How to Choose Side Dishes for Thanksgiving Dinner

So you’re hosting the Thanksgiving dinner this year. Congratulations!

Now comes all the decisions: Turkey, ham, beef? Let’s assume you’ve already chosen turkey—your family is traditional enough to make that decision a slam-dunk.

Choosing the Sides for Thanksgiving Dinner is easy at But what do you serve with that and how do you choose between a traditional Green Bean Casserole and something a bit more exotic?

Or is it better to just stick with the traditional and not go out on a limb? But, what if you want to make your Thanksgiving memorable—good memorable, not bad.

Relax. Picking side dishes is a breeze. After deciding on the main course—that traditional turkey—all the decisions flow down hill from there.

What is your overriding taste?

Sounds pretty simple—and it is. Overall, do you prefer spicy or bland? Salty or sweet? Bold and “out there” or reserved and traditional? Once you figure out your preference—and the general preferences of your family members—it’s just a matter of combing through recipes looking for those that fit the bill.

And the great thing about side dishes, is you really can’t have too many. Plan on serving several with the meal. Some of them should complement the main course, others should contrast it.

What is your chef profile?

Are you adventurous? Do you like to surprise people? Or, do you prefer to see the satisfaction that comes from more familiar, comfort foods?

Here’s a tip: Offer a little of both. Many people come to Thanksgiving dinner with certain expectations: Green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, cranberry salad, yeast rolls. But feel free to take those expectations and tweak them a little—that’s what makes a meal memorable and that’s what makes you a chef. Offer something a little different like Calabacitas – Baked Mexican Zucchini or Avocado and Broccoli Carpaccio with Broccoli Stalk Salad (recipes below).

And remember: The more options you have for your guests, the happier they’ll be.

Sharing Grandma's Thanksgiving Secret on Grandma’s secret

You know how Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma’s house always seemed so effortless? That’s because she had a system—a rule of thumb that helped her choose what to prepare. You can use that same guideline: Go for balance. Veggies and starches. Hot and cold.

Grandma had green vegetables because that’s where the vitamins are, but she also had starches (mashed potatoes, corn, rice) because that’s what everyone will eat.

Design your table

Also, think about what the table will look like fully loaded—especially if your family serves the meal buffet-style. Think about that all-you-can-eat buffet. If you’re like me, you pile so much on your plate because it all “looks so good.” There are different colors and textures, and the presentation is enticing. That’s your aim, too. Make those Brussels sprouts look so good they can’t be turned down.

Here are some general categories to consider for your holiday spread:

  • Green salads: Don’t forget to offer a good variety of dressings, including low-cal options.
  • Vegetable salads: Potato, pea, coleslaw, etc.
  • Fruit salads: Strawberry banana, assorted melons, or tropical fruits—and whatever that “orange fluff” stuff was that Grandma had.
  • Potatoes: Mashed, scalloped, or sweet.
  • Rice: White, brown, wild, or flavored.
  • Pasta: Pasta? At Thanksgiving? Sure, why not? Macaroni and cheese, fettuccine, or spaghetti could fit right in.
  • Vegetables: Steamed broccoli or cauliflower (cheese covered or not), sautéed, stir fried, or in casseroles.

Oh the options! Here are some traditional, as well as some more “out there,” options to try on your family this year. We have many more suggestions!

Shaved Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts reminiscent of coleslaw coated with parmigiano-reggiano cheese.

Print Shaved Brussels Sprouts recipe at Ingredients

  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Cooking Instructions

Preheat an oven to 425 F.

In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the shredder attachment, shred the Brussels sprouts. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet and toss with the olive oil. Season generously with salt and pepper. Roast until wilted and lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and toss with the Parmigiano. Serve immediately.

Acorn Squash Stuffed with Spicy Apple

Wonderful flavor and aroma in this seasonal dish!

Print Acorn Squash Stuffed with Spicy Apple recipe at Ingredients

  • 1 acorn squash, halved
  • 1 apple, peeled cored and sliced
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • dash of cloves

Cooking Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 1-quart baking dish.

Halve an acorn squash and remove the seeds. Place the squash, skin side up, in the dish and cover. Bake for 30 minutes.

In medium bowl combine the apple, butter, brown, sugar, ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Turn cut sides of the acorn squash up and top with the apple mixture.

Cover and bake 30 minutes longer or until the apples are tender.

