Summertime means lots of outdoor carnivals, festivals, and fairs. Ask people what their favorite thing about these events is and the answer probably won’t be the rides, the games, or the sideshow attractions. Most likely, what people love most about carnival and fairs is the food. Where else can you find deep-fried food, corn dogs, popcorn and all sorts of food-on-a-stick in one place? The food is fun and yummy, but it’s definitely not healthy.
Perhaps, that is why these events usually only happen once a year. Whether you allow yourself to indulge in these annual culinary treats just a bit or stay away from them all together, you don’t have to miss out on enjoying the fun. It’s possible to make healthier versions of carnival and fair favorites at home. You’ll get all the fun and flavor and your stomach won’t feel like it just took a ride on a roller coaster. Here are some ideas on how to bring carnival, festival, and fair favorites into your own kitchen with a healthier twist.
1. Caramel Apples
An apple a day might keep the doctor away, but dip that apple in caramel and you may want to keep his number in your phone. That is, unless you make a healthy caramel apple. Yes, you can make caramel apples that are delicious and actually good for you. By using vegan butter, almond milk and light organic corn syrup, you can make these amazing Homemade Vegan Caramel Apples. If you prefer keeping it raw, you can make your own raw caramel with dates, water and spices. These Raw Caramel Apples are dunked in raw caramel, covered in pecans and drizzled with chocolate sauce for the ultimate healthy treat.
2. Hot Dogs, Sausages, and Corn Dogs
Depending on which region you are in, fairs and festivals may offer hot dogs, corn dogs or sausages with a variety of toppings. You can buy veggie dogs and vegan sausages or try making your own. These Seitan Hot Dogs are juicy and have a definite frankfurter texture. If you prefer sausages, try these Spicy Italian Sausages that are vegan and gluten-free. Read How to Make Vegan Sausages that Will Hold Up on the Grill to make sure they are strong enough to hold lots of toppings. Or, you can use just veggies and make these Red Cabbage Carrot Dogs or these Spicy Veggie Dogs.
Speaking of toppings, enjoy both classic ones and some toppings that are new and different. Make your own ketchup, your own sauerkraut or turn ordinary condiments into extraordinary ones with a few twists. If you are trying to recreate the food served at Italian festivals, saute sliced onions and bell peppers to put atop Italian sausages for a healthier version of the classic Italian sausage and peppers dish.
Corn dogs are an American classic: put a hot dog on a stick, dip it in a cornmeal batter and fry it until it’s crispy. To make your own corndogs, start by combining 1 tbs. flaxseed and 3 tbs. warm water in a small bowl or mug. Mix and let sit for 10 minutes until it thickens. In another bowl, combine ½ cup cornmeal, ½ cup flour, 2 tbs. sugar, 1 tsp. baking powder, ½ tsp. dry mustard, ½ tsp. paprika, ½ tsp. onion powder and ½ tsp. kosher salt. Mix well. To this bowl, add ½ cup non-dairy milk and the flaxseed/water mixture. Mix until you have a very smooth batter with the consistency of pancake batter. Transfer this batter into a tall glass. This will make it easier to coat the hot dogs. Insert sticks into 6 vegan hot dogs and holding them by the stick, dip each one into the batter to coat evenly. Shake off any excess batter. You can either deep-fry the corndogs in 375 degree oil for 3-4 minutes until golden brown or lay them on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes or until golden brown and crisp. Serve with mustard. You can also cut the hot dogs into pieces to make appetizer-size corndogs.
3. Fried Dough
Whether it’s in the form of churros, zeppole, elephant ears, or funnel cake, the combination of fried dough and powdered sugar is a carnival and fair favorite. For a healthy twist on the classic Mexican fritter, try these Churros With Coconut Sugar and Chili Chocolate Sauce. Funnel cake is batter that literally gets funneled into hot oil and fries up into a flat, wide cake that has lots of surface area for the powdered sugar. Italian festivals serve a ball-shaped version of this called zeppole. I make a French version of fried dough called beignets. My Vegan and Gluten-Free Banana Beignets are fast and easy to make. You can coat them with the traditional powdered sugar or drizzle them with chocolate sauce, goji berry coulis or even maple syrup.
4. Corn on the Cob
Nothing says summer like corn on the cob. This is a fair standard whether you are in one of the big corn-producing states or anywhere, for that matter. Everyone loves biting into crunchy grilled corn that is slathered with butter, spices and other toppings. To make a version of Mexican-Style Street Corn, combine ¼ cup room-temperature vegan butter, 2 tsp. fresh chopped parsley, 2 tsp. fresh chopped cilantro, 1 tsp. Mexican chili powder, 1 tsp. garlic powder, the zest and juice of one lime and kosher salt to taste in a small bowl. Grill the ears of corn for about 10 minutes or until the kernels are tender. Turn the corn frequently and brush with half the spicy butter mixture. If you don’t have a grill, you can do this over a gas-heat burner. Serve the corn with the remaining spicy butter mixture. To replicate the traditional cojita cheese, add almond feta or vegan parmesan to the corn. For an Asian spin, try this Charred Corn on the Cob with Thai Chili Lime Mayo.
