By SHANNON WATKINS
Tailgate season is upon us, like a blessing or a plague, depending on how you feel about sports. Well, it’s been here for a while, but we still have more to get through. I have to admit that generally speaking, the only way I like football is live, because it’s exciting and because other than enjoying the thrill of it happening right in front of me, I’m not terribly fluent in its ways.
(My friend Andy up in Boston once asked me if the Hokies were a major league team, which was both hilarious and endearing, though to be fair I’m only about a step and a half above him in sports knowledge. To round out the picture, however, he’s a smart and curious scientist who never stops exploring, and makes great coconut candy.)
The other thing I like about live football is how it brings out the really unhealthy cook in everyone. If it’s possible to add nacho cheese and bacon to smoked spicy chicken wings before dipping the whole concoction in a sweet BBQ glaze and serving it as a side to a deep fried bread bowl of five-alarm chili and a beer, tailgaters, bless their cholesterol-ridden hearts, will figure out how. Although depending on how close to the stadium your friends have set up the party and how far you have to walk from where you parked in Outer Timbuktu, you might work off most of the calories in advance, especially if you’re toting a cooler full of ice.
Of course there’s the popular “indoor tailgate party,” which translates as “we couldn’t afford tickets so we plan to yell at the teams from the comfort of our armchairs like always, except we’re also going to invite some friends over and eat way more grease than usual.” What it lacks in bracing outdoor air and the chance to meet new fans face to face, it makes up for in clean, convenient bathrooms and the ability to leave when it’s over without wading through bumper to bumper traffic.
In either case, I’m going to recommend you not try to one-up Bette’s Warm Queso Parmesan Cheddar Colby Monterey Jack Fondue Dip With Melted Cheese Topping or Crazy Eddie’s Flaming Habanero Baby Back Rib Jalapeno Bacon Chili Poppers, or anyone’s brisket or pulled pork BBQ or bratwurst. People are very proud and a little jealous of their signature tailgate recipes, as much as they are of their teams, and like sports fandom, it’s wise not to mess with what’s already established.
When asked if you’d like to come to someone’s tailgate, you can offer to bring the veggie dish. Everyone will think you’re wussing out by picking up a vegetable platter, but that’s OK. Like a good tackle, they won’t know what hit them.
I first encountered this particular dip on a beach vacation; my grandmother made it, which likely means it came from the Virginian-Pilot’s food page. I can assure you that despite its summery origins, it’s good all year long and has the perfect crunch and coolness to stand up to Bob’s Sizzling Spicy Sausage Guacamole Pinto Bean Spread.
I’d recommend, after you chop all the veggies, you lay them in one layer on top of a couple of paper towels and blot them slightly dry with a couple more on top. The salt in the dip tends to draw the fluid out of them, making it somewhat watery if it sits as long as it’ll need to for the flavors to meld. Tortilla chips will do alongside this in a pinch, although some fancy savory crackers are good, too. And unless it’s a small party, I’d double the amount.
8 oz softened cream cheese
¼ cup mayo
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
¼ tsp. Salt
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp. white or black pepper
2 large cucumbers, peeled, seeded and diced
½ cup chopped sweet red pepper
¼ cup chopped white onion
¼ cup chopped pimiento-stuffed green olives
¼ cup minced fresh parsley or dill, or 1/8 cup of each
Ideally, whirl everything but the vegetables in a food processor for a few pulses; if you don’t have one, whisk it all together by hand. Stir in vegetables until they’re all coated and mixed together, and refrigerate until ready to use. It’s wise to make this a few hours, up to a day, in advance.
You can’t honestly claim this is health food, but it seems virtuous given most of the other stuff everyone eats while tailgating. You’ll show up and plop it down and people will ignore it … at first.
Then, breath laden with meat and spices and beer, they’ll notice your bowl and sidle up to it with guarded curiosity. How cool and herby and tangy, they’ll think, eating a chipful. Then they’ll realize at last that you didn’t bring a boring afterthought, but a perfect assist. You’ll be the hero of the tailgate, not least for now enabling everyone to return with renewed vigor to Bubba’s Bourbon Garlic Guinness Pork Wings. You know. The ones with the extra hot sauce.