If you’ve never heard of “dump recipes” before, you’re probably confused and possibly a little grossed out. But don’t get all judgey just yet! “Dump recipes” are recipes that require little more effort than the action of dumping ingredients into another vessel. What’s not to love?
I learned about dump recipes from my Aunt Sarah, who had an arsenal of these super-tasty, surprisingly low-maintenance dishes up her sleeve. She would bring her addictive salsa and black bean & corn dip — both dump recipes, I would later learn — to the family lake house, where she’d pop off the Tupperware tops and crack open a bag of tortilla chips for everyone to enjoy. And enjoy we did, usually while I slaved over some super-complicated recipe like crab-stuffed zucchini blossoms or authentic Vietnamese pho. She regularly told me I was “over-functioning.” I even remember her once saying to me, “You know, it is OK to just make sandwiches for dinner sometimes.”
I’ve come to realize that she’s right. Over-functioning is over-rated! There’s a time to dazzle and a time to dump.
Everyone deals with dumpy days or even seasons. Whether you’re dealing with a hectic schedule, grieving a loss or just in a general funk, dump recipes are your friend. Spend less time chopping, mincing, marinating, sautéing and flambéing, and spend more time with your kids or your cat, just doing something that truly fills your cup. Just dump, then do the stuff that really matters, interrupted by an occasional stirring of the pot.
Now, for starters, if you are anything like my husband, you may balk at the idea of ingesting a meal made mostly from cans. Meh! Just romanticize the whole experience and make like you’re January Jones in an episode of “Mad Men” — pour yourself a dirty martini, crack those cans open, dump and RELAX.
Actually, a lot of these dump recipes saw their heyday in the ’50s when littering was simply keeping your car tidy, smoking was healthy and driving with your kids unbuckled in the front seat was just ‘swell.’ If you think about it from Mrs. Don Draper’s point of view, a can of cream of mushroom soup revolutionized the kitchen routine for many people across the country. Imagine seeing a pre-made can of soup for the first time: “You mean I don’t have to MAKE cream of mushroom before putting it in the casserole? It is ALREADY MADE?” Millions of minds were blown, and these at-home cooks took the Campbell’s soup cans and ran with them. I have proof.
I looked into some of my grandmother’s old cookbooks. One, which was missing the cover, was clearly the project of a ladies’ club in their little town of Sylvester, GA, wherein the club members submitted recipes. “Tuna Fish Pie” is the recipe that first caught my eye. The ingredients? One can tuna fish and one can mushroom soup. Basically you pour them into your favorite pie crust and “put in oven just long enough to get hot” then serve. This recipe comes courtesy of Mrs. Ralph King and makes you wonder just how dismal Ralph must have been to drive a person to care so little.
Being Mrs. Albert Pendley must have been a little easier, as she calls her version “Baked Mushroom and Tuna” … sounds civilized. This one adds potato chips, bell peppers and pimentos to the mix. In a casserole dish, layer the mushroom soup, crushed potato chips, tuna, spritz of lemon, few pieces of bell peppers and repeat — ending with soup on top. Then decorate the top with some lemon slices, pimentos and a sprinkle of paprika. You can just imagine Mrs. Pendley, puffing on a “healthy cigarette” as she proudly decorates the top of her oh-so-modern casserole, marveling that this easy and tasty recipe not only nourishes her family, but also allows her to express her creativity.
Mrs. J.T. Cochran submitted a “recipe” — more like an insider tip for her girlfriends — simply called “Tuna Mushroom,” which makes it clear that this dish is ubiquitous in Sylvester. She doesn’t even give instructions for the dish, simply saying, “That tuna favorite made with potato chips and canned mushroom soup is even better with ripe olives added.” ‘Nuff said. Thank you, Mrs. Cochran.
I thought our grandmothers were making biscuits from scratch and what-not. I am surprised to learn that canned cream of mushroom soup is to yesteryear as mirepoix is to modern day. Who do we think we are while we work these full-time jobs, raise kids and pets, devote time to nonprofits, nurture friendships and maintain a healthy lifestyle? These days, we act like, on top of everything else, we should also be Nigella Lawson, Giada de Laurentiis or Padma Lakshmi in the kitchen. We should instead take a lesson from Mrs. Ralph King, Mrs. Albert Pendley and Mrs. J.T. Cochran.
