8 Favorite Thanksgiving Sides and Vegetable Dishes!

This entry is part 59 of 96 in the series Holiday Foods

Today’s Recipes: Cauliflower Gratin with Cheese and Almond Sauce; Cranberry Orange Sauce; Cream, Crunchy, Cheesy Onions; Garlic-Chive Mashed Potatoes; Green Beans Polonaise; Maple-Ginger Sweet Potatoes with Streusel Topping; New Green Bean Casserole and Roasted Ginger Maple Carrots.

This year I am going to start our Thanksgiving celebration with a collection of my favorite vegetable and side dishes. They each have a sauce or special preparation, but if you prefer, you can always serve your vegetables lightly steamed. Many children who may not usually be good vegetable eaters, gobble them up when they are bathed in a lovely sauce. I usually serve several of these so that there is a wide variety on the buffet for my guests to choose from. A Bachelor degree in culinary arts online is available for those of you interested in pursuing your passion for cooking. 

When it comes to Thanksgiving, I think the vegetables get a bad rap. Everyone heads straight for the turkey, potatoes, and dressing. The poor carrots and beans are a distant thought. But with a few additions and touches, they can be stand-outs on your buffet.

Roasting vegetables brings out their full flavors, and with a few exceptions, all can cook at about the same rate. I look for dishes I can wholly or partially cook ahead so that they only need a little time in the oven or on the stove to finish. And depending on the size of your oven, you can probably cook/heat four dishes at once. I am very fortunate to have a second small oven that really comes in handy during large meal preparation. But for most of my life I only had one regular size oven and I got very good at juggling my menu to fit the oven’s capacity.

Because so much of the typical Thanksgiving dinner is monochromatic, I always want to have some bright color on the plates. Carrots are naturally sweet and when you pair them with a little maple syrup and ginger, they become downright delectable. Roasting them instead of cooking them on the stovetop gives you time to work on other dishes while they cook in the oven. I also add some fresh dill, but you can leave it out or substitute another herb if you prefer. I could eat these every day.

One of my favorite vegetables is cauliflower and here is a recipe you are going to love. Cooked in a white sauce flavored with almonds and a sharp sheep’s cheese that cuts some of the richness, even people who thought they didn’t like cauliflower will be converted! You can prepare this gratin the day before and bake while the turkey is resting. Feel free to substitute another cheese if your family prefers a less assertive flavor. And if your family loves broccoli, you can either add some to the cauliflower or substitute it entirely. 

As much as I love the beautifully roasted turkey, what would we do without the dressing, gravy, vegetables, cranberry sauce, potatoes and sweet potatoes?

Creamy, luscious whipped potatoes really make this Irish gal’s heart sing! But I am a potato purist, I like mine with just a little butter, salt and pepper. Lots of people love them covered with sour cream, cream cheese, shredded cheese, and other additions, but I am perfectly happy with a big bowl of plain mashed potatoes and a spoon!

Garlic mashed potatoes are on every menu these days and most of them are not made well. People think if they throw in a handful of raw chopped garlic that it makes potatoes taste great – but the garlic overpowers the delicate flavor of the potatoes and you bite into harsh, raw bits. There are two ways to make garlic mashed potatoes that are perfectly balanced. You can use roasted garlic, which is creamy and luscious or you can infuse the cream. I prefer infusing because most of the time I don’t have roasted garlic on hand. This method imparts the flavor while leaving the potatoes smooth and creamy.

The other type of potato that is always present at Thanksgiving is of course sweet potatoes. A few years ago on a trip to Las Vegas I had dinner at Prime, Jean-George Vongerichten’s restaurant at Bellagio. It was an experience I will never forget. The entire meal was incredible, but the dish that truly captivated me was the whipped sweet potatoes. They were unlike any I had ever had. Unbelievably creamy with a hint of ginger, they were elegant and incredibly smooth.

Today’s recipe is a slightly more adult version of the typical sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top. Those are too cloyingly sweet for me. This dish is sweet enough to satisfy everyone, with maple for complexity, lemon for balance, and a touch of ginger in homage to Jean-Georges. I have served it plain and with the topping and love it both ways. I hope you do too.

