How a Kentucky Chef Celebrates Derby Day

Chef Meg's Slow Cooker Kentucky Burgoo

By Chef Meg Galvin, Healthy Cooking Expert at

Some folks throw Super Bowl parties. In Lexington, Kentucky, where I'm from, we throw a Derby party.

The Kentucky Derby is packed full of tradition: fancy hats for the ladies, mint juleps, Derby pie, asparagus, and, my favorite, Burgoo, a slow-cooked stew. I forgot to mention, there are also horses involved, but just like everything else in my life even the Derby is always about the food.

What's on the menu at most Derby parties?
  • Mint Juleps, an iced beverage made with Kentucky bourbon, mint and simple syrup and served in frosted silver cups
  • Steamed and chilled asparagus
  • Deviled Eggs with Diced Beets
  • Fresh garden peas
  • Beaten Biscuits with Country Ham
  • Burgoo, a stew made with pork, chicken, beef, mutton… almost any combination of meats you want
  • Chocolate-pecan pie with bourbon

Sounds good to me but the fat-laden beaten biscuits, salty ham, and high-calorie pie will not be a cashed-in ticket for health. Don't fear, with some minor changes and simple swaps you can be in the winner's circle too!

Instead of bourbon-laced mint juleps try some mint flavored green tea. The trick to making the drink so tasty is the crushed ice and muddled mint. Place two sprigs of mint into the bottom of a silver or glass tumbler. Bruise the mint with the handle end of a wooden spoon. Add crushed ice and cool green tea, then shake or stir. Garnish with a mint leaf.

My deviled eggs are more angelic than most, but why not try a beet salad with dandelion greens with chopped eggs as a garnish? This version omits the fatting mayonnaise. In central Kentucky, dandelion greens are abundant. Head out into the yard (if yours has never been treated with pesticides) and pull up dandelion greens. Once the flower blooms, you should not eat the greens. Though most people treat the green as a pesky weed in their yards, they're quite nutritious and a tasty bitter green. Turns out you have a garden if your own front yard and you did not even know it. Pull 'em, wash 'em and eat 'em. Toss two diced pickled or roasted beets with 4 cups of dandelion greens and 1/4 cup of my Basic Garlic Dijon Vinaigrette. Garnish with 1 hard-cooked egg.

Burgoo it is a thick stew made from pork, lamb, veal, beef and chicken. Sounds like they killed the whole barnyard to make a batch. My version of burgoo reduces the proteins to just two, chicken and pork, and packs in the flavor by adding corn, lima bean, carrots, onions, and sweet potatoes. Better yet, I make in the slow cooker so it can simmer all day and I keep my oven free for baked asparagus-ham appetizers.

Pull out your fanciest, invite your friends over, and watch the horses on the first Saturday in May. Or serve this Bluegrass State-inspired menu at any springtime gathering.

SparkPeople Healthy Cooking Expert Meg Galvin is a World Master Chef, culinary instructor, and the author of "The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight." A farmer's daughter and marathon runner, she lives in northern Kentucky with her husband and three teenage sons.