THE QUESTION: “I’m hosting a largish Super Bowl party. Among the guests will be at least one vegan and a family that “avoids gluten” in addition to the various other tastes and dislikes. How can I feed everyone?”
The Answer: Focus on a food or theme that can be a make-your-own assembly line for your guests. No matter how much of the game you want to watch, the least frustrating way to feed a large crowd is to focus your attentions on one really flavorful foundation; one that meets all diets and that you can make the day (or several days) before the event. Then all you need to do is shop for accoutrement. This way there's one thing that you worked hard on, that everyone can eat and you don’t have to worry about time management on the day of.
Sweet and Smoky Vegan Chili
For either of the following foundation options, or a way to organize any other theme you come up with, the idea is to create an assembly line in your kitchen/dinning room (wherever you have more counter/table space). Make sure the foundation item is easily accessible and label everything well if there are serious dietary restrictions or food allergies. The number of toppings/add-ins is totally up to you since you know your guests better than I do, but be sure to hit plenty of traditional “gameday” flavors for a Super Bowl party: cheesey, fried, spice, salty etc.
Option 1: If you want to watch all of the games (or commercials) yourself you need a foundation that can be kept warm. To keep it safe for a large crowd a crock pot is your best bet. I think the solution I came up with this past weekend to cater a seminar for my mom’s work will help. There will be 15-20 people, some vegetarians and a few who keep kosher. It will be held in D.C., in a small space with only a microwave and crock pot to warm the food once it gets there.
So, my answer for both you and myself was assemble your own chili. The chili, or any foundation, itself should be vegan for you because you have a vegan guest, for me because if there was dairy involved in the base the guests who keep kosher wouldn’t be able to add meat. But you can have plenty of meaty add-on options available for those who "need man food". I made my chili with a homemade pepper paste, sweet potato, cranberry beans, pecans and pureed tomatoes, you can get the recipe by clicking here. Making your own paste to use as a base will be the piece de resistance of your party (unless you have very serious rooting interests) as it allows you to create a unique flavor that your guests will marvel at. Plus a blender does all of the hard work for you (pictured above).
In addition to this foundation the optional toppings I chose were shredded chicken, pickled jalapenos, sour cream, toasted pumpkin seeds, and tortilla chips. As a food professional I baked, pickled and toasted myself (and had a fun photo op with my pickles, below), but you could just as easily shred a rotisserie chicken or two from the grocery store and buy your own selection of toppings. Or cook some ground beef. Or slow cook some pork shoulder.
I think the chili solution works well for a Super Bowl party because the best optional toppings for chili are all “game day” staples. Add pork rinds, queso dip, and diced avocado to your selection of optional toppings to be the winner of all football food ever. OR, you could even invite your guests to bring along their favorite add-in/on for chili.
Option 2: If you’d rather host than watch, there’s make-your-own solutions that will keep you in the kitchen. My choice would be flatbreads/pizzas. Mostly because I love making dough (and by far prefer soccer to football), but many of the pre-made doughs and crusts are pretty good, even the gluten free cracker/flatbread ones so get a selection for all of your guest's needs. In this option your foundation will be one or two great pizza sauces. The process will be to have anyone who is in the kitchen design toppings for a flatbread, and make a new one about every half hour. This will result in two party wins: those who are less interested in the game will be amused watching your assembly line pizza shop, those who don’t want to think about food can just grab whatever is hot or smells good. Tip: the oven will have to be at a very high temp (like 500) for best results, so keep an eye on any children and crack a window if you have a sensitive smoke detector.
For a great, savory-yet-vegan tomato sauce my secret is nutritional yeast. The glutamates of the yeast will amp up those in the tomatoes and aromatics already in the sauce. Fresh herbs also help although that’s harder/more expensive this time of the year. This way your vegan guests will get a semblance of cheesy goodness, plus all of the other red sauce pizzas will taste supercharged. Just grab some nutritional yeast at the store and add around ¼-½ cup of it near the end of cooking to your favorite tomato sauce recipe (be sure to use vegetable, olive or safflower oil, NOT butter).
A white sauce isn’t really necessary, but I love a good buffalo chicken flatbread with Alfredo sauce (pictured above) so I thought I’d mention it. For a great white sauce my secret is steeping smashed garlic in the milk before turning it into a sauce. To do this slowly heat the milk with 5-10 cloves of smashed garlic until just before boiling, then remove from the heat, cover, and let sit for an hour.
As for optional flatbread toppings: Any vegetable that can be sliced thin is amazing. Cauliflower goes well with all traditional pizza toppings. Be sure to pre-cook any sausages or ground meats. Have LOTS of low moisture mozzarella around (kids and beer drinkers alike will use more than you think). Slice any fatty meats like bacon or pepperoni into small pieces to cook quick enough in a home oven.
Option Z: If you want to cook more than just one foundation piece, look up traditional tapas recipes or figure out how many things you can make on a kebab (including smores maybe?). Try as many as you think you can acomplish in the time you have to cook and pass platters around like a fancy party hostess! Your guests will appreciate one bite and/or finger foods plus you can show off. Or get inspired by this party sub smackdown from the Washington Post. Be sure to have at least two options for any dietary concerns you already know about but for the rest, go wild and make whatever YOU want to eat.
The happier you are with any food you're cooking, the better it is going to taste for your diners. Personally, I'm going to be trying out these buffalo style potato skins but with cauliflower bits instead of chicken and then stuff something with shredded pork sholder. May the best team, or best flavors, win!