How to Talk Minnesotan

hotdish is a casserole that typically contains a starch, a meat, and a canned or frozen vegetable mixed with canned soup. The dish is usually made with ground beef over tater tots with cream of mushroom soup, but some versions in Minnesota use the official state grain wild rice, or even macaroni, in place of the tots.

The dish originates in the Upper Midwest region of the United States, where it remains popular, particularly in Minnesota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota. Hotdish is cooked in a single baking dish, and served hot (per its name). It commonly appears at communal gatherings such as family reunions, potlucks and church suppers.

Hotdish originated in the homes of ‘budget-minded farm wives need[ing] to feed their own families, as well as congregations in the basements of the first Minnesota churches.’

Hotdishes are filling, convenient, and easy to make. They are well-suited for family reunions, funerals, church suppers, and covered dish dinners or potlucks where they may be paired with potato salad, coleslaw, Jello salads, Snickers salad, and pan-baked desserts known as bars.

Typical ingredients in hotdish are potatoes or pasta, ground beef, green beans, and corn, with canned soup added as a binder, flavoring and sauce. Potatoes may be in the form of tater tots, hash browns, potato chips, or shoe string potatoes. The dish is usually seasoned lightly with salt and pepper, and it may be eaten with ketchup as a condiment. Another popular hotdish is the tuna hotdish, made with macaroni or egg noodles, canned tuna, peas, and mushroom soup. Also common is a dish known as goulash, though it bears no resemblance to the familiar Hungarian goulash. Minnesota goulash is usually made with ground beef, macaroni, canned tomatoes, and perhaps a can of creamed corn.

Cream of mushroom soup is so ubiquitous in hotdish that it is often referred to in such recipes as ‘Lutheran Binder,’ referring to hotdish’s position as a staple of Lutheran church cookbooks. The soup is considered a defining ingredient by some commentators.

After the 2010 U.S. midterm elections, former Senator Al Franken invited the members of the Minnesota congressional delegation to a friendly hotdish-making competition, to come together in celebration of the state before the beginning of the legislative session. Six out of 10 delegation members — Sens. Franken and Amy Klobuchar and Representatives Michele Bachmann, Tim Walz, Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum — participated, with Klobuchar taking first place with her ‘Taconite Tater Tot Hotdish’ and Walz taking second with his ‘Chicken Mushroom Wild Rice Hotdish.

For the second competition in March 2012, Franken’s ‘Mom’s Mahnomen Madness Hotdish’ tied with Chip Cravaack’s ‘Minnesota Wild Strata Hotdish’ for first place. With 9 of the 10 members of the delegation participating in 2013, the winner was Congressman Walz’s ‘Hermann the German Hotdish,’ which featured a bottle of August Schell beer. In 2014 all ten members participated, with Rep. Walz’s ‘Turkey Trot Tater Tot Hotdish’ winning. In 2015, again all ten participated, and Rep. McCollum’s ‘Turkey, Sweet Potato, and Wild Rice’ dish won.

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