Passionate team rivalries, jaw-dropping halftime musical performances, and mouthwatering appetizers instantly come to mind in any football partygoer’s anticipation of the National Football League’s Super Bowl Sunday. Yet, only one item on that list maintains the power to put an end to any health and fitness-related New Year’s resolutions and it appears in a few common forms: loaded nachos, cheesy dips and Buffalo wings.
As a health and fitness enthusiast, I enjoy watching the big game as much as the next jersey-sporting bystander, but I try my best to avoid the consequences of overindulging in my favorite fat-laden treats. Growing up in North Carolina, I consider myself experienced when it comes to stacking all seven layers of taco dip without snapping the yellow corn chip in half, and eating smoky wings smothered in hot sauce without the need for a napkin. However, my decision to prepare three low-fat, vegetarian snacks from scratch this year did not require my former skills set.
While I did not have an actual party planned for the evening, I looked forward to utilizing my sudden motivation to cook and reaping the benefits of homemade, healthy leftovers. I browsed Long Island-native Gina Homolka’s food blog, SkinnyTaste, over my Sunday morning cup of coffee, designing my Super Bowl supper menu. After selecting three recipes that appealed to my particular flavor cravings, health-conscious mind and desire to maintain football-food tradition, I ventured to Fairway Market in the Upper East Side to gather fresh ingredients. One hour and $45 later, I carefully dropped armloads of groceries on the kitchen floor and set to work separating the ingredients for the three recipes.
Beginning with the easiest recipe, the black bean, avocado, cucumber and tomato salad, only one ingredient arrived in a can; the rest belonged on the wooden cutting board. Peeling, dicing, squeezing and chopping the half-dozen fresh ingredients took approximately 20 minutes, and it required every ounce of self-restraint to cover the colorful bowl and place it in the refrigerator until the two remaining dishes were ready.
Preparing the hot spinach and artichoke dip proved messier, but easier, than anticipated. After coarsely chopping the artichokes, shallots and garlic clove in the food processor, a mixing bowl and wooden spoon took care of the rest. I prepared the spicy buffalo cauliflower bites for baking while the dip melted aromatically in the oven for another 25 minutes. Two hours, a sink full of dishes and a starving chef later, the Super Bowl buffet was ready.
The first creation of the evening proved the most flavorful and dynamic of the three dishes. The freshly chopped cilantro and juice of two vibrant limes created a light dressing for the fruit and vegetable salad, which marinated in the refrigerator for several hours prior to serving. Originally created as a side dish, the salad could easily serve as a full meal since the black beans add substance to the lighter fruits and vegetables. A guiltless pleasure, the salad is loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber, as well as a healthy portion of monounsaturated fat contributed by the avocado. A budget pleaser, the cost of the ingredients fell under $15.
My lips curled into a subconscious smile as the hot spinach and artichoke dip touched my taste buds, the mozzarella cheese strings dripping from the flattened pretzel cracker onto my plate. Reminiscent of the cheesy comfort food’s original form, the dip far from lacked in flavor. The finely grated parmigiano reggiano, part-skim mozzarella shreds and Greek yogurt not only created the perfect, low-fat flavor blend, but also maintained a smooth texture that fused the chunky artichoke pieces and spinach shreds together in harmony.
I was impressed by how the dip highlighted the vegetable flavors that lend the dish its name rather than masking them; every bite included a distinguishable piece of artichoke heart or clump of dark greens. The pretzel chip delivery system contributed an enjoyable salty crunch without distracting from the main event. However, the recipe calls for a half-cup of mayonnaise, a fact that made me scrunch my face with disgust. The most expensive dish on the menu, the dip’s ingredients cost approximately $20 when opting for higher quality cheeses.
The buffalo cauliflower bites remained the final food on my plate, and after eating two bright red florets, I instinctively reached for my half-empty water glass to cool my mouth burning with the fire of Frank’s hot sauce. The typical side of bleu cheese dip was genuinely missed, but the heat of the hot sauce catered to my craving for traditional tongue-stinging Buffalo wings. Unfortunately, the texture did not quite make the cut. In baking the batter-covered cauliflower florets, the flesh of the vegetable grew tender while the wet coating failed to find its deep-fryer crisp. The remaining bites cooled quicker than I was able to consume them, creating a soggy sensation that ended my meal on a stale note. However, the cauliflower bites win the grocery budget contest; the cost of ingredients fell under $10 with tax included.
Together, these dishes managed to remove the nutritional sin from my football-viewing experience on Super Bowl Sunday while leaving the traditional fun, flavors and food coma in tact. Forty-five dollars and two hours of culinary patience later, I enjoyed cheering on the Baltimore Ravens to victory alongside my pleased dietary conscience. I left my spotlessly clean kitchen that night proud of my motivation to make healthier Super Bowl snacks this year, ready for a solid night’s rest with a satisfied stomach, and excited to enjoy leftovers in the upcoming days when life permitted much less cooking time.
Originally written for my food writing class