It is mid-september and that means one thing to my husband and my family: football. Yes that's right, college football season is well underway, so 3 weekends in a row, husband and I have been packing it up and heading to Tallahassee for the Florida State Seminole games. I have to be honest up front, football itself isn't really my thing, but the 4-8 hours of socializing beforehand is ok by me.
Traditional tailgating food isn't exactly healthy or veg-friendly. Without a little advanced planning, you may find your only choices to be hot dogs, hamburgers, fried chicken, cream cheese dips, bbq, and potato chips. As a vegetarian, that is clearly a problem, but also as someone who prefers to treat my body well despite the occasion, it can be tough as well. You can easily bring some veggie burgers or tofu dogs for the grill, but there is more you can do to healthify your game day. With little preparation, you can make a couple dishes to share that are cold, refreshing, and filled with veggies.
You may be thinking "yeah but people LOVE fried chicken." This is true. However, as I confirmed this weekend, there will always be those who are grateful for a healthy alternative, or at least a healthy side dish to balance out the rest of the spread.
For tailgating food, you have to think about a couple things. First, it has to be cold/room temp. Unless you plan to bust out the crockpot, you want to stick with something that can be served cold and will still taste good after a couple hours in the heat.
Second, it has to be stable. While mayonnaise-based salads are popular on game days, I find them a little scary. We have a tendency to put the food out and graze all day and through the night, so, choose ingredients that can handle a little time and exposure.
Third, kick up your seasoning. Food that sits for a while has a tendency to dry out. Plus, I have observed, in an unofficial, unscientific study, that alcohol reduces our ability to taste, so drinkers need a little more salt and flavor to be satisfied.
This weekend, I made a few easy side dishes from what I already had in the fridge. Grain/rice salads are perfect for hot outdoor games, so I started with brown rice salad with black beans, grilled corn, jalapenos, green onions, lime & cilantro. I feel like Mexican flavors and football go hand-in-hand, although I have no idea why. I also made an orzo salad with asparagus and red pepper (recipe below). I loved the crunch of the veggies and the bright acidic dressing.
Surprisingly, the dish that went the fastest was the cucumber sandwiches. Although you would usually expect them to be served with tea and not with beer, I wanted to do something with cucumber because I find it to be one of the most refreshing veggies. I had some leftover pumpernickel rye bread, and layered the cucumber with a spread made of vegan mayo, lemon zest, lemon juice, dill, onion, dijon mustard, and salt & pepper. Tasty, light, and portable (bonus). Plus, vegan mayo does not contain egg, and can last longer while sitting out.
For all my fellow tailgaters out there, I wish you a winning season and healthy festivities. Cheers.
Lemony Orzo Salad
Serves a crowd.
2 boxes whole wheat or regular orzo, cooked al dente
1 cup olive oil
4 lemons, juiced
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
sea salt & pepper, to taste
2 cups diced young asparagus
2 red bell peppers, diced
2 bunches green onions, finely chopped
1/3 cup fresh tarragon, finely chopped
1/3 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
1/3 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1. Cook orzo to package directions, with the addition of 1 tablespoon olive oil in the cooking water. Drain and let cool.
2. In large mixing bowl, whisk olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, honey, dijon, salt and pepper.
3. Add remaining ingredients and combine well. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
4. Share and enjoy.
I also need to give a shout out to my crafty friend, Grace, who made these FSU-themed cupcakes, equipped with "grass" plating, gold sprinkles, and football toothpick garnishes. I didn't get a picture of the whole spread because the brutal Florida heat killed them within the hour, but they were still tasty!