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Grandpa’s Seven Layer Dinner

October 18, 2008

Looks like mush, tastes like awesome

Alright, no hatin’ people. I know that picture up there looks like a bowl of mush, but I am here to urge you to look past the mush to the delicious, comforting treat that is Seven Layer Dinner.

My brother got married last weekend (yay! Andy and Lisa! yay!), and some wonderful person gave them a slow cooker. When they opened it, my brother immediately exclaimed, “Yeah! Seven Layer Dinner,” and I remembered my Grandpa’s Seven Layer Dinner for the first time in years. Seven Layer Dinner is quintessentially Midwestern and perfect for cold, yucky days when you need something warm and comforting at the end of a long day. After we got back to Boston, I immediately emailed the grandparents for the recipe.

It turns out that a few days after the wedding, my brother and Lisa asked Grandpa to make Seven Layer Dinner for them, and so my mom sent the recipe accompanied by pictures of my Grandpa cooking it.

Grandpa's Seven Layer Dinner

They made their version in the oven instead of in a slow cooker, and both methods work well. I prefer to use the slow cooker, though, because I can prepare it the night before, turn on the slow cooker in the morning, and by the time I get home (when I’m usually starving and don’t want to cook something that will take multiple hours), it’s ready for eating. In fact, I’m falling in love with my slow cooker and I want to find more recipes for using it, so if you have a crock pot favorite, please send it my way!

So, what is this Seven Layer Dinner, you ask? Well, it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. You layer ground beef, potatoes, onions, rice, green beans, carrots, and tomatoes in a pot, pour in two cups of liquid and some salt and pepper, and cook it long enough that the layers all meld together and turn into deliciousness. The original recipe came from an old cookbook published by the Evangelical Church of Milbank, South Dakota, to raise money to move the church into town. Apparently, my Grandpa still has said cookbook, and offered to give it to me next summer when I visit them in South Dakota, and I am awfully excited to see it. But I digress.

Of course, I also can’t leave well enough alone, so my version involved a few small additions and changes. But it tasted the same as I remember Grandpa’s tasting when I was a kid, and I’m awfully grateful to have added the recipe to my repertoire.

Seven Layer Dinner

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder (my addition)
  • 1 T. dijon mustard (also my addition)
  • about 2 large potatoes, sliced thinly
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 3/4 c. rice (I used white and brown)
  • 1 can of green beans
  • about 3 carrots, sliced
  • 2 or 3 tomatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 c. vegetable broth (the original recipe uses water, but I thought broth would be tasty)

Grandpa's Hands

Here’s my grandpa’s version, midway through the layering process. And here’s mine:

Layer Four, Rice

This is ridiculously easy. Just layer all those ingredients, one by one, into a slow cooker, large pot, or a dutch oven (or, as mom puts it, anything that heats up), and then cook it either for eight hours on the low setting in a crock pot, or in an oven at 350F for 30 minutes, then at 325F for anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours (I think mom said they cooked theirs for three hours total).

When it’s done, the tomatoes will look something like this:

Cooked Tomatoes

The original recipe calls for a can of whole tomatoes, but I saw these lovely, lovely heirlooms at the market, and I knew it would probably be the last time in a long time I saw such beautiful tomatoes here in Boston, so I had to use them.

Heirloom Tomatoes

I mean, how can you resist those? I sure couldn’t.

I decided to use vegetable broth instead of water, because I had some that needed to be used, and because I thought it would add a little kick to the flavor. But as I said before, it tasted pretty much the way I remember Grandpa’s version tasting, so I’m not sure it really mattered that much.

Seven Layer Dinner

So again, I urge you to look past this bowl of mush to the delicious comfort food soul within. It is super delicious, and, now that I think about it, pretty danged healthy compared to most of the comfort food winter dinners I make. There isn’t any butter or heavy cream or cheese, but it is still smooth and tasty and wonderful. Amazing. Thanks, Grandma and Grandpa!

10 Comments leave one →
  1. grandma and grandpa permalink
    October 18, 2008 10:48 pm

    Wonderful! Just a good old South Dakota dish that all the Saufley kids liked and would eat. Almost as good as potato pancakes. That’s another recipe, another day!

  2. October 19, 2008 7:50 pm

    Your grandpa is very dapper and I like that he still cooks an old favorite dish. Very comforting.

  3. Jessica permalink
    October 21, 2008 11:23 am

    Yum, looks really good! But I had a question….do I need to cook the ground beef before layering everything in the crock pot? Thanks! I’m looking forward to trying it!

  4. October 22, 2008 7:04 am

    Nope, no need to cook the beef before putting it in the pot. It’ll be cooking for eight hours, so it’ll be cooked through when it’s done. Let me know how you like it!

  5. Heather permalink
    October 24, 2008 10:41 pm

    Ahhh…such a treat to see Grandpas face in your blog.
    And I am TOTALLY going to cook it this week too. My Mom said something about Grandmas swiss steak? Salisbury steak? Some sort of steak with a tomato sauce on it?

    Perhaps they can make a guest appearance on your blog next week with that recipe for us? :)

  6. Denise permalink
    October 29, 2008 9:18 pm

    oh yummmmmmy, I love 7-layer dinner, even though I prefer the old fashion way of cooking it, the crock pot version was good too.

  7. Heather permalink
    January 6, 2009 11:19 am

    Yummy, I love 7 layer dinner.
    We make our hamburger into patties put them on top and cover with a can of tomato soup.
    Makes a prettier top layer.
    Gotta go home and make this tonight.

  8. Robin permalink
    April 5, 2011 3:10 pm

    My dad talked about a 7 layer dinner that grandmother (she passed away in 1985) made. I told him I would google it. We found your recipe. He said it looked like her recipe. I am excited to try it.

  9. Cristin permalink
    May 8, 2011 12:14 am

    Hi. This recipe looked very interesting to me and I will try it! Can this be cooked on HI in the crockpot for less time?

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