Mystery House

Hotdish! Haiku! Together!

Yep, the vintage Pyrex is out again.


Hotdish is a tradition in the upper Midwest, so much so that people in other regions of the country look perplexed when confronted with the word.  Hot dish, you say?  You’ve heated up a plate?  No, hotdish.  One word.  Hotdish.  Get it?

Haiku, on the other hand, isn’t particularly traditional in these parts.  And yet, as I’ve recently learned, the two go quite well together.  Now you’re perplexed.  I know.  Bear with me.  It all comes together like compatible cans of cream-of-something soup in the end.

At the recent Twin Cities Book Festival, I chanced upon a charming little book entitled Hotdish Haiku.  Recipes!  Literary content!  If you know me at all, you know there was no chance of my leaving the building without buying a copy.

I was immediately smitten and have been giggling over it ever since, nudging the M.E. away from his Very Serious Historical Book to recite for him poetry such as:

Beware church potluck
Many pots to be tasted
Yet no luck in sight

–Jeremy Yoder


Herds of Lutherans
Running to church hotdishes
Natural stampede

–Pat Dennis


Theatre attendees
Avant-guarde enthusiasts
Yet, they eat hotdish

–Pat Dennis

And that’s really the dirty little secret about hotdish, isn’t it?  We’ve all eaten it.  All those cool-ass people you see on the street, or at your office dressed in the very latest faddish clothes, yes, the truth is that they’ve eaten it, too.  Some of them eat it nearly every night.  They’re only pretending to be that sophisticated.  Even if you don’t eat hotdish daily, or weekly, or regularly at all, it sneaks up on you and makes its presence known.  Makes you crave it.

Now, I admit it.  I rarely eat hotdish even though, when I was growing up, several favorite hotdishes were certainly in the rotation of recipes that my mother — an excellent and open-minded cook — put on the dinner menu.  The reason I don’t make hotdish much is not because I’m more cool-ass than anyone else; in fact, I’m rather geeky and my clothes are probably out of date.  My principle beef with hotdish is simply that most traditional ones, real hotdishy hotdishes, are made with cans of soup.  And one can of soup is made with more sodium and fat than anybody with sense should eat in a week.  Some hotdishes contain not a simple and restrained single can of soup, but two!  Or three!  Sometimes Five!  They really get into it.  And if you’re going to consume that much fat at one sitting, why not eat a chocolate eclair or something?

The little book kept calling to me, though, and I began to feel that I wouldn’t be doing it justice if I merely cackled over its delightful poetry without trying any of the recipes.  It’s a tempting book.  I defy anyone to read it without feeling the need to make a hotdish.

The recipes — 30 of them, all with a more or less allegedly Asian theme — demonstrate the unrestrained, wacky glee with which hotdish recipes have always been created.  Hotdish is naturally funny.  I can see why the book’s editor, comedian Pat Dennis, was so drawn to it as her subject.  (She’s also written a collection of short mysteries entitled Hotdish To Die For.)  Hotdish tends to combine ingredients and concepts which normally would have nothing to do with one another, but once they’ve been stirred together in a Pyrex casserole dish, suddenly it all makes a demented sort of sense.  Like frozen Japanese vegetables with….tomato soup and dill.  Or hashbrowns stirred together with.….soup and sour cream and topped with cornflakes.  A foodie like me could suffer dangerous whiplash from trying to understand such juxtapositions.

I nearly did.  I couldn’t decide what to make.  Soup or no soup?  Finally, I handed the book to the M.E. and said, “Pick one.”  And pick he did.  Damn if the boy didn’t find the healthiest recipe in the book, too.  Can you believe that?

Pat Dennis of Penury Press has very kindly given me permission to reprint the recipe I tried, as well as haiku from the book.  Enjoy!


1-1/2 lbs. ground turkey
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 c. chopped celery
1 can sliced water chestnuts
1 can sliced mushrooms
2/3 c. raw rice
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1/3 c. soy sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Open cans of water chestnuts and mushrooms.  Drain and reserve liquid.

Brown turkey, onion, and celery in a skillet; drain off fat.

Hotdish 1

[It’s already taking on that familiar hotdish hue!]

Add water chestnuts, mushrooms, rice, salt, pepper and soy sauce to turkey mixture.

Hotdish 2

[We all have our culinary lines in the sand.  One of mine is canned mushrooms.  I used fresh, and lots of them.  I also put in less than 1/3 cup of soy sauce, figuring it was better to add more at the table than to wish I’d left some out.]

Add enough water to reserved liquids to make 2 cups.  Stir into turkey mixture.  Cover and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour.


Hotdish 3

In the Pyrex and into the oven it goes!  After about 50 minutes, the hotdish seemed ready.

Hotdish 4

Hmm.  Not the prettiest thing I’ve ever cooked.  Perhaps a closeup will help.  You know, so it’s more food stylistish.

Hotdish 5

Or not.  That gray color made us a bit dubious as we carried our plates to the table.  But….with the addition of some hot red pepper flakes, it grew on us.  Truly it did.  By the time we’d finished eating, both of us confessed to liking it.  There are leftovers, and we’ll gladly eat them.  I’m likely to try another recipe from the book, too.  Just don’t tell anybody — this is our little secret.

And what about you, my friends and secret-keepers?  Have you put the book in your Amazon cart yet?  Because I’m not kidding, you need this one.  It’s priceless.  Buy the book, admit you’re not cool all the damn time, make a hotdish, and recite some haiku while you eat it.  You’ll thank me.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. * Chris says:

    It sounds really tasty and very unlike any of the hotdish I ever had at a potluck. 🙂
    And hey – I think there’s a rule that hotdish has to be ugly.

    Posted 9 years, 4 months ago
  2. * Cheryl S. says:

    If DH ate meat, I’d probably pounce on that book. How could you resist something with recipe titles like “Crouching Chicken–Hidden Veggies”. I’d probably pass on “Buddha’s Lutefisk Delight”, though.
    Totally loved that first haiku.

    Posted 9 years, 4 months ago
  3. * del says:

    I wonder if you can make this with ground beef? Whatever, I love simple dishes like this.
    My mom has dishes like that except in brown. I think they’re the same ones she used when I was a kid!

    Posted 9 years, 4 months ago
  4. * Lorette says:

    Oh man, that book will be a Christmas present for each of my sisters. The only hotdish we eat regularly is the one and only, original Tator Tot Hot Dish. Made with 2, yes 2 cans of cream of something soup. We’ve even served it to company, and there are never any leftovers. We doctor it up with real mushrooms, onions, garlic, and a bit of white wine. We tried making it with with homemade cream sauce once, it was yummy, but it wasn’t hotdish.
    Oh, and if you added some diced red bell peppers to that turkey dish, it would be much more attractive.

    Posted 9 years, 4 months ago
  5. * cursingmama says:

    It is ugly – but sounds interesting; not sure if I could convince the picky eaters to ignore its look . Of course I cook & enjoy a lot of things the picky eaters won’t consider.

    Posted 9 years, 4 months ago
  6. * Guinifer says:

    Back in the day when my kids were tiny – I found a substitute for those endless cans of “cream of” soup – but darned if I can remember what it was. I think it involved plain yogurt/cottage cheese/fat-free sour cream and low sodium chicken broth….

    Posted 9 years, 4 months ago
  7. * kmkat says:

    But, but, I thought hotdish had to have a crunchy or cheesy topping? You know, to hide that washed-out gray color? Nevertheless, after having read about and seen photos of your dinner, I am now officially hungry.

    Posted 9 years, 4 months ago

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