Questions for cooks: Measuring foods that don’t fit in measuring cups

Reader Ziegler submitted the following to Questions for cooks:

I’ve been wanting to make more attempts at cooking and I keep looking at healthier recipes. My problem is, sometimes recipes tell you to use a cup of fresh spinach or romaine or some other lettucy type thing, how am I supposed to measure that? If it doesn’t fit in a measuring cup I’m clueless!

Also, I’ve seen recipes that ask for something like 2 cups of “cooked” pasta. How am I supposed to figure out how much dry pasta to use in order for it to end up as 2 cups once it’s cooked?

The easiest way to measure foods that don’t conveniently fit into measuring cups is to use a digital food scale. Then, find an ingredient conversion list that provides data on the specific item you’re using. Lately, I’ve been relying on the ingredient conversion list at the back of the Canyon Ranch Cooks cookbook because it’s extensive, incredibly specific, and I already own it.

For spinach, Canyon Ranch Cooks lists 1 pound of raw spinach to be equivalent to 10 cups raw or 2 cups cooked spinach. For all types of lettuce, it lists 1 pound of lettuce to be 6 cups of chopped or torn lettuce or 4 cups of shredded lettuce.

Doing a little math, this means a cup of raw spinach is 1/10th of a pound, which is 1.6 ounces or approximately 45 grams. (1 pound = 16 ounces, 1 ounce = 28.3495231 grams) And a cup of torn lettuce is 1/6th of a pound, which is 2.7 ounces or approximately 77 grams.

Now, to answer your question about how much uncooked pasta becomes cooked pasta, I turned to the National Pasta Association for an answer. (I’m not kidding, there really is a National Pasta Association.) According to their website, 8 ounces of uncooked pasta is usually 4 cups of cooked pasta. So, you would need 2 ounces (approximately 57 grams) of uncooked pasta to get 1 cup of cooked pasta. For an exact measurement, again I recommend using a digital food scale and weighing out the uncooked pasta.

Many recipes in cookbooks are now starting to list weight measurements, which eliminates the need for doing math. If you’re not a numbers person, I definitely recommend checking out these types of cookbooks.

Thank you, Ziegler, for submitting your question for our Questions for cooks column.

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6 comments posted

  1. Posted by Lisa - 02/18/2011

    Great tip, and thanks for the conversions (which I can never remember!).

    Don’t forget about the water displacement method… not that great for pasta, but if you need, say, 1 cup of chopped broccoli, put 2 cups of water in a 4 cup measuring cup/bowl, and add broccoli pieces until you hit the 3 cup line.

  2. Posted by Gillian - 02/18/2011

    Water displacement is also good for measuring butter, lard and shortening.

  3. Posted by Stephanie - 02/19/2011

    I guess I’m just not that particular about measurements of vegetables or pasta (within reason)… some things, like baking or making a sauce, require a lot more precision, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a recipe fail because I put and extra 1/4 cup of veg/pasta/fruit etc…

  4. Posted by Cristina - 02/20/2011

    This is the silliest suggestion I’ve ever read for someone who only wants to get into cooking. Why would you spend $25 on a scale then $22 on a cookbook when the truth of the matter is that you can eyeball it?

    As Stephanie said, baking requires precise measurement but cooking doesn’t at all. Don’t waste water either. I say practice, learn how much you think a cup is with these types of ingredients, and make cooking a habit in your life before you drop almost $50 on anything related to it.

  5. Posted by Erin Doland - 02/20/2011

    @Cristina — Actually, I disagree. I think most of us are on limited budgets and wasting dinner after dinner after dinner is a pretty poor use of money. A scale you can use for a decade or more. A cookbook you can use for a lifetime. Ruined dinner costs five or more dollars each time, and you can’t ever use it again. Learning to cook through trial and error without any guidance will cost you more than $50. Why waste the money and the resources when there are ways to make a successful meal without losing money?

  6. Posted by anyazs - 02/23/2011

    Wow, I’m very impressed with your exact calculations, Erin!

    I have to admit that I usually eyeball most quantities for non-baking recipes. I certainly have more than my fair share of food failures, but usually it’s not because I used a handful of spinach instead of weighing 45 grams.

    When I first read this post, I thought a new cook might be discouraged by these tedious calculations. I hadn’t considered, though, that it probably takes cooking experience to just eyeball it!

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