Bento filler: Blanched spinach with soy sauce or sesame sauce


You may be used to eating spinach leaves in salads, or sautéed. In Japan spinach is rarely eaten raw. The most common way to eat spinach is to blanch it briefly. You may lose some nutrients when you do this, but it’s more than made up for I think by the fact that you can eat a whole lot more spinach than in a salad or so.

In the U.S. and Europe, it’s probably easier these days to buy ready-washed bags of the leaves only. This is a bit of a shame really, because spinach stalks and roots have a different texture which adds interest. In any case, the instructions here assume that you are dealing with the leaves only.

Blanching spinach leaves

Wash the leaves just to be sure they are totally clean.

Bring a pot of water to the boil. (If you are in a hurry, boil the water in an electric water kettle, then pour the water into the pot.)

Put the spinach leaves in the pot all at once. If you have baby leaves (they are round and small and not crinkled), boil them for 30 seconds and not any longer. If you have fully grown leaves, boil them for about a minute.

Immediately drain the pot. Run cold water over the leaves to cool them off fast. Drain.

Take the spinach leaves in your hands and squeeze out the water as much as you can. You’ll end up with one or more ‘logs’ of spinach looking like this:


This ‘log’ started out life as a whole 200 g (about 7-8 ounces) bag of baby spinach leaves! Cut the ‘log’ into pieces that are a bit shorter than the height of your bento box.

Blanched spinach with soy sauce and variations

The easiest way to flavor blanched spinach is to just sprinkle some soy sauce on it. You can garnish it with a little bonito flake, sesame seeds, red pepper flakes, etc. I prefer to sprinkle the soy sauce just before eating, so I put it in a small soy sauce bottle. (There’s no need to fill the bottle up incidentally, since you’ll only need a few drops!)


You can vary the flavor by using commercial mentsuyu (soba noodle sauce). For homemade versions, see kaeshi and Japanese essence. (For what it’s worth, I make kaeshi more nowadays than Japanese essence.)

Spinach with sesame sauce (hourensou no gomaae)

This is a little more work to make, but is very delicious, and great for bento! This amount makes enough for 200g / 1/2 pound of raw spinach, cooked.

  • 1 Tbs. white sesame seeds
  • 1/2 Tbs. mirin
  • 1/2 Tbs. sugar
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce

If you don’t have pre-toasted sesame seeds (irigoma), toast the seeds briefly in a small dry frying pan. Crush in a small mortar and pestle or suribachi. Add the sugar and crush some more. Add the mirin and soy sauce and mix. Mix with the spinach.


You can make a sort of cheater’s gomaae by using about 2 teaspoons of tahini instead of the sesame seeds. Add some whole sesame seeds on top for garnish.

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I love Gomaae

Thanks for the recipe for spinach gomaae, gotta try making it soon. I love to eat order it at the restaurants, but sometimes their sauce is way too sugary.

I make another spinach side dish also (more korean flavor) with spinach. Blanch it and squeeze out water. Then season it with a slight pinch of salt, a bit of soy sauce, crushed garlic (if you want to, but sometimes I omit this all together), some korean red pepper flakes, a bit of toasted sesame oil…it’s also yummy and you eat it at room temp or cold. Although may not be super low cal due to sesame oil but you only use a little. Maybe a good alternative for your bento also.

Another way… instead of

Another way… instead of blanching the leaves in hot water, I normally just heat up a small pot (no oil, no water) on med to low heat and chuck all the clean leaves in and then cover the pot. I’ll walk away, clean up, etc., give it a stir once and voila it’s ready. I only season the cooked leaves with some garlic salt. This is quicker than having to boil a pot of water i feel.

The technique described by

The technique described by Hermes also works for me, though I use a non-stick pan. I find that the spinach gives off a fair bit of water by itself, so I don’t have to add anything extra to get it to wilt. I imagine you could also achieve the same effect (without having to drain the spinach as much) by placing a steamer insert into a pot with a small amount of boiling water.

Another way of cooking

Another way of cooking spinach is to put the spinach in a colander and pour of a kettle full of boiling water and then wait for it to cool and bit and squeeze out water. very easy!

Re: Another way of cooking

anon. wrote:

Another way of cooking spinach is to put the spinach in a colander and pour of a kettle full of boiling water and then wait for it to cool and bit and squeeze out water. very easy!

I do something similar to this with spinach and other vegetables. Since I do not have a steamer either elect or pot, I put a colander on top of my pot of boiling water, and inside the colander I put spinach or vegetables. Then I just put the lid from the pot on top of the colander, and a few min later I have perfectly steamed veggies or spinach. It works great for me and it's easy. Sometimes I hardboil eggs while I'm doing this so I get more accomplished at once!

Reporting Back

Finally got to making this dish today (along with hijiki….). I ended up doing only the cheater’s version with tahini, but loved the sauce. Up to now, I have only had gommae (with black sesame) but not the white sesame at the restaurants. A friend gave me a recipe for making gommae (with black sesame seeds) which I liked, but I liked your recipe even more. Thanks for another winner recipe!

Re: Bento filler: Blanched spinach with soy sauce or sesame ...

I like to microwave baby spinach for about 30 seconds at a time until it is wilted - that way you don't loose any nutrients and can still pack more spinach into your bento!

Re: Bento filler: Blanched spinach with soy sauce or sesame ...

I put my whole spinach into a stainless steel bowl and pour boiling water over it. I watch until it turns a nice dark green but the stems are still a light green. I strain and rinse in cold water. Afterwards, once the spinach has chilled and shaped into a loaf, I do what my Japanese mother (born in Kobe, grew up in Osaka) did. I drizzle soy sauce, a little vinegar, and a little sesame oil. She would also sprinkle togarashi over it or if that was not available, sesame seeds and crushed red pepper. Whenever I make it, I think of her. IMO Kazuko Niwa 1934-2000. Thanks Mom!

Re: Bento filler: Blanched spinach with soy sauce or sesame ...

I did this yesterday, and it was delicious! But I got a question: Could you make this with frozen spinach? I bought fresh, but it is a bit expensive in my opinion. Maybe someone has already tried to make this with frozen spinach and knows if it turns out good or not =)

Re: Bento filler: Blanched spinach with soy sauce or sesame ...

Success! My 3 and 4.5 year old boys just gobbled this up! They're not big on leafy greens, usually. Thank you for a winner recipe.

Re: Bento filler: Blanched spinach with soy sauce or sesame ...

I've been going Japanese for the past week as part of a bit of post-holiday detox, and this spinach gomaae recipe is fantastic. This may sound weird, but I save and drink the liquid I squeeze out of the cooked spinach. It's full of nutrients! Today I made the spinach with toasted black sesame and paired it with a delicious umezuke. Oishii desu!

Re: Bento filler: Blanched spinach with soy sauce or sesame ...

I just made this (the sesame sauce) with frozen spinach and it was fabulous. A perfect solution to have in your corner when you dont feel like running to the market for fresh veggies. I found that one block was perfect for dinner with leftovers to pack in my bento for tomorrow.

Re: Bento filler: Blanched spinach with soy sauce or sesame ...

Hi Maki! I'm making gomaae tonight. In your cookbook you say that one can freeze individual portions in cupcake liners, which is a truly great idea - but do the paper liners get damp or soggy as they sit in a bento all morning?

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