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Creamed Spinach: A steak house standard, modernized.

Updated: Jan 10, 2022

If you're of a, ahem, certain age, you probably remember the all-American Steakhouse. It's where people went to get their slabs of meat, potatoes and a vegetable. Salads were also on the menu. Well, not salads per se, but rather Iceberg Lettuce. With Russian or Blue Cheese dressing. The vegetable was often limited to overcooked peas, overcooked green beans, overcooked carrots, or creamed spinach. You've probably noticed a theme. Americans didn't quite know what to do with vegetables back in those days, knew that they had to be cooked. A lot.

The steakhouse has a longer history that you may not know. They harken back to the mid-19th century, in the meat packing district of New York City. Oddly, they began as 'Beef Banquets' and fundraisers - often for political races. Men only. These events were pretty basic - lots and lots of meat, served on wooden tranches, with bread. All you can eat. The bread was thrown away.

They evolved, and by the 20th century, had become for formal and a place to impress. Creamed spinach was the classic steakhouse menu item.

Thankfully, times have changed. We don't need to cook vegetables to within an inch of their lives, and have learned to appreciate plants as nutritional powerhouses that can actually taste really good. I didn't really become aware that vegetables could taste good enough to be the 'star of the show' until I was a teenager. I just tolerated them until sometime in the early '70's when I actually got serious about learning to cook.

Traveling is what began to make the difference. My mother pushed me onto an airplane just before my 17th birthday, with a backpack and some travelers cheques. I bought a bike with multiple gears in Luxembourg, and pretty much never looked back. I was hooked. On travel. And, on food. Good food. Good, well-prepared vegetables, too. It was an eye-opener.

Several trips to Asia pushed my appreciation of vegetables even further. Stir-fried vegetables - asparagus, long beans, and more - were a revelation. Particularly in Japan.

Vegetables finally came to the fore, well-prepared and a valued part of the meal. By the 70's star chefs were starting to prepare vegetables in ways that we'd never been exposed to. Fresh was 'in'. Honoring the vegetable was crucial. Alice Waters had opened Chez Panisse. French chefs, like Paul Bocuse, were experimenting with Nouvelle Cuisine (with varying success.)

So, now that you have a better appreciation for the humble puddle of creamed spinach and its history, let's talk about making a better version.

Start with fresh - very fresh - greens. Yes, spinach is the classic, but you don't have to stop there. I don't. Although I had grand fresh spinach, I also had some fresh dandelion greens left in the bin that I didn't want to waste. I'd been tucking them into salads and sandwiches. From root to flower, dandelions are highly nutritious plants, loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber. Dandelion greens can be eaten cooked or raw and serve as an excellent source of vitamins A, C and K. They also contain vitamin E, folate and small amounts of other B vitamins. Plus, I like the flavor. So, mix and match away! I'll often toss in Swiss Chard and/or Kale. The more the merrier!

What you see above is the equivalent of about one of those 8 ounce bags of 'washed' spinach leaves. Pick through, and pluck off the tougher stems. Make sure everything is clean and drained. Then, roughly chop it all, and have it ready to put into the finished white sauce.

Next, pour some plant milk into a jar with a lid that will be tight. You're going to use it to shake up your white sauce/slurry. You can use my favorite, Maizena Roux pour Bechamel, or flour, or Wondra (which is a handy thickener to have in the cupboard, as it dissolves fast and lump free). As you can see below, I add my seasonings right to the plant milk mixture.

I love the Lake Shore Drive Shallot and Herb seasoning blend from the Spice House as it works so well with so many dishes. It's my 'go to'. Then, you'll want some freshly ground pepper, some salt, and make sure you have some Nutmeg which you'll add at the end.

Dijon mustard is the next 'must have' for this sauce. I prefer 'more' rather than 'less'. You choose. So, having poured your well-shaken 'slurry' into the saucepan, add a generous (or not) dollop of Dijon mustard, and stir it in.

Bring your white sauce/slurry to a boil, stirring constantly with a whisk, for 1-2 minutes! Reduce the heat to a simmer.

Now, you can add your chopped greens to the white sauce. Stir them around a bit, so they're well coated. Taste it all. Need something more? Salt? Pepper? More onion or garlic powder? Mustard? It's all about satisfying your taste buds. You might want to add a bit of red pepper flake. A few drops of Tabasco, even. But, you MUST add a bit of ground Nutmeg. That's where the authentic Steakhouse Creamed Spinach thing really happens.

Once you get the white sauce dialed, you'll be able to crank this out in minutes, and modify it in any number of interesting ways.

Hey, if you like or make this dish, would you mind posting the recipe to Yummly? I'd really appreciate that. The Yummly icon is on the right side of this webpage. Oh, and saving to Pinterest would also be great! Each photo should have a Pinterest icon in the upper left corner! Thanks!

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