Washington – Like Minnesota itself, hot dish is getting more diverse.
That was the takeaway Tuesday at the ninth annual Minnesota Congressional Delegation Hotdish Competition. The winning dishes from U.S. Reps. Betty McCollum, Ilhan Omar and Dean Phillips all exhibited an international flair with ingredients that busted from the confines of the ground beef-potato-cheese paradigm.
McCollum won top honors for “Hotdish A-Hmong Friends,” an homage to her St. Paul-area district’s large Hmong population. Omar served up “Little Moga-hot-dishu,” a play on the informal name for the Minneapolis neighborhood at the heart of her congressional district with its heavy concentration of Somali immigrants.
Phillips, the third-place winner, also drew on world cuisine: “From Monrovia with Love: Liberian Inspired Hotdish.” Phillips has been at the forefront of efforts to prevent the deportation of many in Minnesota’s large Liberian community.
The bipartisan bake-off, a down-home tradition in the U.S. Capitol, has become an instant classic of Minnesotans’ self-effacing nature, rendered all the more poignant in the toxic political climate of Congress.
McCollum’s winning entry included plenty of the foundational elements for what nearly everyone except Minnesotans call a casserole: 2 pounds of ground beef, a bag of Tater Tots, a can of cream-of-mushroom soup. But it also incorporated egg roll wrappers, five Thai chiles and a whopping half a cup of umami seasoning.
McCollum claimed the prize — a custom glass baking dish — in absentia: She was busy chairing a hearing on the other side of Capitol Hill. The nine other members of Minnesota’s delegation were all on hand, cracking jokes as they sampled tiny portions of the salty, fatty fare on offer. A three-judge panel chose the winners.
“In Minnesota, we all believe in coming together around good food and good conversation. It’s in that spirit that we come together,” said Sen. Tina Smith. Smith took over hosting duties from former Sen. Al Franken, who initiated the competition in 2011.
Like McCollum, the second- and third-place finishers took inspiration from world cuisine. Omar’s recipe had the longest ingredient list, and its ground beef-and-tater tot base also included jalapeños, garam masala and coriander chutney in the mix.
“They said we spiced it up a little bit too much for Minnesotans,” Omar said. “We need to bland it down a bit. We’ve got our plan for next year.”
Phillips’ ingredient list included shrimp, plantains, yams, red palm oil — and three cups of cornflakes on top.
“To place? As a freshman?” said the first-year congressman. He ignored advice from Sen. Amy Klobuchar that he allow more senior members to prevail.
Klobuchar and Rep. Angie Craig both went with a sports theme, Klobuchar with a “Final Four Layer Hotdish,” Craig with “World Championship Sausage Lynx Hotdish.”
Don’t worry — the latter just used pork sausage. But exotic meat is not unknown to the competition: Smith’s “Herd on the Hill” included bison, and two years ago, Rep. Collin Peterson won first place with a bear-meat hot dish.
“No bears were killed in the preparation of this hot dish,” Peterson said. His “[Jimmy] Dean of the Delegation’s Hotdish” used breakfast links for the meat.
It should be noted that in most cases the members of Congress delegate the actual cooking duties to staffers in their office.
“I’m more the visionary here,” Phillips joked. Both he and Rep. Jim Hagedorn claimed that members of their staff insisted they stay out of the kitchen.
“In the interests of humanity, I didn’t want to cook anything myself,” Hagedorn said. His “Make’n Bacon Great Again Hot Dish” went heavy on a major export of his southern Minnesota district, packing in 2 pounds of Compart Duroc bacon from Nicollet and another half pound of pork sausage from Austin’s Hormel Foods.
“We’re the second-largest hog-production congressional district in the country,” Hagedorn said.
The defending champion was Rep. Tom Emmer, who this year played class clown. He noted that his fellow Republican, Rep. Pete Stauber (“Top of the Tater Hotdish”), had ducked out early.
“He didn’t want anyone to see him cry,” Emmer cracked. But Emmer failed to hold the title: his “From Cheese to Shining Cheese Hotdish” didn’t win, place or show, despite containing a full pound of cheddar cheese. Emmer, who’s noticeably slimmed down from his days in the Minnesota Legislature, also joked that a regular diet of most of the day’s offerings “will take five to six years off your life expectancy.”
Consider that your warning. A full list of the recipes can be found below.