So, you know what means...
BRING OUT THE HOT DISHES, BABY!
Here in Minnesota, casseroles are referred to as "hot dishes". Minnesotans are always looking for some excuse to gather and eat hot dishes, and Halloween kicks off a series of holiday season excuses like no other time of year. We really know how to do it up at the photo studio, and put on a pretty darn good potluck.
***If you want to read some funny stuff about the history and culture of Minnesotan hot dishes, continue on, attentive reader. If you just want the recipe and none of my longer-than-usual blather, go right on to the bottom of this post.***
I like to think of hot dishes as casserole's folksy cousin, something patently Minnesotan, born out of church basement potlucks and neighborhood get-togethers. The native habitat of the hot dish is on a lines of mismatched folding tables (a.k.a. card tables) awkwardly butted up next to each other. Ah yes, card tables provide the tabula rasa, if you will, for a wide array of culinary artistry. But inevitably, the hot dish is the steadfast hero, lined up front and center. Pulled from church cookbooks, old magazines, and tattered index cards unearthed from dead great aunt Bertha's recipe box, these recipes provide the grounding force between deviled eggs, spinach dip, Jell-o salads, and dessert bars. And truly, the most authentic Minnesotan hot dishes don't even have recipes, falling back on the old dump-whatever-you-find-into-a-dish-cover-it-with-hashbrowns/onions/tatertots/bre method.
Hot dishes are characterized by a heavy reliance on some common ingredients, things you can find in the bottom shelves of your pantry, the back corners of your freezer, or in those generically labeled packages at discount wholesale grocery stores. We're talking French's french fried onions, cream of whatever soup, ground meat, canned tuna, breadcrumbs, tater tots, mayonnaise, hashbrowns, frozen corn or peas, canned tomato products, sour cream, egg noodles, celery, and very few spices. These basic ingredient building blocks get mixed and matched with all sorts of other things, leading to a wide array of regional and familial hot dishes. I can't tell you how many versions of Spaghetti Pie, Tater Tot Hot Dish, and Cheeseburger Hot Dish variations I've seen in my day.
Despite all this variation, the hot dish experience is always characterized by an element of mystery. You are just never really sure what exactly is in that pan; a gloppy scoop of one hot dish looks and tastes remarkably identical to a gloppy scoop of another. Why? Because improperly used canned tomatoes and cream of whatever soup both have the freaky ability to completely and totally obliterate any pre-existing distinguishing characteristics. Once covered in sauce, a nything could be hiding under that veil of hashbrowns or breadcrumbs. Sure, there's probably some canned corn in there, or maybe a little onion, but as for the rest, your guess is as good as mine. Is it cabbage? No, wait, it must be an egg noodle! Or is it just congealed condensed soup? Oh, who knows, just turn your head, think of England, and take a big cold bite.
What, you ask? Cold? HA! You though hot dishes were supposed to be hot? Well yes, that's how they are supposed to be eaten, but rarely does this play out as intended. No, hot dishes are usually cold when you get to them. Either they were made in advance, and the cook underestimated the amount of time needed to reheat it, finally giving up, and resigning to arriving 30 minutes late with a hot dish still cold in the middle, and having to battle for space on that crowded card table. The other option is that the hot dish came warm and delicious, but has since been sitting out on that table all afternoon, getting gloppier and crustier by the minute. Someone has inevitably picked around all the mushrooms, leaving a big pile in one empty corner of the casserole pan, and someone else has taken all the crunchy French friend onion topping (the best part), leaving a naked, cold, messy pile of creamy goo. Jerks!
Yeah, I've always thought the name "hot dish" to be a terribly ironic misnomer.
Some families eat hot dishes regularly for meals, but my family was not one of these families. I think my parents were overloaded as children on hot dishes, and they never made them for my brother and me. The closest we got was my mom's incredible homemade vegetable pie, filled with root vegetables and covered with a tasty crust. I didn't even eat green bean casserole until college at a friend's house. Crazy, right? Having been deprived the horrors of bad hot dishes as a child, I have begun to explore fancy, healthy versions of hot dishes as an adult. The joy of it all!
