When it comes to Thanksgiving, I’m a sides girl. I love a variety of vegetable and savory dishes. My strategy is to take a spoonful of each, taste them one at a time, and leave room for a second helping of those I like best. I especially love an offbeat side that breaks from tradition, finds its way to the table, and introduces the crowd to a new flavor. Because, let’s face it, some standard dishes could use an update.
I keep a running list of vegetable and side dishes that I’ve made throughout the years and that would make acceptable alternatives to their typical Thanksgiving counterparts. Though some family members may scoff at this oh-so bold and daring idea (including my Dad), my goal is to expose my guests to new and exciting things. Following are four side dishes that I’ve prepared with great success. You don’t need to swap out your entire traditional menu – or take the spotlight off the turkey (after all, it is his day) – but I do encourage you to break with tradition by spicing up some of your sides with unconventional but flavorful alternatives.
Pick one or two from the list below to add to your table. Even if the traditionalists at dinner won’t stray from the standard stuffing and mashed potatoes, I guarantee you’ll win over at least a few diners.
Roasted brussels sprouts with red grapes and walnuts
makes 8 servings
1/3 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
24 ounces of brussels sprouts, halved if large (2 stalks or about 8 cups)
18 ounces dark red grapes (about 3 cups)
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
balsamic vinegar glaze (optional)
Preheat oven to 425º F. Soak the bamboo skewers in cold water for 15 minutes, which helps avoid splintering.
Toast the chopped walnuts in a dry skillet over medium-high heat for about 3–5 minutes, stirring occasionally, and being careful not to burn them. Place walnuts aside and allow to cool.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Thread 4–5 each of brussels sprouts and grapes onto each skewer. Arrange the skewers on the baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Roll the skewers in the oil, ensuring brussels sprouts and grapes are well coated. Season with salt and pepper then place in oven. Roast for 10 minutes then turn the skewers over and continue roasting for another 10 minutes or until the brussels sprouts are crisp and golden and grapes begin to caramelize. (Roasting time may vary depending on the size of the brussels sprouts.) Drizzle with balsamic glaze and walnuts before serving.
Corn bread stuffing with chorizo
makes 6–8 servings
1 pound chorizo
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
3 cups corn bread, crumbled
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
Prepare corn bread according to instructions then allow to cool. (I used Jiff corn bread for this recipe, but Trader Joe’s has a great mix, too.) When it’s cool, break it into crumbled pieces.
Preheat oven to 350º F. In a sauté pan over medium heat, cook the chorizo until it begins to brown. Add onion, carrots, celery, and garlic. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables brown, about 10 minutes. Add crumbled corn bread and 1/4 cup cilantro followed by the chicken broth. Stir gently.
Spray or butter the sides and bottom of a casserole dish then spoon the stuffing into it. Bake until the stuffing is heated through and lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Garnish with remaining cilantro.
Sweet potato and cauliflower gratin with sage
makes 6–8 servings
1 head cauliflower, quartered and cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
kosher salt and fresh black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
2 pounds sweet potatoes, cut into 1/4-inch slices and sprinkled with salt
Preheat the oven to 375º F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the cauliflower slices for 5-6 minutes. The cauliflower should be tender, but still firm. Drain it and set aside.
Add olive oil to a saucepan, stir in flour and cook over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Pour in the milk, whisking continually, until the mixture comes to a boil. Continue stirring for one minute, allowing the mixture to thicken then immediately remove the pan from heat. Season lightly with salt and pepper then stir in 1/2 cup of the grated cheese and the chopped sage.
Pour one-third of the milk mixture into the bottom of a deep 8-by-11-inch baking dish. Using half of the the sweet potatoes and cauliflower, create a layer on the bottom of the baking dish. Pour another third of the milk mixture over the vegetables then create another layer with the remaining vegetables. Pour the remaining milk mixture over the top. Cover the dish first with parchment paper then aluminum foil. Place dish in oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Raise the oven to 425º F. Remove the foil and parchment paper, sprinkle remaining cheese on top of the vegetables, and bake until golden brown, about 10-12 minutes longer.
Ginger-chile green beans
makes 8 servings
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, roughly chopped
4 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 mild red chile peppers, thinly sliced (I used cascabel peppers from my garden, but any mild pepper will do)
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 pounds fresh green beans, ends trimmed
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallot, ginger, garlic, and chile peppers and season with salt. Sauté for two minutes or until the shallot begins to turn translucent. Add in the green beans, toss to coat with the seasoned oil mixture, add salt and pepper to taste, and cook for two minutes. Turn the heat down to medium-low and sauté for 5 minutes longer, stirring occasionally. In the meantime, whisk together vinegar and sugar then pour over the green beans. Toss to coat and cook for one more minute. Serve immediately.