Football season is prime time for tailgating, that uniquely American rite of sports fans. Some devotees are so obsessed they stay in the parking lot after kickoff time, cooking, partying and possibly watching the game on television.

Tailgate fare ranges from sandwiches, a thermos of coffee, two folding chairs and a cooler to a full-out fiesta dished up from a virtual field kitchen complete with gas generator. Some tailgaters set out candelabra and fine china on a cloth-draped table. For some hearty party types, especially in the deep South, pre-game festivities have moved from the back of pick-up trucks, hence the name tailgating, into mobile homes lined up in stadium parking lots.

Teams of tailgaters plan elaborate and elegant menus including grilled ratatouille and mustard-glazed pork tenderloin, or favor simple meals comprised of burgers, stew, or any other one-pot dish that satisfies tailgating's macho, meat-centric mentality.

Two tailgating essentials, meat and grilling, bring chili to mind. So does a recent cookbook devoted to tailgating that lists over 30 items considered essential equipment, including pots to place on the grill for cooking from scratch. But simple or involved, chili is a perfect choice for a tailgaiter's meal, or for those who prefer to watch a game surrounded by all the comforts of home.

Usually, vegetables get short shrift in a tailgater's spread in favor of copious quantities of red meat, especially when all the tailgaters are guys. The Tailgate Chili below, made with turkey, beans and grilled vegetables, makes a healthier end-run around such unbalanced fare.

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Grilling gives the onions and eggplant called for below a smoky, intense flavor. The Japanese eggplant melts nicely into the finished chili, which can be made from scratch by starting on the grill and finishing it in a pot, where it cooks in less than an hour. It can also be made in a crock-pot if you generate power at the tailgate site. Or you can make it ahead and transport it hot or ready to heat up.

Tailgate Chili

Makes 6 servings

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Ingredients

  • Canola oil spray
  • 2 Asian eggplants, cut diagonally in 3/4-inch slices (about 1/2 lb.)
  • 1 large red onion, cut in 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 can (28 oz.) whole tomatoes
  • 1 lb. ground turkey or lean beef
  • 3 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp. dried oregano
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder, or to taste
  • 1 can (4 oz.) green chiles, drained and chopped
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 can (15 oz.) pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Lightly coat a grill with canola spray and preheat. Grill the eggplant and onion slices until they are well marked on both sides, 2-3 minutes for the eggplant, 1-2 minutes for the onions. Remove and set them aside.
  2. Place the tomatoes in a medium Dutch oven, reserving their liquid. Add the turkey. Set the pot over medium-high heat. (If making the chili on a grill, find a spot with even, medium heat.) With a wooden spoon, break up the meat and tomatoes, making a moist mixture. Mix in the chili powder, oregano, cumin and garlic. Add the chile peppers and cilantro. Cover and bring to a simmer.
  3. Cut the eggplant into 1-inch pieces and coarsely chop the onions. Stir them into the chili along with the beans. Cook, covered, until the meat is cooked through, about 20 minutes on the stove, up to 45 minutes on a grill. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:
230 calories,
7 g. total fat,
2 g. saturated fat,
23 g. carbohydrate,
19 g. protein,
7 g. dietary fiber,
564 mg. sodium

Diabetic Exchanges: 2-1/2 Lean Meat, 1-1/2 Vegetable, 1 Bread/Starch


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