Creamed onions are common in many parts of the country, but a lot of time they are merely a side thought. But when you make today’s recipe, your guests will sit up and take notice. Warm and bubbly, the sauce is balanced with a little Parmesan cheese that enhances the sweetness of the onions. And the panko breadcrumb topping adds a wonderful crunchiness and color. These are not your mother’s boring creamed onions!

If you have only had the jellied cranberry sauce in the can, the one that wiggles when you serve it, you haven’t really tasted cranberry sauce. I never liked it until I made if for myself from scratch and now it is my favorite part of the meal. And it couldn’t be easier to make. You throw everything into a pot, cook it for 10 minutes and it is absolutely the most delicious thing you’ve ever tasted! If you haven’t made it before, this is the year to try. Today’s recipe that I have made since the 1980s, is foolproof. Make sure you set aside a beautiful glass serving dish so the stunning color of this sauce can sparkle on the buffet or table.

Fresh cranberries are sold in the produce section of grocery stores during the holiday season. I always buy an extra bag so I can have some during the rest of the winter. They freeze beautifully. You will need to pick through the berries and throw out any that are mostly white, squishy, or shriveled. You will still have plenty for the sauce. Also look out for their tiny little stems and remove those as well.

An immersion blender, also called a stick blender, allows you to puree directly in the pot you cooked in. They are not expensive and are perfect for making this cranberry sauce as well as pureeing soups and smoothing out gravy. I have had mine for years and it is one of my favorite kitchen tools.

Ultimately you want all the food to be done at the same time. That is probably the hardest part of planning. Remember that once the turkey is done it needs to rest for about 30 minutes so the juices have time to be reabsorbed by the meat. This gives you an opportunity to get everything else in the oven.

One thing that drives me crazy at big dinners is that the food gets cold before you can eat it. You can help keep that from happening with a simple technique … always warm your serving dishes before putting the food in them. If the dishes are cold they will pull the heat out of the food. Or you can follow my lead and leave everything on the stove or in the oven on low. People can help themselves to seconds and everything stays nice and warm. And don’t forget that utilizing your slow cooker or chafing dishes can also be a lifesaver.

Enjoy your vegetables and sides dishes and with a little attention, they may well be the stars of your buffet!

