Healthy Cooking: Super Bowl dips

In my house, Super Bowl Sunday is a festive, stress-free version of Thanksgiving. There’s food, family, friends and plenty of prayer. But unlike the November holiday, any conflicts are limited to the flat screen, and there’s more chowing down than eating of words.

As a hostess for both events, I know the challenge of feeding folks who pepper their RSVPs with gluten-free, meat-free, dairy-free, nut-free and/or paleo dietary constraints. While I’m tempted to roll my eyes at my guests’ not-so-humble requests, I don’t want to alienate anyone — except for my four-legged best friend. (Plus, true story, my hound is on a grain-free diet.) Instead, I’ll ensure I have something for everyone by serving these two delicious dips, which are full of flavor and devoid of dietary concerns.

You may know tzatziki (tzat-zee-key) as the creamy cucumber sauce on your gyro or Mediterranean sandwich. Here it lightens up the snack table as a nut-free vegetarian dip. Substitute carrot and cucumber sticks for pita bread, and you can check the gluten-free box as well. (Readers who need a dairy-free and/or vegan recipe, skip down to the Fiery Red Pepper Cauliflower Dip.)

Tzatziki is a light, fresh dish that only takes a few ingredients: cucumber, yogurt, lemon juice and seasonings. The key to making not-watery homemade tzatziki is to remove the extra moisture from your ingredients. Start by shredding seedless cucumbers, and then really, really blot them dry. As in, roll them up into a tight little paper towel burrito and refrigerate it overnight. While your cucumbers are resting and water-expressing, prepare your yogurt. If you use regular plain yogurt, you’ll need to remove some whey by straining it through cheesecloth. An even better idea is to skip the messy straining part and purchase Greek-style yogurt, which comes out of the carton already as thick as sour cream.

Chop up some fresh dill, which is brighter than its dried cousin. Unlike with woody herbs, such as rosemary, you can run your knife through the dill stems as well as the leaves. (Not crazy about dill? Substitute fresh mint instead.) You score points if you combine all the ingredients, except the cucumbers, the night before serving, because the extra time makes it taste extra dill-y.

My second make-everyone-happy appetizer is Fiery Red Pepper Cauliflower Dip. Don’t let the promise of spice worry you; you control the heat by adding more or less cayenne pepper. This dip looks and tastes like the most interesting red pepper hummus you’ve ever tried, but since I use roasted cauliflower instead of chickpeas, it’s good for legume-adverse paleo fans. It’s naturally nut-free. And there’s no dairy, so vegans will be tickled, too. Serve it with corn chips or crudités to make the plate gluten-free.

This dip can be your new favorite go-to when you need to make a fast, easy appetizer. And no, I won’t judge you if you purchase pre-chopped cauliflower florets instead of cutting up a whole head. Just choose florets that are on the smaller side, because they’ll roast faster. The roasting process is the only tricky part of the recipe, in that it magically transforms the nondescript veg pieces into salty, sweet golden nuggets of happiness. And I’ve been known to blow off my dip making and eat a half (or, you know, a whole) pan of roasted cauliflower as soon as it comes out of the oven. Instead, exercise more restraint than I possess and give the roasted cauliflower a whirl in a food processor with a splash of oil, garlic, spices and roasted red peppers.

Now, some fancy foodies would suggest roasting your own red peppers from scratch (which I sometimes do, as they really are tasty). But the kicky cayenne in this recipe masks the nuance of home-roasted peppers. Instead, consider buying jarred red peppers, in water, not oil, and use your extra cooking time to roast cauliflower florets for your favorite food columnist.

Sometimes I feel a twinge of nostalgia for the years when Super Bowl prep meant tossing bags of Doritos onto the coffee table. But now I know that good, nourishing food can be just as festive and crave-worthy. And supporting our loved ones’ self-care is a real and tangible way to show we’re all on the same team. Which is something to remember during all of the holidays, not just the ones where we wear face paint.

Cool as a Cucumber Tzatziki

1 pound seedless cucumbers, trimmed and peeled

16 ounces plain nonfat Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon fresh chopped dill, divided

1 teaspoon olive oil

Use a box grater or a food processor fitted with a shredding disk to grate the cucumber. Blot the cucumber shreds with paper towels or clean dishcloths until no moisture remains. Roll the shredded cucumber in layers of paper towels, place the towels in an airtight container, and refrigerate at least one hour, preferably overnight.

Pour off any liquid resting on the top of the yogurt. Mix the yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, kosher salt and 2 tablespoons chopped dill in a nonreactive bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour, preferably overnight.

Before serving, remove the yogurt mixture from the refrigerator and drain any water from the top. Stir in the cucumbers. Taste and adjust seasonings. Pour the tzatziki into a serving bowl, drizzle it with olive oil, and garnish with the remaining 1 teaspoon dill. Serve with carrot and cucumber sticks, or pita bread. Makes: approximately 2 cups.

Per 1-tablespoon serving: 13 calories (percent of calories from fat, 14), 1 gram protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace fat (no saturated fat), trace cholesterol, 20 milligrams sodium.

Fiery Red Pepper Cauliflower Dip

1 pound raw cauliflower florets

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 1/4 jarred roasted red bell peppers, drained

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. If the cauliflower florets are large, break them into smaller, 1-inch pieces. Toss the florets in a bowl with 2 tablespoons olive oil and kosher salt. Spread the cauliflower in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet, and roast 10 minutes. Stir and continue to bake until the cauliflower is golden and soft, about 10 minutes more.

Place the roasted cauliflower, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 2 peppers, and remaining ingredients in a food processor fitted with an S blade. Pulse, pausing to scrape the sides, until the mixture is well blended and the consistency of hummus. Taste and add additional cayenne pepper if more heat is desired. Spoon the dip into a serving dish and garnish with remaining chopped red bell pepper. Serve with chopped vegetables, or crackers. Makes: approximately 1 3/4 cups.

Per 1-tablespoon serving: 15 calories (percent of calories from fat, 68), trace protein, 1 gram carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 1 gram fat (trace saturated fat), no cholesterol, 25 milligrams sodium.

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