Gingered Carrots with Dates

Print Gingered Carrots with Dates recipe at Ingredients

  • 1 pound carrots
  • 1/3 cup chopped pitted dates
  • 2 teaspoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon ginger root, minced
  • 3 tablespoons lightly packed brown sugar
  • salt and pepper for taste

Cooking Instructions

Peel and slice a pound of carrots. Transfer carrots to a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and add salt. Reduce the heat and cook uncovered – until tender – about 5 minutes.

Drain the water and return the carrots to the same pan. Add butter, minced ginger root and brown sugar.

Increase the heat to medium and cook stirring for 2-3 minutes. Add dates and cook until warmed though.

Season with salt and pepper.

Calabacitas – Baked Mexican Zucchini

Print Calabacitas - Baked Mexican Zucchini recipe at Ingredients

  • 4 squash
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, put through garlic press or finely minced
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 2-3 chopped green chili pepper or jalapeno pepper
  • 2 ears stripped corn
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese

Scanpan Saute Pan at Cooking Instructions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat oil in heavy-bottomed sauté pan. Put in onion and cook until translucent, but not browned.

Remove with slotted spoon and set aside.

Sauté squash slices in batches so the pan does not get overcrowded, just until slightly tender, but never soft. Stir in garlic, tomato, chiles, corn, and cheese. Stir to combine well.

Pour mixture in buttered 1-quart casserole and bake in preheated 400 degree F oven for 20 minutes.

Cauliflower Gratin

Print Cauliflower Gratin recipe at Ingredients

  • 3 pound head cauliflower, cut into large florets
  • 4 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups hot milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Gruyere, divided
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs

Cooking Instructions

Le Creuset Baking Dish at Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook cauliflower 5 to 6 minutes or until tender but still firm. Drain.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the flour, stirring constantly for 2 minutes to make a white roux. Pour the hot milk into the roux mixture and whisk until it comes to a boil. Continue whisking constantly, for 1 minute, or until thickened. Remove from heat. Stir in 1 teaspoon of salt, pepper, nutmeg, 1/2 cup of the Gruyere, and the Parmesan.

Pour 1/3 of the sauce on the bottom of a baking dish. Add the cooked cauliflower and top with remaining sauce.

Combine the bread crumbs with the remaining 1/4 cup of Gruyere and sprinkle on top. Melt remaining butter and drizzle over the gratin.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is browned. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Avocado and Broccoli Carpaccio with Broccoli Stalk Salad by Chef Amanda Cohen

Print Avocado and Broccoli Carpaccio with Broccoli Stalk Salad by Chef Amanda Cohen recipe at Ingredients

Avocado and Broccoli Carpaccio

  • 3 large broccoli stalks
  • 2 avocadoes
  • 3 tablespoons Thai basil, minced
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon red bird’s-eye chilie, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Broccoli Stalk Salad

  • 3 broccoli stalks
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 2 cups mesclun mix
  • 1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • pinch ground black pepper
  • 2 quarts canola oil, for deep frying

Wusthof Gourmet 8-inch Ridge Knife at Cooking Instructions

Avocado and Broccoli Carpaccio: Using a knife, mince the ginger, garlic, chile, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. About halfway through, add the minced basil to the mixture and continue mixing until a rough paste is formed.

Trim the tough outsides of the broccoli stalks, shaping them into long rectangles. Then, slice the stalks into thin pieces. Put the broccoli slices in a bowl and add the lime juice and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Toss to coat.

Your turn: What is the strangest Thanksgiving sidedish you've ever served or eaten? At Peel the avocado and slice it into rectangles.

On a plate, overlap the strips of broccoli and avocado and trim edges so the sizes match.

Top with the basil paste mixture. Drizzle extra-virgin olive oil over the slices and serve with the broccoli stalk salad.

Broccoli Stalk Salad: In a large pot heat the canola oil to 250 degrees.

Cut the skin off the broccoli stalks, then slice them into thin strips. Coat half of the broccoli stalks in cornstarch and deep-fry until they hold their shape, about 30 seconds. Julienne the remaining half of the broccoli stalks and put in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and toss to coat.

Right before serving, garnish with the fried broccoli strips so they don’t get soggy.

Recipe and image used with permission and courtesy of Wusthof. All rights reserved. Recipe by Amanda Cohen, Chef and Owner of Dirt Candy, New York, NY.

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