop, and cook whole spinach and Taiwan spinach so that you can enjoy the entire vegetable without waste. I hope you’ll enjoy the variation in texture between the leaves and stems!
Plus, spinach sautéed garlic will really enhance the pleasantly mild flavor of the spinach leaves.
✨ why you'll love this stir-fry recipe
Stir-fry spinach is one of my favorite veggie-based side dishes. Using the cooking techniques in this recipe will give you a vibrant dish with sweet and crunchy stems.
It's similar to sautéed spinach with garlic, but more flavorful.
And if you can find Taiwan spinach near you, you'll probably never go back to eating regular spinach (if you don’t love it already!). This recipe also allows for some variations and flavor-enhancing ingredients so that you can make this dish your own.
You can also enjoy it with some taro boba milk.
Check out my Taiwanese cabbage recipe if you’re interested in trying a different type of leafy vegetable.
📋 key ingredients
The flavor of spinach (especially if you can find Taiwan spinach) is the star of the show here, but there are a few simple ingredients that will take this spinach stir-fry dish to the next level.
- whole spinach - When spinach is in season, you'll find whole ones with large leaves and long stems at grocery stores and farmers' markets. I highly recommend Taiwan spinach if you see it. It's heartier than regular spinach and the flavor of the leaves is milder. The tender stems are super sweet too! Otherwise, regular whole spinach will work for this recipe.
- ground white pepper - this will add a subtle dimension to this dish. Feel free to leave it out to make this dish more kid-friendly.
- garlic - peeled and roughly minced
- salt - I use the Diamond Crystal brand kosher salt (affiliate link) in most recipes since it has lower sodium levels, making it easier to layer the seasoning without accidentally oversalting a dish. It can be found in some grocery stores. ✴️ If using table salt or sea salt, use half of the amount listed in the recipe.
- canola oil
- optional - Bulls Head sacha sauce (affiliate link) for an umami-rich flavor boost.
See the recipe card for quantities.
🌱 how to pick spinach
- check the leaves - Look for mostly smooth green leaves that indicate the spinach is well hydrated.
- feel the stems - if the stems are tender and pliable, they are appropriately hydrated.
- look at roots - make sure the roots aren't dried out
- avoid - avoid the spinach if it's slimy. Some will have water on it and that's okay, but a sliminess is what you'll want to steer clear of.
- Taiwan spinach - Taiwanese spinach (sometimes called Chinese spinach, though it can mean a different variety) is super tender and unique in that its stems are sweeter! It has less bitterness and astringency than other spinach. I prefer using this variety when it's available.
- water spinach - also known as morning glory, ong choy, and other names. The shape of water spinach leaves is different and the taste is milder than spinach. The stems are crunchier though and will work well with this recipe.
- Buddhist variation - if you follow a Buddhist vegetarian diet and avoid allium vegetables, replace the garlic with thinly sliced fresh ginger.
- flavor boost - Add 1 tablespoon of Bulls Head BBQ Sauce (affiliate link), aka sacha sauce (Taiwanese / Chinese bbq sauce), for a quick boost of umami flavor. To use, add the sacha sauce when you add the spinach to the pan. Stir-fried spinach dishes often show up with this sauce in Taiwanese households because it’s delicious and easy to use. You can also find vegetarian versions (affiliate link) of this sauce too.
- spicy - Add red chili pepper for a boost of spiciness.
I’m going to go through each step in detail below, including step-by-step photos of how to cut and stir-fry spinach. In a hurry? You can jump straight to the printable recipe.
It's important to thoroughly wash and dry the spinach before using. Place washed spinach in a colander to allow the water to drain. You can also dry it off with a kitchen towel. With 12 ounces of whole spinach, this recipe makes about 2 servings as a side dish.
Cut off the roots at the very bottom of the spinach stems.
Begin by separating the stems from the leaves.
If the stems are long, cut into 2-inch long pieces. Otherwise, keep the stems whole.
Then cut the leaves into 2-inch long pieces as well.
pro tip: make sure to shake off excess water after washing the spinach and dry it with a clean kitchen towel. If there’s too much moisture, the spinach will steam in the pan and won’t get that delicious stir-fry flavor from a well-seasoned wok or cast iron pan.
Use a well-seasoned wok or cast iron pan that will give the spinach and garlic extra flavor.
Heat a 14-inch seasoned wok or cast iron pan over medium-high heat until the pan is hot and just starts to smoke (about 15 seconds for a wok or 3 minutes for a cast iron pan).
Add 1 tablespoon of canola oil (I use a squeeze bottle to easily add oil to the sides of the pan). Tilt the pan to evenly coat the cooking surface, and add in the sliced garlic (3 cloves minced). Stir for about 5 seconds until the garlic is fragrant.
pro tip: Add the stems first since they take just a minute or two longer to cook. You’ll know when the spinach is done cooking right when it turns brighter green.
Add the spinach stems.
