The holiday season is upon us, and with it comes the annual family gatherings. But as we all know, no feast would be complete without side dishes to complement the main course.
A classic Thanksgiving plate of creamy mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potato casserole, and fresh green beans goes great with roast turkey, yet it's always nice to have a few unexpected dishes to go with the traditional sides.
If you’re looking for new ideas, check out this list of scrumptious dishes to accompany the main course. You’ll want to save these recipes for future use! Some of these Thanksgiving side dish recipes can be prepared ahead and frozen or refrigerated for up to two days.
Vegetable Thanksgiving Side Dishes
Thanksgiving tables tend to be loaded with rich, heavy dishes, so lighter fare can be a healthy and much-appreciated balance. Find a way to work vegetables into the cooking process. For example, broccoli can be cooked on the grill, roasted until soft, or stir-fried. Roasted Brussels sprouts are delicious pan-fried, sauteed in butter, or steamed in an Instant Pot.
Here are a few other ideas for vegetable sides that could make your holiday meal even more magnificent.
A roasted cauliflower side dish can be as simple as dicing up some fresh florets and roasting them in the oven until tender. Alternately, you can make cream of cauliflower soup by blending cooked cauliflower with broth, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Add a little heavy cream for extra flavor. Transfer the mixture to a saucepan and heat until simmering.
Green beans are a Thanksgiving meal staple and work well prepped the day before to save time. You can roast them in olive oil and toss them with roasted almonds, crushed croutons, and parmesan cheese. A traditional green bean casserole is always a favorite, but the more adventurous cook might stir-fry the beans with olive oil and crushed garlic. Brussels sprouts can fill in for green beans if you prefer.
Instead of serving canned beets, buy a fresh bundle to peel and then boil or steam until tender. Allow to cool, add a pinch of salt, and puree using your blender. The puree will be a rich red, and you can top it with colorful string beans, glazed carrots, and broccoli rabe. To roast the beets instead, slice them and toss with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and salt. Cook at 400 degrees, stirring occasionally, until tender.
Pasta Thanksgiving Side Dishes
Thanksgiving probably isn't the time to avoid carbs, so get out your pasta strainer and start on some scrumptious sides that everyone will love. Pasta comes in many shapes, colors, and flavors, so you can use it to make the table more vibrant and interesting.
Ziti is a popular Italian dish that's tasty and easy to include in your Thanksgiving menu. Besides the ziti pasta, you'll need some fresh ingredients like basil and mozzarella cheese for an added flavor boost.
To make a basic baked ziti, cook the pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium heat, cook chopped onion with olive oil until it becomes translucent, and toss in garlic and dried red pepper flakes for an extra kick. Next, add a can of crushed tomatoes (or tomato puree) into the pan along with salt and pepper to taste. Then add the pasta and heat everything for about five minutes.
Pour one-third of the mixture into a baking dish and cover with mozzarella cheese, repeating twice more. Finally, top your masterpiece with fresh basil leaves and more cheese before baking it in the oven at 400 degrees for about twenty minutes. You can also prepare this dish up to two days before and refrigerate or freeze it before baking.
Creamy Orzo with Spinach
Orzo is a rice-shaped pasta that works well for this creamy side dish, but you can also use farfalle (bowtie pasta).
To start, melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat and cook onions until they become translucent. Then stir them up with fresh spinach leaves before adding the cooked pasta into the pan. Next, pour half-and-half cream into the pan and add salt, pepper, nutmeg, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper for a bit of heat. Cook until hot and top with grated cheese before serving.
You can also make this dish in advance and reheat when needed. Add fresh herbs (sage, thyme, or parsley) for a fun twist. Orzo is also delicious with creamy homemade mushroom sauce, cheddar cheese sauce, or a sour cream sauce.
