Vegans tackle the Super Bowl

Super Bowl Sunday is the hardest holiday for a vegetarian. While the guys on the big screen are passing the pigskin, the folks at the party are passing the pork rinds. And the buffalo chicken wings. And the barbequed meatballs with those festive fringed toothpicks.

I feel like the odd girl out when someone offers me a slab of smoked tenderloin. I’m like, “No thanks. Crudité?” And they’re like, “At least try the meatballs. They’ve got these cool toothpicks.” I defensively blab about cholesterol and processed food, and no one cares because there’s a really funny beer commercial on.

This year I’m grabbing the carrot by the cojones and bringing a macho meatless appetizer to the game. I was inspired by a Facebook post from The No Meat Athlete, Matt Frazier. He’s a vegetarian ultra-marathoner who helps you achieve Herculean feats of athleticism while eating a plant-based diet. In fact, just following him on Facebook makes people think you achieve Herculean feats of athleticism while eating a plant-based diet, which is why I do it. Frazier shared a link for a Buffalo Cauliflower Bites recipe, i.e., cauliflower florets smothered in hot sauce. The accompanying photo showed cauliflower nuggets that were the same gorgeous orange color of harvest sunsets – and Doritos. I had to make it.

The original recipe calls for dipping cauliflower in a batter of gluten-free flour, almond milk, some spices and water. I used all-purpose flour and soy milk since that was what I had handy, and added 2 tablespoons of smoked paprika for, well, smoke. The smoked paprika turned the batter a shade of buffalo-wing red before I even added the hot sauce. Unfortunately, it also made it a bazillion times spicier than any human – macho or not – can eat. Once my tears cleared and I stopped wheezing, I tried again with just ¼ teaspoon of the smoky spice. Perfect.

As long as I was layering heat sensations, I wanted to tweak the hot sauce. Frazier’s go-to recipe suggests Frank’s Red Hot Sauce, which, in its original flavor, is both vegan and easily available. I added a bit of Sriracha for a sweet-spicy kick, and some water to cut the saltiness of the hot sauce. My cauliflower now packed a Super Bowl-worthy punch. It was time to cool it off with a dip.

In the original recipe, cashews and almond milk are blended together. It made a delicious cashew schmear – good on bread but really weird with hot sauce. Another research recipe used fewer cashews and added tahini. That tasted like a cashew butter-hummus smoothie, only nastier. I gave up on the cashews, thinking a homemade vegan mayonnaise would make a more neutral base. When I added garlic and cilantro, it whipped up into a yummy, fluffy ranch-ish dip – which separated into an oily mess after an hour. As a last resort, I kept the garlic and cilantro, and swapped the mayo with puréed cannellini beans. Perfect. This hearty dip looks good all day long, and takes the edge, but not the taste, off the spicy cauliflower. These poppers and dip are so tasty, they’ve earned a place front and center on my snack table. In fact, I’ll arm wrestle you for the last bite.

Macho Vegan Cauliflower
Poppers & Dip

Inspired by a recipe from

4 to 6 servings

1 large head cauliflower
1 cup Frank’s Red Hot Sauce or other vegan hot sauce
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. Huy Fong Sriracha sauce*
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. dry mustard
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. onion powder
¼ tsp. smoked paprika
1 cup plus 3 Tbsp. soy milk
1 15-oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
3 oz. silken tofu
2 Tbsp. coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
3 tsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. white wine vinegar
½ tsp. minced garlic
1∕8 tsp. Kosher salt
1∕8 tsp. white pepper

• Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
• Cut the cauliflower into bite-sized florets. Set aside.
• In a small pot, mix together the hot sauce, ¼ cup water, olive oil and Sriracha. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Keep warm over low heat.
• Combine the flour, mustard, garlic powder, onion powder and smoked paprika in a large bowl.
• Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour in the soy milk, whisking until there are no lumps. Add the cauliflower to the bowl and toss, using your hands, until the pieces are evenly coated with the batter.
• Place the cauliflower pieces in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 10 minutes. Use a fork to flip the cauliflower pieces. Bake another 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and brush the hot sauce mixture over the cauliflower, flipping the pieces with a fork so that all sides can be coated. Bake another 8 to 10 minutes, until the cauliflower roasts and begins to brown.
• Meanwhile, make the dip. Using a food processor, purée the beans. Add the tofu and blend until the tofu is completely incorporated into the beans. Add the cilantro, lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper, and pulse until the ingredients are well blended. For a thinner dip, add water 1 teaspoon at a time and blend until it reaches the desired consistency. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve with the warm cauliflower poppers.

* Some brands of Sriracha may contain shrimp paste or fish sauce. If using another brand, check the label.