Turn the heat to high and cook for 1 minute and toss with a spatula.
Add the leaves to the skillet and stir-fry the contents in the pan by constantly flipping and moving the vegetables with your spatula to prevent burning.
Season with ½ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt (use half the amount if using sea salt or table salt).
Add ⅛ teaspoon ground white pepper while you continue to toss the spinach with your spatula.
Here is when you can add 1 tablespoon of Bulls Head sacha sauce for a flavor boost, if using (optional).
Stir-fry until the stems and leaves turn brighter green (about 3 minutes) and immediately turn off the heat.
Transfer to a serving platter and serve hot as a side dish.
💭 top expert tip
To prevent overcooking, remove your wok or pan from the heat right after the spinach finishes cooking. You'll know the spinach is ready right when the stems and leaves become a brighter green.
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Like other leafy green dishes, stir-fried spinach is best served right after cooking.
You can wrap uncooked but already washed, dried, and cut spinach in a clean kitchen towel or paper towel and stored it in a sealable bag/container in the refrigerator.
Sautéed spinach and stir-fried spinach are very similar dishes, but they differ in the way they are cooked. Sauteed spinach generally takes longer and uses more fat (oil or butter) at a lower heat, whereas stir-fried spinach cooks at a higher heat. Stir-frying spinach leaves the stems slightly crunchy whereas sautéed spinach is usually softer.
The biggest difference between Taiwan spinach and other varieties of spinach are the flavor and texture of the stems. Taiwan spinach has really sweet stems and less astringency, which makes it extra delicious.
You cook Chinese and Taiwanese spinach by starting with the stems. They take longer to cook so you should add them to the hot wok or cast iron pan first. Then add the leaves and stir to cook. At that point, you can also add seasonings like garlic, salt, and sacha sauce. Stir to continue cooking, combining your chosen flavors.
You'll know the spinach is done cooking when the leaves and stems turn brighter green, then immediately remove from the heat, finish with a sprinkle of ground white pepper if you like, and serve.
Taiwan spinach is not the same type of vegetable as morning glory. It's similar in the sense that they both have delicious stems and a milder flavor, but they're quite different. If you're interested in learning more about water spinach (also called morning glory, ong choy, and other names in many different Asian cultures), give this quick water spinach recipe a try!
🥬 more vegetables
Looking for other Taiwanese and East Asian vegetables? Try these easy side dishes:
👨🍳 COOKING WITH KIDS
What can kid chefs help with?
- wash the spinach
- help to thoroughly dry the spinach
- pour the measured seasonings and flavor boosters into the skillet
Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.
Happy cooking! ~ Cin
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stir-fry spinach with garlic (+ Taiwan spinach and bonus flavor booster)
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- Dry off the spinach with a clean kitchen towel if needed.12 ounces spinach
- Heat a 14-inch seasoned wok or cast iron pan over medium-high heat until the pan is hot and just starts to smoke (about 15 seconds for a wok or 3 minutes for a cast iron pan).1 tablespoon canola oil
- Add the canola oil, tilt the pan to evenly coat the cooking surface, and add in the minced garlic. Stir for about 5 seconds until the garlic is fragrant and add the spinach stems. Turn the heat to high and cook for 1 minute, toss with a spatula, and then add the leaves.3 cloves garlic, 12 ounces spinach
- Stir-fry the contents in the pan by constantly flipping and moving the vegetables with your spatula to prevent burning. Season with salt and ground white pepper while you continue to toss the spinach with your spatula. Stir-fry until the stems and leaves turn brighter green (about 3 minutes) and immediately turn off the heat.½ teaspoon salt, ⅛ teaspoon ground white pepper
- Transfer to a serving platter and serve hot as a side dish.
equipment and highlighted ingredients
- Add the stems first since they take just a minute or two longer to cook. You’ll know when the spinach is done cooking right when it turns brighter green.
- Remove your wok or pan off the heat right after the spinach is done to prevent overcooking.
- Note: if you're using table or sea salt instead of kosher salt, make sure to cut back on the amount by half.
Looking for more flavor? Add 1 tablespoon of Bulls Head BBQ Sauce, aka sacha sauce (Taiwanese / Chinese bbq sauce), for a quick boost of umami flavor. To use, add the sacha sauce when you add the spinach to the pan. Stir-fried spinach dishes often show up with this sauce in Taiwanese households because it’s delicious and easy to use. You can also find vegetarian versions of this sauce. storage: Like other leafy green dishes, stir-fried spinach is best served right after cooking. Uncooked but already washed, dried, and cut spinach can be wrapped with a clean kitchen towel or paper towel and stored in a sealable bag/container in the refrigerator. reheat: best served right after cooking since the spinach may wilt and become soggy after reheating.
🌡️ food safety
- Don't leave food sitting out at room temperature for extended periods
- Never leave cooking food unattended
- Use oils with high smoking point to avoid harmful compounds
- Always have good ventilation when using a gas stove, especially when cooking over higher heat.