Garlic-Chive Mashed Potatoes
Yields 6
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  1. 1-1/2 to 2 lb Russet (Idaho) potatoes, peeled and cubed
  2. 2 cups heavy cream, half and half, or milk
  3. 2 to 4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  4. 5 whole chives plus 3 tsp minced fresh chives
  5. Salt and white pepper
  1. Cook potatoes in boiling well-salted water until tender (about 20 minutes). Drain in a colander and then return to the now empty pot to dry out slightly.
  2. While the potatoes are cooking, warm cream in a small saucepan with smashed garlic and whole chives. Scald lightly (bring to just under a boil) and then turn heat down to low. The garlic will infuse the cream for a subtle, delicate flavor. Let it steep while the potatoes cook.
  3. Remove the garlic and whole chives from hot cream and discard. If you prefer plain potatoes, leave out the garlic and herbs, but warm the cream anyway – that way it doesn’t cool off the hot potatoes!
  4. Mash the potatoes either by hand or with an electric mixer (never use a food processor), beating them until there are no lumps remaining. Start adding the cream, 1/2 cup at a time, using enough for very soft, not stiff potatoes, because they will firm up as they stand. Stir in minced chives. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Once whipped you can keep mashed potatoes warm by setting them in a bowl over a pan of simmering water with the heat turned off. Cover the bowl (I use a dinner plate) and place on the back of the stove until ready to serve. If the potatoes have stiffened up too much, beat in a little more milk until creamy.
  1. Yield: about 4 to 6 servings
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Maple Ginger Sweet Potatoes with Streusel Topping
Yields 12
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  1. Streusel Topping (optional)
  2. 1/3 cup melted butter
  3. 1 cup light brown sugar
  4. 1/2 cup flour
  5. 1-1/2 cups chopped pecans
  6. Potatoes
  7. 6 lb red sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes (4 to 8 potatoes)
  8. 6 cups apple cider or apple juice
  9. 4 cups water
  10. 2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
  11. 1 stick (4 oz) butter, cut into pieces
  12. 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  13. 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  14. 1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice, optional
  15. 2 eggs, beaten
  16. 1/3 cup milk
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter a 9×13-inch baking dish.
  2. Make the Topping: Combine butter, sugar, and flour and mix until evenly blended. Stir in the pecans. Set aside.
  3. Prepare the Potatoes: In a large saucepan, place the sweet potatoes, apple cider, water, and ginger. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and cook until potatoes are tender, about 30 to 35 minutes. Drain in a colander, shaking to remove excess liquid. Discard ginger.
  4. In the same saucepan, melt the butter. Stir in the sugar, maple syrup, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, reduce heat slightly and cook until sugar is completely dissolved, 3 to 5 minutes. Take off the heat and stir in cooked potatoes. Toss to coat thoroughly.
  5. Transfer to the bowl of an electric stand mixer and using the paddle attachment, beat until smooth. Mix in the eggs and milk. Change to the whisk attachment and whip until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  6. Assemble and Bake Casserole: Transfer potatoes to prepared baking dish, spreading into an even layer. Sprinkle with the topping mix (if using) and bake in preheated oven about 30 minutes or until hot.
  1. Yield: about 10 to 12 servings
  2. MAKE AHEAD: You can assemble the casserole without the topping, cover, and refrigerate overnight. Store the topping separately. The following day let sit at room temperature about 30 minutes to warm up, sprinkle with the topping before baking until hot.
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Green Beans Polonaise
Yields 10
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  1. 6 tbsp butter, divided
  2. 1/4 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
  3. 3 tbsp finely minced fresh thyme leaves
  4. 1 shallot, peeled and finely minced
  5. 3 hard-cooked eggs, peeled
  6. 3 lb fresh green beans, trimmed, stringed, and sliced
  7. 4 large red or yellow bell peppers, seeded and thinly sliced
  1. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Remove from the heat and pour 4 tbsp of the melted butter into a small bowl. Set bowl aside.
  2. Add the breadcrumbs to the remaining 2 tbsp butter in the pan and cook, stirring often, until golden brown. Remove from the heat. When crumb mixture has cooled, stir in thyme leaves. Transfer to another small bowl.
  3. Reheat remaining 4 tbsp butter in the saucepan, add the shallots and cook for about 3 minutes just to soften them slightly. Keep warm over a low heat.
  4. Separate the egg whites from the egg yolks. Finely chop the whites and place in a small bowl, and force the yolks through a sieve and into a separate bowl. Set both bowls aside.
  5. Steam the green beans and peppers until just tender. Drain well and place in a serving dish.
  6. Drizzle with the butter/shallot mixture and toss to coat vegetables. Top with the crumb mixture, sprinkle on the egg whites, and then the yolks. Serve immediately.
Adapted from America’s Best: A National Community Cookbook
