Potato and Sauerkraut Hotdish

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This is the crowd pleaser of all crowd pleasers – the “MUST HAVE” on the holiday table, the easiest thing to bring for a potluck, and well, AMAZINGLY delicious. Let’s just say this is one old-fashioned, the-way-it-used-to-be-before-canned-soup HOTDISH! But potatoes with sauerkraut? This lesser known concoction was brought to the Midwest by our creative German ancestors and usually contained sausage or bacon. (I know, I can hear you right now, “Ooh bacon, that’s a good idea!” Don’t even think about it!) My mother learned of the recipe from a neighbor who originally hailed from the Pierz area of Minnesota – a German stronghold. Hotdish tends to be very provincial as each kitchen cook has their own secret ingredient. If you prefer to call it a casserole then we’ll know you’re not from Minnesota!

Midwest church-goers are famous for their potlucks where you can find Tuna, Hamburger, Tator Tot as well as other noodle, meat and canned soup concoctions. For some reason my family always called these things casseroles, and tuna was the only one I was familiar with thanks to Grandma’s inability to cook, and my parent’s strict adherence to the edicts of food improvisation.

Unfamiliar, that is to say, until I entered the hot lunch program at my local Elementary School. I took a brief foray away from vegetarianism and learned the nuances of true Midwest Culinary Cuisine. Not only did I enjoy the hotdish repertoire, but it was in those cafeterias that I learned of “Shit on a Shingle” – otherwise referred to as “Chipped Beef on Toast.” I also had the pleasure of discovering Spam, American Cheese slices, and Corn Dogs. You must remember, I was a child of the “Back to the Land” movement. I knew where food really came from so this highly processed stuff was totally foreign to me. It also drove me quickly back to the comforting lap of the vegetarian diet.

Don’t get me wrong, I love hotdish. I am by nature, a lazy cook and lover of all things comfortable. I love the ease of the one pan meal and the idea that I won’t have to cook for a few days as with casseroles, if you’re not feeding a crowd, there are leftovers.

A couple of years ago my mom came to one of the family dinners with this potato and sauerkraut casserole thingy. It got high approval ratings from everyone, especially my potato loving husband. I’ve never had to make it only suggest that Mom bring it for our gatherings, but as the red potatoes from the CSA keep rolling in, I decided it was high time to make my own hotdish. So I called Mom for the recipe. My mother cooks like I do – it’s always a creative process, there is never a recipe and if an interruption occurs during the preparation, the meal is terrible!

Here’s my mom giving me the “recipe.”

“Well, you just need to drain the sauerkraut and boil the potatoes. Then I saute the sauerkraut in a lot of butter with garlic . When the potatoes are done, break them up; Don’t really mash them, just smash them, and add them to the sauerkraut. I like to put jalapenos in it and some cheese. That’s it, then you bake it.”

“What kind of cheese do you use?”

“Whatever I have. I always have lots of cheese. I might use feta or mozzarella. I always put parmesan in it- whatever you have. I wouldn’t use cream cheese or sour cream because I don’t like those.”

Thanks, Mom!

Making this casserole really got me excited about making sauerkraut as well. I have a huge cabbage from the CSA so I think I’ll give it a try. Here’s a great link showing how to make Sauerkraut. I was interested to find that during WWII it was considered patriotic to make your own sauerkraut. I never knew sauerkraut to be a particularly political pickle.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large jar or bag of sauerkraut – 32 oz.
  • 5 pounds new baby reds
  • 1 stick butter
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 jalapeno diced
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella
  • 1/2 cup parmesan
  • 1 cup chopped green beans (optional)
  • Idea Note: Chopped herbs would be fabulous to add to the top or incorporate into this dish.

Directions:

Boil the potatoes until tender. When they are cool enough to handle, smash them with a potato masher. Drain the sauerkraut well and meanwhile saute the garlic in melted butter. When the garlic releases its fragrance, add the sauerkraut and saute for a few minutes. Mix the sauerkraut with the potatoes in a big bowl. Use a food processor to chop the jalapeno and mozzarella. Mix everything together. Pour it all into an oiled baking pan. Sprinkle the parmesan on top and decorate with green beans. Bake for 1 hour at 375 degrees.

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