If you live outside the Upper Midwest, you may think I’m playin’ ya. But, no, “hotdish,” the food, is for real, and the word and the dish are purely legit.
Preparing hotdish is as easy as reaching for a clean casserole dish and five or six ingredients you may already have in your pantry or fridge. It’s good, it’s filling any time of the year, but
- especially in fall and winter months when you crave comfort food;
- especially when you’d rather skip eating out;
- especially when you want quick dinner prep;
- especially when you want to eat deliciously well;
- especially when you live in cold climates (Minnesota comes to mind);
Surprise! “Hotdish” is a native daughter.
The story goes that, in 1930, when the Great Depression was just a toddler, Mankato’s Lutheran Ladies Aid Society published a cookbook. Mrs. C. W. Anderson contributed her simply titled recipe, “Hot Dish.” (Note the use here of hotdish as one word, a gentle nod to the one dish meal.)
Mrs. Anderson couldn’t have known at the time that she’d just made food history. Why? The dish has grown in popularity since its birth eight-plus decades ago. And because she helped create memories. Ask any Minnesotan if they ate hotdish growing up, and you’ve likely stirred a warm spot in their heart. Most times, they’ll smile, and they may even share a memory or two.
Like this person. She points to her childhood and how hotdish was served at least once a week in winter months at her house. It’s the meal her mother served on Thursday nights, her bowling night. It was the only time she remembers her mom taking time for herself. Fixing hotdish before she left for the bowling alley was the quickest way she knew of to feed her hungry family.
If a family is lucky enough to have leftovers, just think of it: heat and eat, add a side of salad or applesauce, and you’ve just served real “fast food!”
Hotdish doesn’t just create memories of home. It’s a memory-maker wherever it’s served — and an odds-on favorite to show up at church potlucks or family get-togethers. One native Minnesotan shares that, at her family’s annual reunions — pretty sizeable affairs from her description – even with a dozen or more hotdishes, hardly a spoonful is left over.
A magical one-dish meal
- It’s easily prepared.
- It’s quickly prepared – say 45 minutes from prep time to dinner time, because…
- it’s a formula dish.
A protein + a starch + a veggie + a can or two of cream soup + a topping.
That’s it! Love it yet?
To build an original hotdish…
Pick a protein food – hamburger, tuna, chicken, turkey, lamb; whatever you have on hand.
Add a veggie – leftover carrots, frozen green beans, a can of peas, a can of sauerkraut. Be creative!
Add a starch – cooked white rice, macaroni, noodles, potatoes. Or grab a bag of chow mein noodles, no cooking needed.
Mix in a can or two of cream soup – tomato, cheddar cheese, cream of mushroom (some call it “Lutheran binder”), celery.
Mix it all together, but wait! How about adding a topping before you pop the dish into a 350-degree oven (for 30 to 45 minutes)? Buttered crumbs? Crushed potato chips? Canned fried onions (you know the brand!). Tater Tots? It’s Numero Uno for hotdish lovers, and Tater Tots has a pretty interesting backstory.
Tater Tots’ story
Twenty-three years after Mrs. Anderson introduced Hot Dish to the food world, the two fellas who owned Ore-Ida had a problem. They had lots of potato scraps left over, and they didn’t just want to toss them in the garbage bin.
They came up with an idea: Through trial and error, they tried forming the scraps into cute little bundles and seasoned them. When they were happy with their creation, they added an equally cute name — and, there you have it! A handy new food that requires virtually no work on the part of the Tater Tot buyer debuted three years later. As the saying goes, the rest is history.
Except for this fun observation: Had these two Tater Tot inventors known about hotdish and had they secretly hoped this potato wunderkind would find its way to the top of countless hotdishes for decades to come? It’s fun to ponder, even though we’ll probably never really know.
If you’d rather use a recipe instead of the formula, check out Pinterest.
Minnesota Hotdish: A Love Story
Maria Bartholdi is a Minnesota podcaster and producer who wrote this short, fun, and information-packed movie. To view and enjoy, click here.
Did you enjoy this post? You’re welcome to leave a comment!
Is a hotdish meal in your future?
Did you use the formula or a recipe?
If you used the formula, what ingredients did you use?