Macaroni au Gratin
If you want a cheesy side on your Thanksgiving table with more elegance than the usual mac and cheese, try macaroni au gratin. This side dish with a creamy sauce is baked until hot and bubbly, and the breadcrumbs on top give an added crunch.
Start by cooking the pasta according to package directions; then drain and rinse under cold water before pouring into a baking pan. Next, melt butter and cheese in a saucepan on medium heat and add flour, salt, pepper, and dry mustard powder all at once. Slowly pour in the milk while whisking constantly until smooth, and then reduce to low heat. Cook for five minutes before adding more cheese into the pan.
Stir until integrated and then pour over pasta. Top with breadcrumbs. Bake it in the oven for about twenty minutes at 375 degrees.
Squash Side Dishes
Like it or not, Thanksgiving dinner calls for a squash side dish on your dinner table. Maybe squash isn't popular with everyone, but it's beautiful on your holiday table, full of vitamins, and is probably what the Pilgrims ate. When properly prepared, it's also delicious. Here are a few ideas to convert the squash haters into lovers at first glance.
The best way to make butternut squash is to roast it. This simple cooking method brings out the flavor of the squash and any other foods cooked alongside it.
Preheat an oven to 350 degrees and cut your butternut squash lengthwise so that you have two long halves with flat bottoms. Scoop out seeds from each half and place each on a baking sheet with the flat side down. Then, add one tablespoon of water to each baking sheet so that the squash can glide easily while cooking. Roast for 45 minutes, or until the squash is soft all over when you pierce the skin with a fork. Finally, sprinkle with parmesan cheese and sea salt before serving (and offer guests a few grinds of fresh ground black pepper).
For another take, try roasted acorn squash topped with cranberries, pecans and drizzled with maple syrup.
Sweet Potato Mash
Mashed sweet potatoes aren't exactly squash, but they have a similar taste and look beautiful in a big ceramic bowl. To make your mash, peel and dice sweet potatoes into small chunks that are all roughly the same size. Put them in a pot with water, cover, and cook on high until the water begins to boil. Reduce to low heat, add butter or olive oil as desired, and simmer for about an hour until they're soft enough to mash easily with a little heavy cream.
If you don't want to serve mashed sweet potatoes with regular mashed potatoes, you'll find many recipes for sweet potato casseroles. Pick one with marshmallows on top!
What Are the Two Most Popular Thanksgiving Side Dishes?
Classic mashed potatoes likely earn the title of America's favorite Thanksgiving side dish, and some might argue the creamy side is even more popular than the turkey itself.
Start by chopping four to five peeled russet potatoes into cubes. Add them to a pot of salted boiling water. Allow the potatoes to boil for about thirty minutes, or until they become soft enough that you can easily insert a fork in them without resistance. Drain all of the water from the pot before adding four tablespoons of butter, one cup of milk, and salt to taste. Use a hand mixer or blender on low speed to mix these ingredients until they are smooth with no lumps. Add salt and pepper for taste.
Green bean casserole is another popular dish for Thanksgiving. To make this side, you'll need to prepare about one pound of fresh green beans, two tablespoons of butter, and three ounces of cream cheese cut into small pieces. Add all in a pot with four chopped garlic cloves, cooking over medium heat for about five minutes or until everything softens slightly. Next, add a half-cup of milk and cook for an additional five minutes. You want to allow the liquid to reduce by about half before adding one cup of French fried onions and stirring until everything is evenly mixed. Once the food reaches your desired temperature, remove it from the heat. Add salt and pepper if needed, and serve warm right away with your main course.
Serving the Thanksgiving Plate
If you're not serving a Thanksgiving turkey, your sides might veer away from tradition to play on the flavors of your main course. Ham, steak, lamb, or duck are great choices for creative sides like cauliflower soup with crispy shallots, roasted beets, and spoon bread. (These side dishes would work with turkey too!)
Of course, while holiday traditions are meant to be passed from generation to generation, every Thanksgiving plate is a little different.
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Photo credit: Libby Penner