Sigeumchi Namul (Spinach Banchan)
This seasoned spinach is a Korean classic banchan. It’s simple to make with just a few ingredients: blanched spinach, garlic, scallions, sesame oil, sesame seeds, and just a little sugar.
Siguemchi Namul is a Korean seasoned spinach. It’s garlicky, slightly salty and sweet, a touch oniony, and nutty from the sesame seeds and sesame oil. The spinach is blanched, seasoned, and served chilled as a refreshing side dish. It’s considered banchan.
Banchan in Korean means side dishes. It’s a constant and essential part of how Koreans eat daily. In Korean restaurants, banchan are often served gratis (with free refills no less). They arrive in small plates, clattering onto the table as they’re laid out by the server.
At home, one or two banchan can be served with rice and sheets of roasted seaweed as a light meal, or as sides to a more substantial meal.
While the most well-known banchan is probably kimchi, there are so many varieties. They range from simple dishes like this spinach banchan to more robust dishes like kimchi, savory pancakes called jeon, Korean-style macaroni salad, sweet and sticky stir-fried anchovies, and spicy marinated raw crabs.
Spinach is a favorite in my family for several reasons. It’s quick and easy to make. On the health front, spinach shrivels down considerably when cooked so it’s easy to eat a lot without even realizing it. It is a welcomed contrast to the often spicy and bold dishes like Kimchi Jjigae (Korean Kimchi Stew). Most importantly, my son will eat it.
The Best Spinach for this Banchan
I prefer to use mature spinach rather than baby spinach. The thick stems and robust leaves provide different textures and can handle being blanched. I find baby spinach too delicate for this dish.
Mature spinach traps a lot of dirt so be sure to wash it several times. Fill a very large bowl full of cold water. Trim off the root ends of the spinach—although if your spinach is connected at the bottom with pink ends, you can keep those intact and trim just a tiny bit off.
Add the spinach to the water and swish it around with your hand so that the dirt falls to the bottom of the bowl. If there isn’t enough space in the bowl to give the spinach a good swish, wash it in batches, or use your sink.
Transfer the spinach to a colander to drain. When scooping the spinach out of the water, try to be gentle as to not agitate the water and dirt at the bottom of the bowl. Pour out the dirty water and repeat. Rinse the spinach again until there’s no more sediment left in the bowl.
Tips and Tricks for Making Seasoned Spinach
This dish is meant to be cool and refreshing. It’s quick to prepare if you’ve set yourself up well.
- Make an ice bath and have it ready next to the pot of boiling water. Spinach cooks quickly and the blanching time is short, about 10 seconds. You want to keep those greens as fresh and bright as possible by dunking them into the ice bath right after they cook.
- Blanch the spinach in batches. Use tongs to grab a bunch, dunk them into the boiling water and then into the ice bath. Unless you’re making a small batch, they will overcook if you put them into the pot all at once.
- Asian markets sell sesame seeds, already toasted, in plastic canisters that are a lot more affordable than the little jars you may find at your local supermarket. Storing them in your freezer will keep them fresh longer.
Ingredient Swaps and Substitutions
While many recipes call for both soy sauce and salt, I prefer to only use salt. Feel free to experiment with a little drizzle of soy sauce. You could also substitute honey for sugar, but since it’s stickier, mix all of the seasonings together before tossing it with the spinach to distribute it evenly.
To make a spicy version, add gochugaru (Korean chili flakes), to taste. You can also experiment with other vegetables and prepare them the same way:
- Bean sprouts
- Steamed eggplant
Spinach is served simply with rice and roasted seaweed or alongside many other banchan with a large meal. It can also be used as a vegetable topping for the classic Korean rice bowl, bibimbap, as one of the vegetables in the Korean glass noodle dish, japchae, or as one of the fillings in seaweed wrapped rice rolls, kimbap.
While this spinach recipe is best eaten the day it’s made, it will hold in the fridge tightly covered for another day or two.
More Recipes to Use Up Spinach
- Pressure Cooker Saag Tofu (Indian Spinach and Tofu)
- Green Goddess Mac and Cheese
- Easy Sautéed Spinach
- Cheese Hash Brown Egg Bites
- Creamed Spinach with Bacon
Boil water and prepare ice bath:
Fill a large pot with water and bring it up to a boil over high heat. Prepare a large ice bath. Set it on the counter next to the pot.
Blanch the spinach:
Using tongs and working in batches, dunk the spinach in the pot of boiling water. Swish it around until the spinach is bright green and the stems have softened a bit, about 10 seconds.
Immediately transfer the blanched spinach into the ice bath to stop the cooking. Swish the spinach around in the ice bath to loosen it up. Repeat until all the spinach is cooked and cooled.
Dry the spinach:
Drain the spinach into a colander set in the sink. Working in batches, grab handfuls of the spinach with your hands and wring out as much water as possible. Place the dried spinach on a cutting board.
Chop the spinach:
Roughly chop the spinach into bite-size pieces. Transfer the spinach into a medium bowl and use your fingers to loosen them if lumped together.
Season the spinach:
Add the scallions, garlic, sesame seeds, sesame oil, sugar, and salt. Toss to combine. Taste and decide if you want to add more salt or leave it as it is.
Serve immediately or store it tightly covered in the refrigerator until ready to serve.