My Aunt Sarah grew up in the era when the revolutionary canned cream of mushroom came about. During the hippie movement, a teenage Aunt Sarah bought a towel that said “HELL NO.” Her mother promptly took a Sharpie to Sarah’s new towel, adding an “O” to “HELL.” As Sarah proudly flipped out her new towel on the beach, she was shocked to find that her cool new towel now said “HELLO NO.”
My aunt shared her mother’s strong personality and sharp sense of humor. I bet embracing the low-maintenance lifestyle of “dump recipes” was Aunt Sarah’s way of connecting to her ’50s childhood, while also asserting her right to enjoy life the way she wanted to, not the way Martha Stewart thought she should. Her mother decorated that towel the same way that Mrs. Albert Pendley took liberties with the decorative top layer of that old “tuna favorite.” And what could be more democratic, romantic, freeing and hilarious than bucking the idea that you have to be covered in flour to make a tasty meal, that you have to have a “cool” beach towel to have progressive ideas, or that you have to be a culinary mastermind as well as a career woman, caregiver, partner, friend and healthy individual.
The dump recipes of today borrow from the refreshing laziness of the ’50s, but they also provide a fabulous base for culinary creativity. You can simply dump and enjoy, or you can opt to replace some ingredients with fresh options, adding in herbs and spices you love. The idea is to get you through those dumpy days, when you need time to fill your cup with more than just dinner.
4 No-Fail Dump Recipes
Aunt Sarah’s Easy Salsa
- 2 cans Del Monte Original Recipe Stewed Tomatoes (DO NOT SUBSTITUTE)
- 2 jalapeno peppers from a jar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- fresh cilantro, 2 handfuls
- Combine all ingredients in food processor and pulse to desired consistency.
Aunt Sarah’s Corn Dip
- 2 cans white corn, drained
- 2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
- 8 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
- 1 cup sugar
- ¾ cup apple cider vinegar
- ¾ cup salad oil
- 1 cup green onion, chopped
- salt, to taste
- pepper, to taste
- garlic powder, to taste
- Mix all ingredients together. Refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight. Serve with tortilla chips. Enjoy!
Santa Fe Soup
- 2 pounds ground turkey or beef
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 (.5-ounce) packages Ranch-style dressing mix
- 2 (1.25-ounce) packages taco seasoning mix
- 1 (16-ounce) can black beans, undrained
- 1 (16-ounce) can kidney beans, undrained
- 1 (16-ounce) can pinto beans, undrained
- 1 (16-ounce) can diced tomatoes with chilies, undrained
- 1 (16-ounce) can tomato wedges, undrained
- 2 (16-ounce) cans white corn, undrained
- 2 cups water
- Garnish: sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, sliced green onions
- Cook meat and onion together until meat is browned. Stir Ranch-style dressing mix and taco seasoning mix into meat. Add remaining ingredients with juices from all. Add water. Simmer for 2 hours. (If mixture becomes too thick, add additional water.) Garnish each serving with sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese and sliced green onions, if desired. Serve with tortilla chips.
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Pineapple Upside-Down Dump Cake
- ¾ cup butter, divided
- ⅔ cup packed brown sugar
- 1 jar (6 ounces) maraschino cherries, drained
- ½ cup chopped pecans, toasted
- 1 can (20 ounces) unsweetened pineapple tidbits or crushed pineapple, undrained
- 1 package yellow cake mix (regular size)
- Vanilla ice cream, optional
- In a microwave, melt ½ cup butter; stir in brown sugar. Spread evenly onto bottom of a greased 5-qt. slow cooker. Sprinkle with cherries and pecans; top with pineapple. Sprinkle evenly with dry cake mix. Melt remaining butter; drizzle over top.
- Cook, covered, on high until fruit mixture is bubbly, about 2 hours. (To avoid scorching, rotate slow cooker insert one-half turn midway through cooking, lifting carefully with oven mitts.)
- Turn off slow cooker; let stand, uncovered, 30 minutes before serving. If desired, serve with ice cream.
Sprinkle the cake mix in an even layer over the pineapple. If it’s piled high in the center, the middle of the cake may be undercooked.
A large slow cooker is used to keep the ingredient layers thin and promote even cooking.
Editor's Note: To toast nuts, bake in a shallow pan in a 350° oven for 5-10 minutes or cook in a skillet over low heat until lightly browned, stirring occasionally.
And when you’re ready to whip up some other tasty dishes, check out our recipe section. It’s filled with all sorts of amazing flavors!