Spinach rolls with dipping sauce and a side of love

Celebrant, self-taught cook and Castlemaine superstar, Jenny O’Keefe, shares with assistant editor, Cat McGauran, her recipe for Japanese Spinach Rolls and dipping sauce. Both nutritious and delicious, these rolls are made with love and sure to impress!

Nine years ago I met a lady online and after all the emails back and forth, and several dog walks, we decided to go on an Actual Date and after that went well I invited her to my place for dinner. I spent the week preparing a Japanese banquet. Since then we’ve married (twice – once without legal recognition and then recently a small ceremony with the piece of paper), had one baby with another on the way, and the spinach roll with dipping sauce is something I’ve made for this beautiful person through the years whenever I want her to know how loved she is. It takes a few days and is gone in seconds but believe me – it’s worth it!

Jenny’s Japanese spinach rolls with dipping sauce


  • a big bunch or three of spinach
  • sesame seeds (white and black if you can find them)
  • honey
  • tahini
  • tamari

Kitchen Bits You’ll Need

  • several bamboo sushi mats
  • rubber bands
  • tall stock pot
  • biggest bowl you can find
  • tongs
  • ice trays
  • tea towels that might go a bit green (should wash out but don’t use anything too precious)
  • mortar and pestle
  • little frying pan
  • serving plate or platter
  • dipping sauce bowl


Soak your spinach overnight or for a few hours in the sink or a big bowl of water to remove grit from the stalks.

Boil up a big stock pot of water and get a big bowl of cold water ready to go, pop a whole tray of ice cubes in and once you’re sorted there give your spinach a final rinse under the tap. Gather as much as you can in one go, all with stalks down and gently lower it into the rolling boiling water. You want it to be standing up in the water as much as possible submerged. Use some tongs to fold the tops into the water if anything’s sticking out. It won’t take long, maybe a minute or two, and then carefully remove the cooked spinach with your tongs (keeping it as intact as possible) and lower it into the ice bath. This keeps the fantastic green colour vibrant and stops the cooking process.

You may need to replenish the ice if the water doesn’t stay cold.

Once your spinach has rested in the ice water for a bit, gather your bits and bobs.

Place a bamboo sushi mat on a chopping board.

Using your tongs, fish out your spinach one bit at a time and give it a gentle squeeze with your hand prior to laying it along the bamboo mat. Keep the pile of spinach to one side with the roots hanging over the end for easy removal. Arrange your spinach in a nice log and once you’re satisfied you have a good amount you’re ready to roll (remember it will decrease in size a bit once rolled up).

If you’ve ever made sushi before, you’ll be using a similar technique to roll the spinach. Keep tucking it in as you go, and once your spinach and bamboo mat are all rolled up, give it a gentle squeeze over the sink to remove any excess water. Leave the roots hanging off the end, you’ll remove them later. Roll the mat up in a tea towel and fasten the ends with rubber bands. A couple of bunches of spinach usually gives me about 3-4 long rolls.

Pop them in the fridge overnight.

Dipping sauce can be made in advance or just before serving. I quite like making it fresh so the beautiful aromas of the toasting sesame seeds get everyone ready to eat.

Tip about half a cup of sesame seeds to your frying pan, dry. They don’t need any oil. Put on high heat initially then lower to medium. Don’t take your eyes off for a moment because they will burn baby burn! Swirl them around in the pan and once they start to pop and brown up, tip them into your mortar and pestle. Give them a good grind up and enjoy the smell and satisfying poppy sound!

Add in a few spoons of tahini to help it along, a dash of honey, some lovely salty tamari and stir it up. Have a taste and see if you’d like any more of anything, and a splosh of water from the boiled kettle if you’d like it a bit more runny.

Open up your rolled up tea towels and bamboo mats, slice off the roots and gently unroll mat to find the goodness inside. Slice it up and place artfully on a plate or platter with dipping sauce nearby. Marvel at how quickly it all disappears.

Bonus tip – have with some berry tea or other high vitamin C content beverage to help iron absorption.

Thank you so much to Jenny for her beautiful recipe – we can feel and taste the love! Thanks also to Carmen Bunting for the wonderful photographs.