A Spicy, Creamy (but Creamless!) Spinach Dish from My Louisiana Table

November 14, 2017

For the majority of my life, I was not a fan of Spinach Madeline. Every Thanksgiving, I’d gobble up the turkey, inhale marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes, and go back for seconds of my mom’s oyster dressing (what we called stuffing). But the siren song of the spicy green mixture—the dish that my mom and her four siblings annually fought for the privilege to make—eluded me.

Pro tip: Make it a day in advance for even better flavor. Photo by Rocky Luten

Spinach Madeline has been a family holiday fixture for decades: it's present at Christmas, Easter, New Years, and, of course, Thanksgiving. My mom remembers sprinkling breadcrumbs over creamy green-filled trays as a little girl, graduating to preparing the entire dish solo by the time she was in middle school. It’s as ingrained in her New Orleans childhood as red beans and rice or shrimp po’boys.

But it wasn’t always a part of the menu. In fact, Spinach Madeline is a relatively young dish. The recipe was first printed in the 1950s in the Junior League of Baton Rouge’s community cookbook, River Road Cookbook. According to the group’s history, the recipe’s creator, Madeline Nevell Reymond, created the recipe by accident.

“She was a young and inexperienced cook when she decided to use up a jalapeño cheese roll that she had in her refrigerator by adding it to a spinach dish she was preparing for a ladies’ luncheon,” the league explains.

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The recipe spread like wildfire throughout southern Louisiana, and someone in my family must have tasted, and then adopted, the creamy, spicy side. It’s no mystery why my Nana included Spinach Madeline on her menu. It’s affordable—with frozen spinach and, let’s face it, processed cheese—and easy to multiply. Our large family gatherings (at last count there were just under 50 of us) require at least two or three aluminum pans of the spicy side.

The O.G. Spinach Madeline source. (Thanks, Mom!) Photo by Jennifer Macdonald

Another positive: It doesn’t take a culinary genius to prepare. Simply start with a butter-flour roux, onions, evaporated milk, and the liquid from the thawed, drained spinach. Once the mixture is smooth, add cubes of the spicy jalapeño cheese, before stirring in the cooked spinach. My mom swears Spinach Madeline gets better with time, and usually makes it a day or two in advance. She adds buttered breadcrumbs just before heating it up to serve.

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Top Comment:
“Or you could try Serious Eats Creamed spinach--now that is a recipe worth making. As a life-long NO native, my father NEVER put Velveeta cheese or jalapeno stuff in the madeleine. His was more like SE version.”
— cosmiccook

We always eat the creamed spinach as a side, but my mom also suggested using it as a dip (à la spinach artichoke) or spread on toasty baguettes. Also, if you can't find jalapeño cheese, substitute with 4 ounces cubed Velveeta cheese and 2 minced jalapeños.

As a kid, Spinach Madeline was the combination of two things I despised: spinach and everything spicy. But my mom and her army of conspirators (my aunts and uncles) always made sure to include a small serving on my plate. It was polite to try everything the cooks had worked hard to make. Over years and years of tiny bites, I learned to accept, then love, my mom’s favorite holiday dish. In fact, this Thanksgiving, I'm hoping to make it for her, myself.

Have you changed your tune on a Thanksgiving classic? What are your favorite regional dishes? Let us know!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • cosmiccook
  • Jaine
  • MSM
  • Amy
  • Kathleen R.
    Kathleen R.
Katie is a food writer and editor who loves cheesy puns and cheesy cheese.


cosmiccook November 24, 2017
Or you could try Serious Eats Creamed spinach--now that is a recipe worth making. As a life-long NO native, my father NEVER put Velveeta cheese or jalapeno stuff in the madeleine. His was more like SE version.
Jaine November 19, 2017
This is practically the same as Laurie Colwin’s creamed spinach recipe on Food 52. Her recipe uses Monterey Jack cheese and sliced jalapeños.
MSM November 16, 2017
Madeline is my Grandfathers second wife. We have been enjoying this at every holiday meal for my entire life. It’s neat to think how far this recipe has spread.
Amy November 14, 2017
Is jalapeño cheese a velveeta product?
Kathleen R. November 14, 2017
That picture of River Road gives me ALL THE FEELS (I'm a Baton Rouge native and using my grandmother's original copy from the '50s). I discovered the spinach madeline as an adult-- I've always made it with shredded pepper jack and it works just fine (it's creamy and delicious). Also, while I'm on the topic of River Road, the Italian Cream Cake in River Road II (the red-covered one) is incredible.
Kathleen R. November 22, 2017
It calls for imitation butter flavoring and uses shortening, both of which make me cringe, but it is just so good that it's worth the weird stuff. It's even better when it sits for a few days.
theDomesticGoddess November 14, 2017
I have this cookbook! I adore River Road Recipes and RRR2, but I've never made this dish. What do you use for "jalapeno cheese" - Pepper Jack?
theDomesticGoddess November 14, 2017
Never mind, I see you addressed this on the recipe page. (I'm not a fan of the way Food52 has a separate post for the recipe)
caninechef November 14, 2017
What I think is a shame is that recipes do not link back to the articles to which they relate. At least from an article you can jump to the recipe but for the most part if you are looking at a recipe you would not have a clue an article was associated with it.
theDomesticGoddess November 19, 2017
I made this a few days ago and we enjoyed it. Served the leftovers the next morning as eggs florentine - toasted English muffin topped with the spinach, a poached egg, and bechamel sauce. I would make this recipe again just to serve with breakfast. :)
For the jalapeno cheese substitution: I didn't feel like buying a 2# brick of Velveeta just for this recipe, and I had some American cheese on hand (basically Velveeta in sliced mode), so I used 7 Kraft singles which weighed 4.75 oz for the cheese. I finely diced a large fresh jalapeno and sauteed it with the onion.