5. Fried Everything
It seems like most of the foods at fairs are fried. In fact, it’s well-known that if you want to see the most bizarre fried foods, state fairs are where you will find them. People have battered and deep-fried cookies, cakes, beer, soda, salad and even butter. While fried food should not be on one’s daily menu, it is ok to indulge once in a while. There are ways to make fried food healthier by shallow pan-frying rather than deep-frying and by frying foods correctly so less oil gets absorbed into the food.
One fried fair favorite is fried dill pickles. Usually these are deep-fried, but you can make them by pan-frying them instead. Make a batter with ½ cup flour, ½ tsp. paprika, ½ tsp. garlic powder, ½ tsp. black pepper, ½ tsp. kosher salt, ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper, and ½ cup water or non-dairy milk. Add a few dashes of hot sauce if you want them extra-spicy. Whisk until you have a smooth batter. Spread 2 cups of sliced dill pickles on a dishtowel or paper towels and pat them dry. Add the pickle slices to the batter, shake off any excess batter and carefully add them, one at a time, to a skillet with about an inch of hot oil. Fry until golden brown, about 2 minutes, and remove them with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate. Serve with vegan ranch dressing or your favorite dip. Other healthier versions of fried treats include Vegan Mozzarella Sticks, Mini-Calzones, and Crispy Tofu Nuggets.
6. Food on a Stick
Everyone loves food on a stick. People get to walk around and eat at the same time, all while keeping their hands pretty clean. No utensils necessary! While there are many amazing foods that are traditionally served on a stick such as caramel apples, corndogs, and kebabs, fairs are known for pushing the boundaries and putting anything and everything on sticks.
We can use this technique ourselves at home and keep it healthy, creative and delicious. Enjoy these Tofu Vegetable Kebabs with Peanut Dipping Sauce and these Pineapple Island Vegan Kebabs. Make some Mozzarella-Stuffed Eggplant Meatballs and pile 3 or 4 on a stick. Make Seitan or Tempeh Gyros and thread the “meat” onto sticks. Savor the sweetness of these Grilled Fruit Kebabs. Have your cake and eat it too with Fudgy Brownie Waffles or The World’s Healthiest Krispy Kreme Doughnuts on sticks. Put a stick in your ice cream like in this Ultimate Raw Vegan Ice Cream Sandwiches and these Raw Vegan Banana Ice Cream Pops. Get refreshed with these Pina Colada Popsicles and these Vegan Mocha Pops.
7. Ice Cream
Speaking of ice cream, no summer festival would be complete without something cold and creamy. Indulge in healthy treats like Vegan Cherry Garcia Ice Cream, Raw Almond Chunky Monkey Ice Cream, Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream and Acai Berry Vegan Ice Cream. If you prefer sorbet, try this Rhubarb, Rosewater and Lime Sorbet and this Mango Sorbet with Banana and Pineapple. Ice cream lovers will be blown away by this Raw Banana Ice Cream Sundae and these Raw Ice Cream Sandwiches.
8. Salty Snacks
For those without a sweet tooth, the fair offers plenty of salty snacks like pretzels, popcorn and nachos. Soft pretzels are delicious especially when they are warm and dipped in mustard. Try this recipe to make your own Sourdough Pretzels. If popcorn is a favorite even when the only toppings are salt and butter, imagine how much you will love Bourbon Caramel Popcorn. Combine popcorn, chocolate and peanut butter to get this incredible Peanut Butter Popcorn Fudge. If you’re looking for me, I’ll be in line trying to decide between the Spicy Vegan Nachos and the Greek Nachos on pita chips.
9. Blue Ribbon Pies
Almost every fair has a contest to see who makes the most delicious pie. This is a tradition that goes back to the beginning of the 20th century. In the One Green Planet pie contest, the contenders include this Seasonal Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, this Chocolate-Coated Key Lime Coconut Crème Pie, this Chocolate Banana Cream Pie, this Blueberry Pie with a Heart-Healthy Crust, and this Vegan Apple-of-My-Eye Pie with Gluten-Free Crust. They all look like winners to me. Also check out “26 Awesome Tarts for Summer” for even more sweet deliciousness.
10. Regional Favorites
Every region has their own signature favorites at state fairs. In the Midwest, whoopie pies are a fair favorite with their chocolate cake and marshmallow filling. Try a vegan version with these Pistachio Whoopie Pies. Many states have some version of cornbread. Try this Whole-Grain Vegan Cornbread, this Harvest Cornbread and these Vidalia Onion Mini Cornbread Muffins. Southern-state fairs offer crisp and tart fried green tomatoes. Try these Fried Green Tomatoes with Red Pepper Aioli and these Fried Green Beer Tomatoes.
You should definitely attend one or more of the many fairs, carnivals and festivals that are held every summer around the country. There are fun games to play, exciting rides to go on and lots of entertaining shows to see. But, when it comes to the food, save your money, your appetite and your bodies and make these healthier versions of fair favorites instead.
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Lead image source: Homemade Vegan Caramel Apples