Vegan hotdish — AKA tater tot casserole —turns the original, traditional Minnesota casserole into something more wholesome, but still freaking delicious.
Hotdish is a casserole that originated in Minnesota. It’s one of those recipes that seems like it shouldn’t work — kind of like weird but good dishes like poutine (the Canadian concoction featuring cheese and gravy-smothered fries). And yet, it does.
Author Howard Mohr defined it succinctly: “A traditional main course, hotdish is cooked and served hot in a single baking dish and commonly appears at family reunions and church suppers.”
Hotdish, also known as Tater Tot Casserole, got on my radar for the first time when I read how Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota was looking for a way to connect with voters in the weeks leading up to the 2020 Iowa caucuses. To that end, she hosted hotdish house parties in Iowa. But it was still to no avail.
What’s in the original hotdish recipe?
What exactly goes into making the original hot dish casserole? There are three layers, the first of which consists of some sort of meat (usually ground beef; less often, chicken) and frozen vegetables.
The second layer is undiluted canned soup, usually mushroom soup (a feast of sodium!), and then it’s all topped with frozen tater tots. Sometimes there’s cheese involved as well, between the soup and tater tots layer.
I mean, this sounds seriously crazy, but after veganizing it a few times, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s something to this culinary madness!
First layer: sautéed onion, vegan crumbles or crumbled veggie burger, and frozen green beans and corn.
Second layer: Fresh mushrooms, plant-based milk, and vegan cheese, all thickened up and creamy.
Veganizing hotdish casserole
To transform hotdish, we obviously first need to replace the meat with some kind of vegan ground. Senator Amy’s version can replaced with the namesake Amy’s® Organic California Veggie Burger, or Beyond® Burger, crumbled. Or, you can use whatever kind of vegan crumble product or vegan burger you prefer — 8 to 10 ounces of it.
I kept the traditional frozen green beans and corn, as they work quite well. For the cream of mushroom layer, I made my own creamy mushroom concoction, which is quite easy, and has a fraction of the sodium. Into this I add a modest amount of vegan cheese, which is optional, but adds to the overall yum factor.
Tater tots and other options
And finally, there’s the all-important tater tot layer. You can use any kind you’d like, though if you go for an organic brand, they’re likely to be made with all-natural ingredients and have less sodium. You’ll find these in the frozen foods section of supermarkets and natural foods stores.
Some traditional hot dish casseroles have the tots arranged in rows, like little soldiers. I made it that way the first time, but it felt tedious; honestly, I like how it looks when they’re just tossed onto the top and rest on the casserole this way and that, and not just out of laziness.
Complete the meal
This casserole is super easy to make and would be a vegetarian or vegan working parent’s dream — family-friendly fare to make on a Sunday (simply because it needs a bit of time in the oven) and enjoy for Meatless Monday.
All you need to complement this filling casserole is a simple salad. Slaw goes quite well with it, or a platter of raw vegetables and dip. End the meal with fresh fruit.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 8 to 10 ounces crumbled vegan burger or plant-based ground
- 2 cups cut frozen green beans, thawed
- 1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels
- 6 to 8 ounces white or brown mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed, and chopped
- 2 tablespoons unbleached white flour
- 1 1/2 cups plain unsweetened nondairy milk
- 1 cup grated vegan cheese, mozzarella or pepper jack style
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
Tater tot layer
- 16- to 20-ounce package frozen tater tots (unthawed)
- Preheat the oven to 375º F.
- Heat the oil in a large skillet or stir-fry pan. Add the onion and sauté over medium heat until golden.
- Add the crumbled vegan burger or ground and continue to sauté, stirring often, until well heated and starting to brown here and there, about 8 minutes.
- Stir in the green beans and corn, then transfer to an oiled 1 1/2 quart baking dish (any shape — round, oval, or rectangular).
- Wipe out the pan. Add the mushrooms and a little water. Cook for 5 minutes over medium heat, or until wilted.
- Sprinkle the flour into the pan over the mushrooms, being careful to distribute it all over. Stir in, then slowly pour in the nondairy milk. Stir in the cheese and cook until the mixture is thickened. It won’t be too thick, but that’s fine, as it will also moisten the first layer.
- Finally, scatter the tots over the surface of the casserole. (If you’d like them to come out extra crispy, you can lightly spray them with cooking oil spray, but this is optional).
- Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the tots are nice and crisp and the casserole looks like it’s browning along the edges.
- Let stand for 5 minutes after removing from the oven, then serve by scooping out portions.
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