Recently, I sent each of my sons a text and asked them to name three foods they HAD to have on Thanksgiving Day. All three named their Auntie Martha’s spicy spinach first on their list. I don’t think a recipe can get a better recommendation than that. Meanwhile, my children, young adults that they are, have spoken, and it’s time for me to get this time-honored family recipe on the blog!
My sister-in-law, Martha, and her siblings, have been enjoying this side dish for as long as they can remember. My mother-in-law, Cissi to her many grandchildren, gave me the recipe when we first married in 1983. I recently learned from Martha and her twin sister, Terry, that the original version, slightly different from Martha’s, was known by the very elegant name, Spinach Madeleine, and first appeared in the wildly popular Junior League of Baton Rouge cookbook, River Road Recipes: The Textbook of Louisiana Cooking published in 1959. The recipe was created by a woman named Madeline Wright from South Louisiana in 1956. She had the idea to mix a tube of Kraft’s original Jalapeno Cheese into a creamed spinach recipe as she was trying to figure out what to serve her bridge friends for lunch. Her friends loved this spicy spinach side dish. She submitted the recipe in a call for recipes for the newly conceived River Road Recipes cookbook, and it was an instant hit. It has been showing up as an elegant side dish on Southern tables ever since.
The main ingredients are spinach and Velveeta. What exactly is Velveeta? Velveeta is a processed cheese product that when melted is velvety smooth. Velveeta was invented in 1923 when a cheese company was trying to figure out what to do with the pieces of cheese that broke off of cheese wheels when they were trimmed. The leftover cheese fragments were mixed with whey, the watery part of milk that remains when making cheese curds, and Velveeta was born.
You won’t find Velveeta in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, however. It took me forever to figure that out. It’s in the Dry Cheese section right next to the green box of Grated “Parmesan” Cheese. Both of these are processed cheese products and need a lot of preservatives to be shelf stable.
Update 11/30/16: A lot of people emailed, texted and IM’d me the day before Thanksgiving to ask for help on locating the proper variety of Velveeta. Kroger was out, but most were able to get their Velveeta needs met at Publix. I’m reworking the recipe now, trying out other cheeses to see if I can update this recipe with a more readily accessible cheese product.
In the end, one friend came by and picked up what remained of my stash!
Yield: 3½ cups (very easily doubled or tripled)
20 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained, save liquor
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup (4 ounces) onion, chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ cup milk
½ cup spinach liquor saved from drained spinach
1 teaspoon celery salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
6 ounces Kraft Velveeta Jalapeno Cheese
Mise en Place:
Preheat oven to 350º
Defrost spinach in a sieve over a bowl to collect the liquor that drains out. The liquid should amount to about a half a cup. You’ll want to save all of it. By the way, you could use three pounds of fresh spinach, sautéed in butter for the frozen spinach, and substitute chicken broth for the spinach liquor.
Melt butter in a saucepan. Add onions and sauté for 10 minutes over low heat. I used red onion because that is what I had on hand; white or yellow would be fine. Stir in flour and cook for 2 more minutes.
Add milk, the spinach liquor, celery salt, pepper, garlic powder, and Worcestershire. Stir until blended. Add Velveeta chunks, and mix until melted.
Add spinach and mix thoroughly. At this point, you could finish cooking by simmering on the stove for 15 minutes, or put it in a casserole and bake it later in a 350º oven for about 30 minutes.
This recipe is easily made ahead of time and can be doubled or tripled to feed a crowd. My mother-in-law always baked it with buttered bread crumbs or crumbled Cheez-Its on top.
Today, I served the spicy spinach as a hot dip for a meeting and everyone loved it. Most of my guests were surprised to hear it was made with Velveeta!
P.S. Tomorrow is my two-year blogiversary!! Please sign up to follow my posts! So grateful to Ann Shayne and Kay Gardiner for inspiring me to blog, through their shining example over at Mason Dixon Knitting! xoxo
Other Thanksgiving Day Side Dishes We Love
Melissa’s Sweet Potato Casserole
Grandma’s Italian Fried Cauliflower
Roasted Butternut Squash, Brussels Sprouts and Cranberries
Amazingly Delicious Sautéed Carrots
Grandma’s Cranberry Chutney
Cauliflower Three Ways: Roasted, Blanched and Mashed
Favorite Thanksgiving Desserts
Mom’s Pumpkin Pie
Mom’s Apple Pie with a Cheddar Streusel Topping
Mrs. Walker’s Cranberry Nut Pie
Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie
Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce and Whipped Cream
Marion’s Crazy Good Pumpkin Bread with Chocolate Chips
© 2016 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. No photos or text may be used without written consent.