Spinach Maria


Spinach Maria is a classic dish originating from Calhoun's, an east Tennessee BBQ joint. It's made with lots of spinach, Monterey Jack cheese, and crushed red pepper. The cheese sauce is rich with warmth from the cayenne and nutmeg, and the extra layer of melted cheese on top makes it perfectly indulgent. As tasty a side dish as this is, it's also great served as a dip with toasted pita wedges or tortilla chips. You can customize the sauce however you want by adding more garlic, or chopped hot chiles, pickled peppers, herbs, or even crabmeat.  

Spinach Maria with toasted baguette
Photo: Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Ali Ramee / Prop Styling by Christina Daley
Active Time:
40 mins
Total Time:
1 hr


  • 12 cups water

  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon. kosher salt, divided

  • 3 (10-ounce) package fresh spinach (or 1 [2-pound] bunch spinach, trimmed)

  • ¼ cup unsalted butter

  • ½ cup finely chopped yellow onion (from 1 small [7 ounce] onion)

  • 4 small garlic cloves, finely chopped (1 tablespoon)

  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard

  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

  • 2 cups whole milk

  • 4 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)

  • 6 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (about 1 1/2 cups), divided


  1. Fill a large bowl with ice water; set aside. Bring 12 cups water and 2 tablespoons salt to a boil in a large stockpot over high. Add spinach; cook, stirring constantly, until wilted, about 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon or a spider, transfer spinach to prepared ice water; let cool 1 minute. Drain well; place spinach on a clean kitchen towel, and squeeze firmly over sink to remove as much liquid as possible. Place spinach in a food processor; pulse until roughly chopped, 4 to 6 pulses. Set aside.

  2. Preheat oven to 350°F with rack about 10 inches from upper oven heat source. Meanwhile, melt butter in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-high. Add onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 4 minutes. Add garlic; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Reduce heat to medium. Stir in flour, mustard, cayenne, nutmeg, and remaining 1 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk until combined; bring mixture to a boil over medium, whisking occasionally. Boil, whisking occasionally, until thickened, about 2 minutes. Stir in cheddar and 1/2 cup of the Monterey Jack cheese; cook, stirring constantly, until smooth, about 1 minute. Remove from heat; stir in reserved spinach until combined. Sprinkle evenly with remaining 1 cup Monterey Jack cheese.

  3. Bake in preheated oven until bubbly, about 15 minutes. Increase oven temperature to broil (do not remove skillet from oven). Broil until browned, 2 to 5 minutes. Let stand at room temperature 5 minutes before serving.

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