Super Bowl spreads tend to be pretty meaty. They might be anchored by a big bowl of beef chili, some sloppy joes or burgers — or just a big order of pepperoni pizzas.
But what about taking a cue from some NFL players' diets and going plant-based instead?
In recent years, a number of pro football players have been eschewing meat in favor of vegetarian or even vegan diets. The thinking is that there can be enough protein and nutrients in plants to not only keep you strong, but maybe even up your performance.
Trent Williams from the Washington Redskins turned vegan in the past year, and teammates Arie Kouandjio and Isaiah Williams are following suit. Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers identifies himself as "mostly" vegan, as does the Patriots' Tom Brady (along with his wife, model Gisele Bundchen). Free agents Colin Kaepernick and Griff Whalen, and Tyrann Mathieu of the Arizona Cardinals eat vegan.
Plant-based eating continues to grow as a trend, whether that's full-on vegan (no dairy, eggs, honey or any product that comes from an animal), vegetarian (no meat or fish) or pescatarian (only fish in a vegetarian diet, but no poultry or meat). Proponents praise its benefits for the body and for the earth and its resources.
But how do you make this diet the basis of a delicious and crowd-pleasing Super Bowl bash?
It's not as hard as you would think. Going plant-based can be a good way to reframe your party and shake things up.
A nacho bar with a ton of toppings
Put out platters of hot cheesy nachos, and let people serve themselves and choose from an assortment of toppings: olives, simmered black or refried beans, salsa, sour cream, scallions, chopped tomatoes, sliced jalapenos, diced avocado or guacamole — whatever strikes you as a good, meat-free addition to cheese-draped tortilla chips. Keep those hot platters of nachos coming out of the oven every half hour or so.
A hummus pita station
Spread warm pitas with store-bought hummus, and give your guests a range of toppings to finish them off with. Pomegranate seeds, minced scallions, za'atar seasoning, sautéed diced butternut squash, chopped cucumber, roasted peppers, sautéed greens. This can easily be a vegan offering.
A big pot of chili
Make that big pot of chili — but keep it vegetarian/vegan. A variety of beans plus loads of vegetables like carrots, squash and tomatoes seasoned with all those great Tex-Mex seasonings will satisfy that comfort-food craving without the meat.
A big grain and vegetable salad
Pick a favorite mixed-vegetable salad recipe and add a couple cups of your favorite cooked grain to add substance and texture. For instance, start with diced and sliced raw vegetables, such as zucchini, cherry tomatoes and red onions. Add some crisp-tender cooked vegetables like broccoli florets or slender green beans, and even some chopped lettuces with presence, like arugula or radicchio. Then toss with your favorite vinaigrette and some cooked spelt, farro, millet or quinoa. Also easily vegan.
Put out an assortment of raw vegetables with a simple homemade herb dip of 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1/2 cup sour cream, and a handful of chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, oregano, thyme, chervil, parsley and cilantro. Add herbs until it is as flavorful as you wish, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Or sub in firm silken tofu for the dairy. There are a number of creamy tofu-based dips to try; search online or a vegan-friendly cookbook.
A cheese platter
Not for the vegans, but vegetarian-friendly, and supported with great crackers and slices of baguette. You can offer as few as three cheeses, such as a firm, aged cheese (a good cheddar, a Swiss-style cheese such as Gruyere, or a Spanish Manchego); a soft cheese (like a brie, camembert or St. Andre); and maybe a blue cheese. Supplement the platter — and make it look pretty — with handfuls of dried fruit, roasted nuts, and a condiment like pepper jelly or fig jam.
The list of possibilities goes on: crostini and bruschetta (think white bean spread topped with roasted peppers or shredded and sautéed Brussels sprouts); roasted sweet potato wedges; deviled eggs; vegetarian sushi; falafel; edamame; slaws — suddenly the absence of meat doesn't seem so noticeable after all.