A sucker for tradition and always up for a challenge, I decided to bring a hot dish to this years Photo Studio Halloween Potluck. Last year I brought a delicious roasted root vegetable and red quinoa pilaf, which was met rave reviews. But I couldn't possibly repeat last year's potluck contribution this year! That's like wearing the same dress to the Oscars two years in a row. No, no, no, I needed something new, something with flair, but rooted in the hot dish tradition of the fine state I call my home. And most importantly, it needed to be something I really want to eat, because it will most likely be the only thing I will be able to eat on the potluck table, aside from the old standby of the always-present raw vegetable plate. Thank GOD for the raw vegetable plate, it is has saved me from blood sugar crashes at parties more times than I can count.
Ah yes, the joys of food allergies and party food. Hey, we can still go and have fun, we just need to be more careful, right? And make sure we bring a long plenty of safe food.
So, I started thinking about ingredients. Oddly, my mind went almost immediately to lima beans. Limas are delicious, and totally amazing for your body, but a pretty unlikely choice for a potluck - they are not what I would call a "popular" food. Far too many people were subjected to poorly prepared lima beans as children, scarring them for life and preventing them from ever trying limas again. I know people who are SCARED of lima beans. This is totally unacceptable, in my opinion, and I am bound and determined to show the world the innate beauty of the lima. Not only do they taste good, they have a creamy texture, they have a fun shape, and get really BIG when they cook. Like all beans, they are chock full of fiber and protein, can help stabilize blood sugar, and contain loads of iron and calcium. Limas also help to naturally detoxify sulfites, are a good source of manganese, which helps your body produce antioxidants. But sadly, limas have the hurdle of an undeserved bad reputation working against them. I figured that if I could disguise limas in something like a hot dish, where not knowing what you're eating is widely accepted, I could trick people into eating and actually enjoying lima beans.
"HAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHHAHA!" I cackled, as I put the beans in a bowl to soak, reveling in my well-minded but somewhat devious plan.
I didn't know what the hell I was going to do with those limas, but like I said way up at the top of this lengthy post, the most authentic hot dishes just involve dumping a bunch of stuff together, covering it with something, and baking it. So, I dove in. I thought something that involved zucchini, kale, and some of my killer homemade curry powder sounded like a good idea. Maybe a red pepper thrown in for color. And for the cream of whatever substitute, I thought I could puree cooked lima beans with broth for a thick and creamy sauce. And why not throw in little green baby limas too? And of course, for authenticity, I topped it all with chickpea-flour coated onions. I actually assembled it the night before, and cooked it at work the next day - a make-ahead miracle! When I pulled it out of the oven, I couldn't WAIT to try it!
So, how did it go over?
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: People ate it! I had but one little serving left over! PEOPLE OVERCAME THEIR FEAR OF LIMAS AND ATE MY HOT DISH!
The texture was great, the colors were fantastic, and the creamy lima bean gravy was wonderful. I loved the flavor. The crispy onion topping was delicious, the made it look just like a traditional hot dish! It elicited multiple positive comments from coworkers, hooray! Not as many as last year's roasted root vegetable quinoa thing, but c'est la vie.
The only photo I got was the rather terrible one at the top of this post, but you can see that my hot dish was positioned between the gluten bombs of traditional mac & cheese to the left and a never ending stream of crackers and breads to the right. I thought I was going to get a contact stomach ache from all the gluten at that table. Ick (I came out okay). However, the chicken wings behind my hot dish were gluten free, brought by a gluten-intolerant photographer I work with. I couldn't eat them because they had 8 million other ingredients in them that are on my no-no list, but I'm glad our GF items could hold down the table together.
Who knew lima beans would go over so well at a potluck?
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NOT-SO-SCARY CURRIED LIMA BEAN HOT DISH (vegan, gluten free, ACD, high protein, grain free)
yield 1 9"x13" dish, and serves lots and lots
1 c dry lima beans, soaked overnight
1 1/2 c frozen baby limas
5 smallish zucchini, thinly sliced in half moons
3 cups raw kale leaves, thinly sliced and packed
1 red bell pepper, roasted and chopped
2 T arrowroot flour
2 c vegetable broth or bean cooking liquid
2 T cumin seeds, divided
1-2 T curry powder, depending on how spicy and how much curry flavor you like
1 tsp salt
2 sweet onions
2 T coconut oil or ghee or other high heat oil
1/3 c chickpea flour
1/4 c water
NOTES: can be made the day before, stored in the fridge, and baked the next day.