Adapted from America’s Best: A National Community Cookbook
The Heritage Cook ® http://theheritagecook.com/
Creamy, Crunchy, Cheesy Onions
Yields 6
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  1. Onions
  2. 2 lb frozen small white pearl onions, thawed
  3. 2 cups water
  4. 1 cup white wine or dry vermouth
  5. 1/2 tsp salt
  6. Topping
  7. 3 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
  8. 1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
  9. 2 tbsp melted butter
  10. Cream Sauce
  11. 4 tbsp butter
  12. 4 tbsp flour
  13. 1 cup cream
  14. 1 cup reserved liquid from onions (above)
  15. 2 tbsp minced fresh parsley
  16. 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves or 1-1/2 tsp dried thyme
  17. Dash pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a medium casserole dish and set aside.
  2. Prepare Onions: Place thawed frozen onions in a saucepan with the water, white wine and salt. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered 20 minutes.
  3. Set a colander over a bowl, strain onions, reserving the liquid. Spread onions out on a baking sheet to cool more quickly.
  4. Make Topping: Melt 2 tbsp butter in a small bowl in the microwave. Stir in the Parmesan and Panko until completely combined. Set aside.
  5. For the Cream Sauce: Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Whisk in flour to make a smooth paste and cook for about 5 minutes or until raw smell of flour is gone. Do not brown the roux, reducing heat if it is cooking too quickly. Slowly whisk in cream and 1 cup of the onion liquid. Cook, stir constantly until thick and smooth. Stir in parsley, thyme, pepper and onions. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Turn into prepared casserole and sprinkle with topping.
  6. Bake at 375°F for 25 minutes or until browned. Serve hot or warm.
  1. MAKE AHEAD: You can assemble the casserole a day ahead (without the breadcrumb topping), cover and refrigerate. The next day, bring to room temperature, remove cover, sprinkle with topping mix and bake as directed.
  2. VARIATIONS: If you like spicy dishes, add some Tabasco or chipotle powder. Vegetables such as cooked peas, diced carrots, celery, bell peppers, etc. make nice additions. Have fun creating a new favorite dish!
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Roasted Ginger Maple Carrots
Yields 6
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  1. 2 lb baby carrots with the tops still on (look for fresh greens)
  2. 1 shallot, peeled and thickly sliced
  3. 1-1/2 tsp olive oil
  4. 1/2 tsp table salt
  5. 1 tbsp butter
  6. 1 tbsp pure Grade-A maple syrup
  7. 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  8. 2 tsp freshly minced dill or 1/2 tsp dried dill weed
  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 475°F. Remove tops from carrots and cut larger ones in half lengthwise.
  2. Place carrots, shallots, oil, and salt in a baking dish. Toss to thoroughly coat and spread into single layer. Roast 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and stir in the maple syrup, ginger, and dill. Whisk until smooth. Drizzle mixture over carrots, stirring to coat thoroughly. Continue roasting about 8 to 12 minutes longer, stirring occasionally, until carrots are browned and tender.
  4. Garnish with fresh dill and serve hot.
  1. Yield: about 6 servings
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated recipe
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated recipe
The Heritage Cook ® http://theheritagecook.com/
Cauliflower Gratin with Manchego and Almond Sauce
Yields 6
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  1. 3/4 cup half-and-half
  2. 1/2 cup whole roasted almonds with skin, plus 2 tbsp, coarsely chopped
  3. 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  4. 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  5. 1 cup whole milk
  6. 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp finely shredded Manchego or Gouda (3-1/2 oz)
  7. Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  8. Salt and freshly ground pepper
  9. 1 (2 lb) head of cauliflower, cut into 1-1/2-inch florets
  10. 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  11. 1/4 tsp smoked Spanish paprika or sweet paprika
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. In a small saucepan, heat the half-and-half until steaming, then transfer it to a food processor or blender. Add the 1/2 cup of whole almonds and process until finely ground. Let stand for 10 minutes. Strain the half-and-half through a fine sieve set over a bowl, pressing on the almonds to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the ground almonds.
  3. In a medium saucepan, melt 2 tbsp of the butter. Add the flour and whisk over moderately high heat for 1 minute. Add the milk and the half-and-half and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened, 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Add 3/4 cup of the Manchego and whisk until melted. Whisk in the nutmeg; season with salt and pepper. Keep warm.
  4. In a large skillet, bring 1/2 inch of salted water to a boil. Add the cauliflower, cover and cook over high heat until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Drain the cauliflower in a colander.
  5. Wipe out the skillet. Melt the remaining 2 tbsp of butter in the skillet. Add the onion and cook over moderately high heat, stirring until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.
