Super Bowl Smackdown V: Healthful snacks

February 2, 2011

Weeks before the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers earned berths in Super Bowl XLV, the Food section was blitzed with pitches for low-fat game-day recipes.

Air-popped popcorn, oat pretzels and fruit instead of chips, cookies and brownies. No-cook spinach dip made with yogurt and low-fat mayo. "Mock-o-mole" served alongside Skinnygirl Margaritas.

Up till this year's annual smackdown, we had taken a pass on the "reduced" options in favor of chili, guacamole, meat snacks and nachos. But the two of us are mindful of what we're eating these days. Plus, some folks have declared 2011 the Year of the Vegetable. So the challenge was to come up with healthful fare, suitable for snacking by the handful.

As we've mentioned before, vegetables are the most-consumed food in America on Super Bowl Sunday no matter how many pizza delivery vehicles you see. It wasn't our intention to go meatless, yet that's what happened on both sides. Nutritionists like to tout the filling aspects and "nutrient density" of vegetables; the term means they provide lots of good nutrition (carbs, vitamins, minerals) relative to the amount of calories they'll cost you.

That's all well and good. However, we're more keen on delivering variety, flavor and a modest amount of good fats. Crunch is a bonus. To score big points, we pulled ingredients out of America's melting pot that don't usually make it off the bench.

To tell you the truth, with the game being played in Dallas, it seems a little cruel for Joe to ignore his Texas roots and go a different way this time around. (It's not too late for a Frito pie, makeover, is it? Bonnie asks. Joe answers: Yes, it is.)

Joe strayed not just from Texas, but from purist-traditionalist territory as well. Inspired by the presence of Korean puffed-grain snacks in some area grocery stores (the big selling point: They're better than rice cakes), he pureed kimchi with Neufchatel cheese for an easy team of something spicy and something cooling. Any excuse to pull out that red bottle of Sriracha.

His other entry is Southern, sort of. Collard greens take the place of grape leaves and get stuffed not with rice, lamb and raisins but with garlicky cheese grits. (Don't get the wrong idea: The cheese is 50 percent reduced-fat cheddar.) The tidy bundles take two traditional deep-Southern side dishes and turn them into an appetizer fit for dipping into Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce.

Looking for something new, Bonnie found a carrot-cashew spread with sweetness and a secret ingredient to stand in for salt. Unlike Joe's dip, the spread is a utility player, ready to dress a veggie sandwich or cover a multigrain cracker.

Her other selection takes a cue from recent finds at the Indian market. Bite-size fried foods are right at home in a Super Bowl spread; the mixture to form them starts with pureed dried chickpeas and is spiked with jalapeno, cilantro, curry leaves and mint: heads-up play. The result is a kind of hush puppy, golden on the outside and green on the inside. An omen for a Packers victory, you might say. Best of all, they can be made in advance and reheated in the oven.

What we offer isn't meant to displace the Super Bowl eats of the day; it merely offers an end run for those who want to stay in bounds, resolution-wise. So think about adding more vegetable power to your party lineup, whether it's one of this year's smackdown recipes or something in our Recipe Finder. Couch potatoes do not count.

If you need further proof of vegetable preeminence, remember who's headlining the halftime show: the Black Eyed Peas.

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