Thanksgiving Favorites: Side Dish Edition

By Ashley Wirgau on November, 22 2021
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Ashley Wirgau

November is upon us. The leaves have turned. The air is crisp and cool. Thanksgiving is so close you can nearly smell that turkey roasting – but, honestly, who really cares about turkey?

We all know those Great Aunts and long-lost cousins only show up for the delicious Thanksgiving sides. Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, gravy, biscuits, corn, cranberries and all those casseroles - get those right and that giant bird is nothing but a juicy afterthought.

Basic but Beloved

When it comes to a solid November spread, there are some dishes that simply can’t be missed. The sidekick to every turkey is obviously the gravy, but unfortunately, this very necessary addition can be a little intimidating. Don’t let this scrumptious side scare you away, though. The steps to make gravy are always the same, regardless of the protein. Luckily, Simply Recipes breaks it all down via basic steps for one delicious finished product. Mashed potatoes are next in line as no Thursday plate is complete without at least one scoop of starchy goodness. With all of the demands of turkey day, give yourself the gift of a slow-cooker version to ease the tension and free up some space on the stovetop.

And who could survive Turkey Day without that signature french-fried, onion-topped trademark? For the greatest green bean casserole go straight to the source. Campbell’s soup has been the cornerstone of this casserole since the beginning, so follow these easy steps to create this favorite side. Sweet potatoes are another staple of Thanksgiving tables, but instead of the traditional marshmallow-topped treat, try a healthier approach and roast them this year. Simply peel and cube, toss in olive oil, and sprinkle with sea salt, garlic salt, and a dash of cinnamon. Then, arrange in a single layer on a sheet pan and cook at 425 degrees, turning once or twice until browned and slightly crispy at the edges. Sweet and savory, this new take on an old dish may make you question how marshmallows ever got involved in the first place.

That’s the Stuff

Love it or hate it, stuffing is non-negotiable on most Thanksgiving menus. Tucked away inside the turkey or helped along with a Crockpot, this inexpensive yet filling side even allows room for a smidge of creativity.

To get started, gather up the base ingredient: cubed, dry bread. Most recipes call for white bread, however, nearly any type will do. Rye, sourdough, whole wheat, stale hamburger buns – literally anything can serve as your stuffing base. Next, add chicken or vegetable broth until softened, and mix in sauteed vegetables. Onions and celery are the standard; however, water chestnuts, mushrooms, leeks, and carrots can all serve as substitutes. Maybe add a protein if you’re so inclined. Grandmothers across the country swear by giblets, but breakfast sausage is a present-day favorite. Finally, season generously with salt, pepper, celery salt, parsley, sage, and thyme. Whether you follow the old-fashioned approach or modernize your dressing with an Instant Pot, your guests will thank you.

Make It Cheesy

Americans love their macaroni and cheese, so if you want to make this upcoming holiday one for the ages, have some on hand. Families usually claim their own unique take on this heavenly hit by adding anything from bacon to broccoli to fancy imported crab, but if you find yourself without hand-me-down recipes, check out Taste of Home’s top picks. Mac and cheese is also a great dish to make ahead of time and freeze until needed, an added plus for busy chefs during the holiday chaos.

If this classic pasta pick just doesn’t do it for you, there are heaps of other choices which still pack a cheesy punch. Add cheddar scalloped potatoes or three cheese mashed potatoes to your menu for a different style of starch or maybe whip up a cheesy broccoli & cauliflower bake and pepper-parmesan biscuits instead.

Eat Your Veggies

Vegetables are easily passed over when presented with all those rich, carb-heavy options, so make sure the greens hold their own this season amongst the plentiful Thanksgiving treats. Corn and green beans are delicious steamed and topped with butter, salt, and pepper. Nearly any root vegetable turns tasty when oven-roasted and dressed with olive oil and fresh herbs. And for those ever-trendy brussels sprouts – grab a frying pan. Heat a tablespoon of oil, then add rinsed and quartered sprouts, a hefty drizzle of pure maple syrup, and coarsely chopped bacon. Stir the mixture frequently until the bacon has fully cooked and sprouts are slightly blackened. You’ll be so glad you remembered to eat your veggies.

We like to pretend Thanksgiving is all about the turkey, but let’s be real. Those sleepless nights leading up to the big meal, we sit salivating over the sides, anticipating that first fantastic bite of golden cornbread stuffing or cheesy mashed potatoes. So, dig in and get those recipe cards ready because turkey might be tradition, but the sides are what keep people talking.