For the Super Bowl, make-ahead party dips with a twist

Chili crisp onion dip, above, stars alongside lemon pepper chicken dip and pimento queso dip for the Super Bowl.
(Ben Mims/Los Angeles Times)

Call me old-fashioned, but when I have friends over for dinner, I like to see them. But too often, I miss out on catching up because I’m in the kitchen finishing a pasta dish or stirring whatever’s on the stove to ensure that my guests eat a hot meal. However, when it comes to events like the Super Bowl or awards shows — the kind where our attention will be on the TV and not necessarily on one another — I draw the line at cooking à la minute, because the food is secondary and I want in on the fun too.

So for this Super Bowl Sunday, I’m having friends over but not cooking … the day of. I’m going to make dips — one cold, two hot — that I can set out on the coffee table in front of the TV. People can make a meal out of the dips and the nutritionally questionable sticks and chips surrounding them. After all, it’s the Super Bowl, and the food is supposed to be as silly and over the top as the occasion itself. To fit that ethos, I tackle three iconic dips, but with a spin.

First up is classic onion dip, but spiced with Sichuan chili crisp. I won’t lie: The inspiration came one hangry afternoon when I was in a panic over a dip for some leftover chips. I stirred chili crisp into sour cream, and it was heaven. And no wonder — it’s like making Lipton onion soup mix dip but substituting the soup mix with another flavor-bomb condiment that perfectly cuts through the rich dairy, this time with heat. To make it my own, I fry onions as if I were making the classic dip, then add garlic and chile flakes. If you have Sichuan peppercorns, Chinese five spice and MSG (just me?), toss those in for an even more potent kick. Serve with ridged potato chips like Ruffles, because some things are sacrosanct.

For a different kind of heat, I remake the classic hot buffalo chicken dip from the back of the Frank’s Red Hot sauce bottle, but in the image of my favorite chicken wing flavor, lemon-pepper. Cream cheese grounds the dip, while lemon zest and juice and freshly cracked black pepper give it a zingy kick. Crumbled feta bridges the bright citrus/rich dairy divide and crushed chile flakes and garlic powder add more savoriness to amp up the shredded chicken. Just like the wings, I serve the dip with carrot and celery sticks because of tradition and, well, if there’s gotta be vegetables on the table, they can only be those two.

And lastly, queso. When I was growing up, any occasion to watch football in my home meant serving queso — but not the Tex-Mex kind made with real cheese. No, our queso was made with Velveeta and a can of Ro-Tel tomatoes and chiles. For my spin, I keep the Velveeta — sorry, real cheese and a roux never get smooth enough — but replace the Ro-Tel with pimento peppers and kalamata olives for a “pimento cheese” spin that would make my Southern family proud. I serve it in a small slow-cooker to keep it warm and liquid throughout the night, and top it with shredded cheddar and jack cheeses, sour cream and minced shallots to bring home the flavor of the classic Southern cheese spread.

These recipes are silly and fun, but that’s the point, so just go with it. If a night of trashy convenience food is the price to pay for getting to hang out with friends during the game instead of playing private chef in the kitchen, that’s a win I’ll root for any day.

Get the recipes:

Lemon Pepper Chicken Dip

Time45 minutes
YieldsServes 4 to 6

Fried Onion-Chili Crisp Dip

Time30 minutes, plus chilling overnight
YieldsMakes 2 ½ cups

Pimento Queso Dip

Time20 minutes
YieldsMakes 3 cups