Alex Guarnaschelli is an Iron Chef, Food Network celebrity chef, author of Old-School Comfort Food and the executive chef at New York City’s Butter restaurants. Read her PEOPLE.com blog every Tuesday to get her professional cooking tips, family-favorite recipes and personal stories of working in front of the camera and behind the kitchen doors. Follow her on Twitter at @guarnaschelli.
The Super Bowl is only partially about the actual game of football. For me, it’s a day filled with snacks, trying something new and enjoying all the super-expensive commercials.
Some people get out their smokers and spicy chicken wing recipes, others grab their guacamole recipes and their tortilla presses. It’s definitely a day to bust out some of your favorite recipes that make you feel American.
What I find people struggle with is something to put out on the table that’s relatively light, something with vegetables. Are we looking for something to replace those wings or hot dogs? Absolutely not—just something else that can compliment it.
I, for one, can usually be found in the kitchen sneaking a jalapeño popper or that last crispy chicken wing dipped in blue cheese dressing. But I also like to mix things up and get a little fancy at times.
Here are some suggestions for your Super Bowl spread:
Burgers with Onion Jam
There are so many ways to make a hamburger and I don’t think we Americans ever get tired of the research.
I love a plain cooked burger but I also love adding extra flavor to the meat mix. Some people like to mix butter into their burgers. I prefer that bit of butter go right on the bun.
As for flavor, I go back to some of my childhood favorites: Worcestershire, sherry. My mom always pulled them out when cooking meat, especially chicken or beef. This mix is inspired by her.
What kinds of meat? I choose an 85/15 blend if I buy pre-ground at the supermarket. If I have a butcher grind for me, I like sirloin and short rib, about equal parts. If possible, I love to mix a little extra beef fat into the blend. My mom swears by ground sirloin and ground chuck. But the truth is, find what works best for what you like, lean or fatty, rich or grassy. Beef changes from cut to cut.
I love American cheese on my burgers. I have eaten a lot of fancy cheeses. I lived in France and enjoyed the finest goat cheeses from the Loire Valley and the tastiest cow’s milk Tomme from the Savoie. I also happen to love melted American cheese at the right time and place.
I serve pickles on the side and sometimes slip a few in the burger. I love all pickles, especially bread and butter pickles, and Cornichons are one of my absolute favorites—they are tart and super crunchy. Yum.
3 large red onions, cut into ½-inch rounds
6 tbsp. canola oil
1 tbsp. light brown sugar
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 ½ lb. hamburger meat
2 tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
2 tbsp. dry sherry
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
8 slices American cheese
Bun and toppings:
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
4 seeded (potato) hamburger rolls, halved
8 slices yellow tomato, about ½-inch thick each
16-20 bibb lettuce leaves
Cornichons on the side
1. Prepare the onion jam: Heat a large sauté pan, toss the onion slices with 2 tablespoons of the canola oil and a generous pinch of salt. Add the sugar and cook over medium heat until the onions are caramelized and tender, 20-25 minutes. Do not rush this step because properly caramelized onions make this burger top notch. You can make the onions in advance and warm them up whenever ready to have the burgers. Stir in the vinegar and cook 1-2 minutes to allow the vinegar to blend in. Set aside.
2. Make the hamburger mix: In a medium bowl, break up the meat and spread it up on the sides so that the seasoning really permeates the meat. Add the soy sauce, sherry and Worcestershire. Mix with your hands to make sure all of the flavors get integrated. Do not over mix. The more you work the meat, the tougher the burger. Form the meat into four even patties that are about ¾-inch thick.
3. Cook the burgers: Heat a large cast iron skillet and add the remaining oil. When the oil begins to smoke lightly, arrange the burgers in a single layer in the pan. Return the pan to the heat and cook, undisturbed, about 3 minutes. Turn them a quarter turn and cook for 3 more minutes. Use a metal spatula to flip them on their second side, place two slices of American cheese on each and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes for rare to medium rare. Remove the burgers from the heat. Pour about ¾ of the excess grease from the pan and add the butter. Allow the butter to melt and soak up the juices and butter with the bun bottoms.
4. Assemble the burgers: Arrange the bottom buns on a flat surface. Spoon some of the onion jam on each and top with one or two of the burgers. Season the tomato slices with salt and pepper and top the burgers with lettuce and tomato. Top with the remaining buns. Devour.
My favorite vegetables are raw carrots, cucumbers, celery, red bell peppers and cauliflower. Try adding a more unusual vegetable in your mix. White mushrooms, for example, have a great texture when eaten raw. Wipe thoroughly with a damp towel to remove any dirt on the surface, trim the bottom part of the stem and make them a part of your spread.
To make your vegetables more distinctive, try rolling some in spices. Carrots are great with some sesame seeds, cucumbers with poppy seeds, peppers with a small sprinkle of cayenne pepper and the cauliflower with some ground cumin. Give your spices even more flavor by warming them in the oven for a minute before dusting.
Or try them with a simple garlic dip recipe like this:
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
15 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 oz. cream cheese
½ cup sour cream
1 tbsp. hot sauce
4 scallions, green and white parts both, thinly sliced
1. Cook the garlic: In a medium pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil and stir in the garlic. Season with salt and cook until the raw garlic taste disappears and the slices are tender, 5-8 minutes.
2. Make the dip: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle, blend the cream cheese and sour cream until smooth. Season with salt and add the garlic, hot sauce and the scallions. Blend until smooth. Taste for seasoning and adjust according to personal taste.
RELATED: Game-Changing Guacamole Recipes
Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
I like to make these sandwiches a few hours in advance and press them between two baking sheets for a few hours in the fridge and then cook when ready to eat. You can also cut them into small pieces before cooking.
Makes: 4 sandwiches
3-4 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 medium red onions, minced
8 large slices sourdough bread, about ½-inch thick
16 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese, cut into 16 even slices
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
1. Cook the onions: In a medium skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter and add the onions. Season with salt. Cook, over low heat, stirring, until they become tender, 3-5 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Cool.
2. Assemble the sandwiches: Place 4 slices of the bread on a flat surface and arrange 4 slices of cheese in a single layer on each slice of bread. Sprinkle with salt and use a small strainer to sift an even layer of paprika over the cheese. Top the cheese with the cooked onions and press the other four slices of bread on top to make 4 sandwiches.
3. Cook and serve the sandwiches: Heat a large skillet. Add 2 tablespoons of the butter and place the sandwiches in a single layer in the skillet. Increase the heat and cook them on one side until brown, 5-8 minutes. Turn on the other and cook until brown, 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a flat surface and cut each one into fourths or sixths. Season lightly with salt. Devour.