More Holiday Recipes: Eggplant Dressing & Ro-Tel Dip

Here are two family recipes this holiday season, both from my mother: Eggplant Dressing and Ro-Tel Dip.  They both bring back memories of my Texas childhood.

My mother found the Eggplant Dressing recipe in our local newspaper, The Houston Post, in the late 1960s.  It was in a recipe section for Southern turkey stuffing, and it was from a Mrs. Jimmy T. Watson.  (You can tell it’s old-style Southern because Mrs. Watson didn’t give her own first name!) I remember that as soon as the word “eggplant” came out of my mother’s mouth, my brother and sister and I made it clear that we weren’t in the least interested.  Eggplant?  Nope.  It looked weird.

Mom paid no attention to us, and she made it for Thanksgiving dinner.  Somehow she got us to try a bite.

And we loved it!  I still make it for holidays.

The Ro-Tel Dip is a whole ‘nother story.  One of my earliest memories is of my mother making a cheese dip in her double boiler on top of the stove.  Back then tortilla chips weren’t readily available in stores, so she always used Fritos to dip into the cheese.  I never liked Fritos, but I learned to love her Ro-Tel Dip.

The name comes from the canned tomatoes that she used—the labels said they were from Ro-Tel, Texas.  They’re a mix of tomatoes, onions, peppers, and spices. I searched for the history of Ro-Tel tomatoes online, and it turns out that the canning factory opened in Elsa, Texas, in the 1940s—the family business of Carl Roettele.  He shortened the name to Ro-Tel.  Until the late 1950s, Ro-Tel tomatoes were available only in San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston. But by the early 1960s, you could find them on grocery store shelves throughout the South.  These days there are several kinds of Ro-Tel tomatoes, each with a different color label.  I really like the Cilantro and Lime flavor—it’s in the blue can!

My friends are usually horrified when I tell them what’s in the dip, but this stuff is totally addictive.  And talk about cachet—evidently Velveeta was one of President Reagan’s favorite foods. The only trick is actually finding Velveeta in the grocery store.  It’s not in the dairy case!

EGGPLANT DRESSING

1 Tbs bacon drippings (Mom now substitutes olive oil)

1 medium eggplant, peeled and diced

1 lb ground beef

1/2 lb ground pork

1 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped celery

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 cup chopped parsley

Salt & pepper to taste

1/2 cup cooking sherry

2 cups cooked rice (we use wild rice)

1 cup pecans, chopped (we toast these beforehand)

Heat the bacon drippings and combine eggplant, beef, pork, onion, celery, garlic, and parsley on medium heat, stirring frequently to keep the beef and pork in small pieces. Simmer 20 minutes, add salt and pepper to taste.

Drain, then add the sherry, rice and pecans.  Toss mixture.

Place in greased casserole and bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Note: The earlier you make it, giving some time to let the flavors meld, the better it tastes.

RO-TEL DIP

1 can Ro-Tel Tomatoes

1 lb Velveeta

Cut the Velveeta into cubes and put into microwave-safe bowl.  Pour can of Ro-Tel tomatoes onto the Velveeta and mix well.  Microwave until ready (I usually nuke it for about three minutes, stir it well, and repeat until it’s all melted).

That’s it.  Really.

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