Even if Amy Klobuchar isn’t elected, she’s still taught us about hot dish

Klobuchar putting her hot dish where her mouth is
Klobuchar putting her hot dish where her mouth is
Photo: Chip Somodevilla (Getty Images)

Amy Klobuchar is running fifth in the Iowa caucus polls, but the senator from Minnesota is on a heftier mission than simply running for president of the United States, and in this one, she may have succeeded: She is out to spread the gospel of hot dish beyond her native state.

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Hot dish, for the uninitiated, is the quintessential Minnesota food that is frequently mistaken for a casserole by outsiders because it too has strong associations with church suppers, is prepared in the same sort of dish that most other people use for casseroles, and also involves a mass of proteins bound together by canned cream soup. But it’s not a casserole, it’s hot dish, because the Minnesotans say so and because it’s sometimes topped with a layer of tater tots. Tater tots are pretty hard to resist.

Klobuchar calls her particular hot dish Taconite Tater Tot Hot Dish, The New York Times reports, after a rock found in the Iron Range of northern Minnesota. The tater tots make the top look kind of rocky, apparently (it also contains pepper jack cheese, ground beef, and two kinds of cream soup). And a politician needs to remind everybody where she’s from and what she stands for. Her campaign has been serving this hot dish since last summer at events called Hot Dish House Parties, first in New Hampshire and now in Iowa. It’s unclear whether Klobuchar ever actually prepared the hot dish herself, but now that she’s busy with the impeachment trial in Washington, hot dish preparation duties have fallen to her daughter, Abigail Bessler, and a few other trusted deputies.

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“Hot dish is a symbol of coming together, of a time when we weren’t so rude to each other,” Andy McGuire, Klobuchar’s Iowa campaign chair, told the Times. “Caucuses are very much a neighborly coming together, so it’s the perfect thing.” (For the record, although McGuire has her own tried-and-true hot dish recipe which she prepared for her seven children for years and years, she thinks Taconite Tater Hot Dish is superior, if perhaps a little spicy for Iowan tastes.)

Klobuchar isn’t the only Minnesota politician who has adopted hot dish as a campaign strategy. In fact, every year since 2011, members of the state’s Congressional delegation have competed in a hot dish competition (thanks to commenter hmo for the link). The beauty of hot dish is that it’s highly adaptable. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who was born in Somalia, has developed a Little Moga-Hot-Dishu made with chickpeas, chutney, and tater tots, and Betty McCollum, who represents a district with a large Hmong population, makes a Hot Dish A-Hmong Friends with sautéed carrots, cabbage, and ground beef and topped with fried egg roll wrappers.

Oh, America! There’s a place in it for all of us!

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.

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DISCUSSION

I’m not from Minnesota, but I’ve lived here for more than 20 years. Hot dish never ceases to amuse me, especially the variety of options (all of which seem to include cream-of-something soup).

Two of the most awful I’ve been served over the years:

Brunch Bake. This is a breakfast hot dish. Scrambled eggs, American cheese, and mild sausage in a casserole dish. All that was fine, until they added the can of cream of mushroom soup. It forms a jiggly mass of grey crap that fucks up the rest of the dish. Kinda disgusting.

Cat Crap hot dish. I swear I am not making this up, and I was actually served this for dinner once. This is a standard hot dish, but you cover it completely in plain breadcrumbs to look like kitty litter. Then you get sausage (loose, not in casings) and roll them into ropes. Cut them in about 3 inch sections. Pinch and bend the sections slightly. Lay these on top of the bread crumbs. Serve the portions with a litter scoop.