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Cheesy Spinach Maria

This is delicious anytime, but with Father’s Day less than 2 weeks away, this could be a great start to your dinner to honor Dad!This recipe is famous in the South.  Depending on who you talk to, it came from one of two sources.  A well known BBQ restaurant in Tennessee called Calhouns is famous for this dish and the recipe was printed there in a newspaper under the name Spinach Maria.  In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, it is the most requested recipe in Junior League’s history from their cookbook series River Road Recipes and there it is called Spinach Madeleine.  That version came from a housewife (probably named Madeleine) who made it up as a way to get her family to eat spinach.  The only real difference it that the Junior League recipe calls for minced jalapenos.  Both versions are very popular for good reason and this dish is eaten at the holidays all over the South.

Either way you make it, it would be safe to say that Dad (and everybody you know for that matter) will be thrilled to have this very yummy way to eat their spinach. This can be a side dish to steak or ribs, or serve it with slices of crusty bread and it’s a perfect hot cheesy spinach dip…what could be a better start to any meal? !!!!

Cheesy Spinach Maria
(serves 10-12)

6 tablespoons butter
1/2 onion chopped finely
4 cups milk
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons garlic powder
6 tablespoons flour
4 oz. cream cheese
1/2 lb. extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 lb. Monterey jack cheese, grated (reserve 1 1/2 cups for topping)
2 teaspoons minced jalapeno (optional)
5 pkg. chopped spinach* (Thaw the spinach and squeeze out the water. Drain on paper towels until ready to use)

* These are 10 oz packages

In a large skillet, (preferably cast iron) melt 1 tablespoon of the butter.  Add the onion and saute just until onion begins to brown.  Stir in the milk and add mustard, pepper flakes, and garlic powder.  In a small sauce pan make a roux by melting the remaining 5 tablespoons of butter and adding in the flour.  Cook, stirring,or 3-4 minutes or just until the mixture starts to turn slightly brown.  Add the roux to the milk mixture and stir until this begins to thicken.  Add in the cream cheese, cheddar cheese and Monterey jack, reserving 1 1/2 cups of the jack cheese for topping.  When all the cheese is thoroughly melted add in the spinach and stir to combine.  If you are using a cast iron skillet, top with remaining jack cheese.  If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, put the mixture in a baking dish and then top with the jack cheese.  Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until the mixture is bubbling and the top is lightly browned.  Serve immediately.

We love this as a dip served with slices of warmed crusty French bread but as we mentioned earlier it is also perfect as a side dish.  Either way we know Popeye would approve of this way to eat your spinach and so will you!  Don’t worry that it makes such a large amount.  It is great reheated and you are going to eat WAY more than you thought you would anyway 🙂

P.S.  Given that this dish happens to be called Spinach Maria, we couldn’t let the day go by without a shout out to our special chum, Maria, whose birthday happens to be today 🙂  You may remember Maria from a post we did on Homemade Tortillas.  Hers are the best and they would be a delicious accompaniment to this cheesy dip!

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