My family lived in Montreal when I was a child, and the neighbourhood we lived in was incredibly diverse in terms of people's cultural backgrounds and religions. On our street alone, my mother's closest friends were Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, and Mormon, respectively, and all the neighbours would get together for everything from barbecues to birthday parties.
Naturally, being such a close-knit community, we also gathered together whenever there was a death in the family. Funerary customs may have differed slightly between our various cultures, but the main themes of togetherness and food were universal. The matriarch of the Mormon family died during the summer before we moved away, and everyone on the block attended her memorial service. The family itself was quite large, and with all of us in attendance as well, you can just imagine how many people filled up their backyard. The gathering overflowed to the next-door neighbour's yard and out into the street, and there must have been at least 20 enormous buffet tables that kept being replenished every time we cleaned them out.
Aside from the trembling mountain of jello desserts that shall ever be burned into my mind, the one dish that I remember from that gathering was an incredible cheesy potato casserole thinger that one of the 90 aunts prepared for the buffet. She must have made a dozen trays of the stuff, because as soon as one tray was scraped clean by the ravenous horde, another would swiftly take its place. I remember this dish so clearly because it was so very different from the types of potato dishes that my Nordic/Slavic relatives made: it was a creamy celebration of gooey cheese and potato, and I must have had three helpings of the stuff.
I'd forgotten all about it until I started doing research into funeral foods around the world and came across this recipe on a blog about common Mormon recipes. Go figure. Apparently the dish is affectionately nicknamed "funeral potatoes" because it always shows up at luncheons after Mormon funerals, especially in Utah. Lucky mourners!
This is an incredibly delicious dish, and when people are in mourning, calories don't count. True fact: every tear shed negates about 50 calories, so go for seconds. Fifths, even.
- 6 tablespoons salted butter (or Earth Balance)
- One large bag of frozen, shredded hash brown potatoes
- 1 large Spanish onion, grated
- 1/4 cup flour (gluten-free or regular)
- 1 cup milk (dairy, soy, rice, or almond)
- 2 cups chicken or onion bouillon
- 1 1/2 cups grated Monterey Jack or Gruyere cheese (or Daiya Shreds)
- 1/2 cup grated old* cheddar or (Daiya shreds)
- 1 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt (or soy-based substitutes)
- 2 cups plain potato chips, crushed
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped green onions or chives
*I've made this with smoked applewood cheddar, beer cheddar, and even jalapeño havarti. It'll be delicious no matter what cheese you use.
Preheat your oven to 350 or 375 degrees, depending on how hot yours gets.
Grease a 9" x 12"baking dish with some extra butter or Earth Balance, and set aside.
In a large, non-stick skillet or stock pot, heat your butter (or substitute) on medium-high, and once it has started to bubble festively, add in your onions.
Turn the heat down to medium and stir regularly until the onions soften and begin to go transparent.
Add in the flour and stir to blend into the butter, and after a minute or two, add the milk. You may have to whisk this to eliminate any lumpy bits.
Use that whisk to incorporate the broth, increasing the heat slightly and whisking regularly until the mixture starts to thicken a little bit. Lower the heat even more, and stir in the grated cheese and sour cream, blending everything together thoroughly. Taste it, and adjust salt as needed. If you're so inclined, this is where you'd crack some pepper into it.
Turn the heat off completely and add the hash brown potatoes into the mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon to coat everything thoroughly. Transfer this into your baking dish, smooth it with a spatula, and then sprinkle the crushed potato chips and chopped green onions over everything.
Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 15-20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for another 20-30 minutes. You're aiming for a nice, golden-brown topping that has bits of cheese bubbling up through it here and there.
Remove from the oven, and allow to cool for about 20 minutes before allowing the masses to descend upon it.
|Yeahhhh. That's a big dollop of creamy comfort food, right there.|
Lead photo credit: jumanggy via Foter.com