Sharing Food: Minnesota’s own hot dish

A brief history of the state staple and a recipe for the simple dish.

Nina Raemont

As an Illinoisan, there’s one thing I know: We don’t love casseroles nearly as much as Minnesotans love hot dish.

Hot dishes always intrigued me. I’ve often wondered what all of the hype is about. So today, we’re getting to the bottom of the hot topic that is hot dish.

Where did this dish get its humble beginnings? In the 1930s at Grace Lutheran Church in Mankato, Minnesota, the women of the church’s ladies aid group recorded the first-ever hot dish recipe in the Grace Lutheran Ladies Aid Cookbook.

According to Joan Hertel, the office specialist at Grace Lutheran Church, the 90-year-old recipe was submitted by Mrs. C.W. Anderson.

As far as why the dish is now referred to as “hot dish,” Hertel has some conjectures: “My personal opinion is that, in those days, they just didn’t worry about naming stuff.”

In the cookbook, many other recipe names lack the flare and verbosity of recipe names today. Reviewing the cookbook, Hertel saw recipe names like “full meal” and “hot luncheon dish,” along with recipes for chop suey and stuffed cabbage.

Hot dishes usually include a protein, a canned vegetable, a starch and a liquid or binding agent, like mayo or a creamy soup, according to MPR News.

The original recipe includes hamburger meat, onions, Creamette pasta, celery, a can of peas, tomato soup and tomatoes. The instructions in the 1930 cookbook were vague, not specifying the quantities of seasoning nor providing an exact time to bake the dish.

It wasn’t until Ore-Ida introduced the tater tot in 1953 that tater tot hot dish gained its footing as a staple in Midwestern cuisine, according to a timeline provided by Food & Wine .

Pam Vulcan, a longtime member of the Grace Lutheran church, has been eating hot dish her whole life. Vulcan said her family would make hot dish to make the meat go farther in a meal.

“Years ago, they didn’t have much for meat and stuff, so they had to, you know, make it go farther, especially poor families,” Vulcan said.

Many of the household items used in hot dishes in the past don’t necessarily match up to twenty-first century cooking, so here’s an updated recipe for hot dish:

Ingredients:

1 pound ground beef

1 white onion, diced

A bunch of a leafy green of choice, spinach or kale

1 cup mixed vegetables of your choice, staples in the hot dish include chopped carrots, celery, peas and corn, but choose whichever veggie you love best

1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup

½ cup milk

1 package tater tots

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup shredded cheese

Instructions:

In a pot on medium heat, brown meat and season with salt and pepper. Remove beef from the pot and place in an oven-safe dish. Keep some of the fat that has pooled at the bottom of the pot, and use it to sauté your onion. Once the onion turns translucent, add your leafy greens, and cook them down for 1-2 minutes. Add these to the dish and mix to incorporate each ingredient.
In a bowl, mix together the mixed vegetables, cream of mushroom soup and milk, seasoning to your liking. Pour the mixture on top of the beef and onion mix.
Layer the tater tots on top and cover with shredded cheese.
Cook in the oven at 350 F for 30 minutes or until the mixture is cooked through and the tater tots are lightly browned and crisp.
Serve with some extra cheese on top or some ketchup, if that’s your thing.
Enjoy!