I'm not a big football fan. However, I look forward every year to Super Bowl Sunday. Who can argue with a day that, let's face it, is as devoted to partying as it is to the matchup on the field. So every time another Super Bowl rolls around, we invite a bunch of friends over for some beer, some eats and, of course, some serious game-watching.
When it comes to the Super Bowl, it's mostly — many might say exclusively — about the two teams facing off on the field. The food, frankly, plays second fiddle. Yet I always want to prepare something delicious and satisfying — not to mention foods that can easily be eaten while you keep your eyes glued to the tube.
That's where dips and spreads — the ultimate party-giver's friends — come in. In fact, dips and their kissing cousins, spreads — a stiffer concoction smeared on a cracker — are my party-food favorites. That's true whether I'm putting together a casual backyard get-together in the summer, an afternoon bridal shower or an elegant evening cocktail soiree.
One of the great benefits of putting out a spread of party dips is that they require next to no prep time. At many gatherings, but especially on Super Bowl Sunday, the last place I want to find myself is stuck in the kitchen, laboring over some complicated, multicourse feast.
"From the cook's point of view, dips are easy on the host — there are no fussy hors d'oeuvres to assemble and delicately garnish," explains Delicious Dips and Skinny Dips author Diane Morgan in an email.
I can easily whip together three or four creamy creations in less than an hour. From classics such as tangy and rich onion dips to more exotic fare enlivened with tofu or tomatillos, dips rarely require more than a bit of rough chopping and a few pulses of the food processor. Then all that's left is to scoop my concoctions into serving bowls.
What's more, cleanup is a snap, since guests don't need utensils to eat them.
And with a selection of these party-hearty foods, you get an entire meal's worth of flavors and textures: chunky, tangy guacamole; rich, creamy onion dip; garlicky bean dips enhanced with olive oil and herbs. Then there are spreads, like pates. These can be enlivened with ingredients as varied as tofu or chicken livers. And let's not forget that Southern staple, cheddar cheese-enriched pimento cheese, which, when spread on good-quality white bread, morphs into ambrosial finger sandwiches.
Of course there would be no dips without their enablers — chips and various other dippers. There are the classics, like corn chips and crudites. I've also used potatoes, breadsticks, pretzels, radicchio leaves, asparagus spears, skewered grape tomatoes, figs, walnuts and even spears of extra-crispy bacon. The main requirement is that your edible dipping tool be sturdy. A bit of crunch helps, too, because it lends some texture to the creamy dip.
So when Super Bowl Sunday rolls around, put away the pots and pans and roll out the dips and spreads. That way you'll find yourself settling into a spot in front of the TV, instead of behind the stove.
I've tried numerous guacamole recipes over the years. This one is rich and tangy and lets the individual ingredients shine through. Before chopping, if the tomatoes are too juicy, squeeze out some of the juice. You don't want the guacamole to be runny.
Makes 8 servings
2 ripe avocados, pitted and peeled
1 ripe tomato, seeded, juiced and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 small red onion, diced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 to 2 garlic cloves minced
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Hot sauce to taste
Peel the avocado and mash it with a fork until it's smooth but with some chunks. Add tomatoes and mix. Add the onion, cilantro and garlic to the mixture. Add the lime juice, salt, pepper and hot sauce. Mix again. Serve immediately with chips or crudites.
This dip takes under a half-hour to prepare, and the melding of beans, tarragon, olive oil and garlic is hearty and satisfying. I find a quick zap with the microwave removes some of the bitterness from the garlic. But if you prefer a sharper garlic taste, just eliminate that step.
Makes 10 servings
1 can drained and rinsed white beans, such as cannellini or Great Northern beans
1 to 3 cloves garlic, peeled (and softened in the microwave for 20 to 30 seconds if you like)
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil for garnish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons fresh tarragon, chopped finely, or 1 teaspoon dried
Place the beans in a strainer and rinse them under cool water. Make sure to drain them well. Place the beans in the container of a food processor. In a microwave-safe small dish, soften the garlic cloves in the microwave, if you're following that step. Add the garlic to the beans. Add the olive oil, salt and pepper to the beans. Add the lemon juice. Turn on the machine and process the mixture until it is smooth.
Scrape the bean dip into a bowl and fold in the chopped tarragon. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil. Serve immediately with bagel chips, toasted pita or crudites.
This Salsa Verde is a bit of a mashup of two recipes: Mollie Katzen's herb-rich Salsa Verde from her cookbook The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation, and chef Rick Bayless' tangy and spicy Roasted Tomatillo Salsa from his website.
Makes 8 servings
1 pound fresh tomatillos, husked, rinsed and patted dry
Fresh hot chilies to taste (1 or 2 serranos or 1 jalapeno), stemmed
1/3 packed cups each of fresh flat-leaf parsley and cilantro, roughly chopped
4 basil leaves
4 scallion stalks
2 garlic cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice or more to taste
Place the tomatillos and chilies on the top shelf of the oven, about 4 inches from the broiler on the hottest setting. Roast them for 5 minutes. Turn them over and roast them for another 5 minutes. They're done when they've softened and have a nice char.
Place the tomatillos with their juice, the chilies (with seeds if you want the extra heat, without if you don't), the parsley, cilantro, basil leaves, scallions, garlic and salt in a food processor and pulverize the mixture using the pulse control until smooth. Add the lemon juice and process the mixture to blend. Serve with tortilla chips.
Southerners, please forgive me. I've taken a bit of Yankee license with this recipe adapted from Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart. Traditionalists will frown on the addition of Dijon mustard and cayenne, but I think they add a dusky undertone to this rich spread.
Makes 8 servings
8 ounces grated cheddar cheese
4 ounces canned pimentos, drained well and patted dry
1/2 cup mayonnaise (full-fat only)
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne
Process the cheese, pimentos, mayonnaise (use low-fat mayonnaise at your peril; this dish requires the full-fat version) and mustard using the pulse control in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process the mixture until it's slightly chunky but still spreadable. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add a pinch of cayenne. Serve with pumpernickel rounds or on crackers, or spread on good-quality white bread and cut into finger sandwiches.