  6. Add the cauliflower and cook, stirring until lightly golden, about 2 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Transfer the cauliflower to a 7-by-10-inch glass or ceramic baking dish and spread the Manchego sauce on top.
  7. Sprinkle the gratin with the remaining cheese, the 2 tbsp of chopped almonds and the paprika and bake in the center of the oven for 20 minutes, or until bubbling and browned on top. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
  1. Make Ahead: The gratin can be assembled and refrigerated overnight. Bring it to room temperature before baking.
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New Green Bean Casserole
Yields 8
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  1. Shallots
  2. 3 large shallots, peeled and sliced thinly (about 1 cup)
  3. 1/4 tsp salt and pinch freshly ground pepper
  4. 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  5. 3 tbsp vegetable oil, divided
  6. Mushrooms
  7. 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  8. 10 oz cremini mushroom caps, wiped clean and sliced 1/4-inch thick
  9. Green Beans
  10. 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  11. 1 medium onion, minced (about 1 cup)
  12. 2 medium cloves garlic, minced, or pressed through garlic press
  13. 1 tsp all-purpose flour
  14. 1-1/2 lb green beans, stem ends trimmed, broken into bite-sized pieces
  15. 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  16. 2 bay leaves
  17. 3/4 cup heavy cream
  18. 3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  1. Line a baking sheet with 3 layers of paper towels; set aside. Toss shallots with salt, pepper, and 2 tbsp flour in small bowl; set aside.
  2. Heat 3 tbsp of the oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until smoking; add shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until golden and crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer shallots to prepared baking sheet
  3. Wipe out skillet and return to medium-high heat. Add remaining 2 tbsp oil, mushrooms, and 1/4 tsp salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
  4. Wipe out skillet. Heat butter in skillet over medium heat; when foaming subsides, add onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until edges begin to brown, about 2 minutes. Stir in garlic and flour; toss in green beans, thyme, and bay leaves. Add cream and chicken broth, increase heat to medium-high, cover, and cook until beans are partly tender but still crisp at center, about 3 minutes.
  5. Add mushrooms and continue to cook, uncovered, until green beans are tender and sauce has thickened slightly, about 4 minutes. Off heat, remove and discard bay and thyme; adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Transfer to warmed serving dish and sprinkle evenly with fried shallots.
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Cranberry Orange Sauce
Yields 15
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  1. 2 fresh oranges
  2. 2 tsp grated orange peel
  3. 3/4 cup orange juice, fresh if possible (if using prepared juice, reduce sugar to compensate)
  4. 1/4 cup water
  5. 1 lb fresh cranberries, picked over and rinsed well
  6. 1-1/2 to 2 cups sugar (depending on the sweetness of berries)
  7. Dash of vanilla extract, dark rum, or bourbon, optional
  8. 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  9. 1/2 cup lightly toasted sliced almonds, optional
  1. Wash and dry fresh oranges. Grate the zest (orange part only) into a small bowl.
  2. To Section the Oranges: Using a sharp knife, cut the top and bottom off the oranges. Cut down the sides, removing the peel and white pith, following the curves of the oranges. Cut peel and pith off both oranges before continuing.
  3. Working over a bowl and using a sharp paring knife or grapefruit knife, cut along both sides of the membranes that separate the orange sections, freeing the sections. Let the orange sections fall into the bowl along with the juice. When you are done, squeeze all the juice you can from the part of the orange left when you have removed all the sections.
  4. Strain the orange juice into a measuring cup and add additional juice as needed to reach 3/4 cup juice. Add 1/4 cup of water to juice. Reserve the orange sections separately.
  5. Combine orange juice and zest, water, cranberries, sugar, (alcohol if using) and vanilla in a non-stick saucepan. Cook over medium-high, stirring until sugar has dissolved, until cranberries pop open, about 10 minutes.
  6. As they cook, use a long handled spoon to skim the foam from surface and discard. Remove from the heat and, using an immersion blender, lightly puree mixture, leaving some cranberries solid.
  7. Stir in nuts and orange sections. Transfer to a serving dish. Sauce will thickens as it cools. When cool, press plastic wrap directly on surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
  8. Can be made up to 3 days ahead; will hold an additional week covered in the refrigerator.
Adapted from New York Times Cookbook recipe
Adapted from New York Times Cookbook recipe
The Heritage Cook ® http://theheritagecook.com/
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    • says

      Oooh, cranberry parfaits sound absolutely delightful! Want to share the recipe here? We would all love it!

      BTW, I Love my immersion blender and use it all the time for pureeing soups, making applesauce and cranberry sauce, smoothing gravy, etc. I have a KitchenAid and have never taken it past setting #1, it is that powerful!