Take your favorite Thanksgiving side dishes from boring to brilliant with these quick and easy ingredient upgrades
by Kendra Vizcaino-Lico, Gourmet
Kyle G. Ericksen (cranberries); Romulo Yanes (all others)
Turkey may be the star of Thanksgiving dinner, but side dishes can make or break the meal. Update your old holiday standbys with a few simple additions that will have your guests reaching for second helpings.
The basic ingredients: Day-old bread or cornbread, butter, chicken or turkey stock, onions, celery, herbs, and eggs
1. Dried Cranberries: Cranberries add a sweet and tangy flavor to stuffing. They go particularly well in a cornbread dressing. Sprinkle in about 2 tablespoons of cranberries per cup of stuffing.
2. Sausage: This flavorful addition may not be ideal for the vegetarians at the table, but the meat eaters will be thankful. Sausage adds great flavor and texture. Cook fresh sausage through and slice or crumble it into the bread mixture before baking. Dried sausage, like chorizo, will also work very well and can be added without precooking.
3. Chestnuts: Roasted chestnuts give a toasty, earthy flavor to plain stuffing. They also add a meaty texture while leaving the side dish vegetarian-friendly. To roast the chestnuts (three to four per cup of stuffing), cut an X in the shell of each nut and roast for 20 to 30 minutes in a 425°F oven. Let cool, then peel off and discard the shells. Chop up the nuts and add to the bread mixture prior to cooking the stuffing.
4. Oysters: These seafood morsels bring a briny flavor to this bready side, not to mention that eating oysters on Thanksgiving is a tradition rooted in American history. Add about five freshly shucked raw oysters per cup of stuffing prior to baking. You can leave them whole for a chunkier stuffing or chop them up if you prefer them to melt into the dressing.
5. Chiles: Bring the heat with fresh chiles. Sauté chopped chiles in the butter with your other aromatics for a spicy twist. For a milder heat, remove the seeds and ribs from the pepper. You can also control the heat level with your choice of chile. From mildest to spiciest, Anaheim, poblano, jalapeño, chipotle, and serrano peppers are good options, since they have a sweet, smooth chile flavor behind their spice. Depending on the heat level and size of the peppers you pick, you will need from 1 to 4 tablespoons per cup of stuffing.
The basic ingredients: Cranberries, sugar, and water
1. Orange Zest: Citrus brightens up the flavor of cranberry sauce. Use a rasp grater to finely zest about 1 to 2 teaspoons per cup of cranberry sauce. Don't have a rasp grater? Use a vegetable peeler to slice off strips of the orange peel. Cut away any white pith, and toss the slices in to cook with the cranberries. Remove the slices from the sauce before serving.
2. Cloves: Whole cloves bring a beautiful aroma and warm depth of flavor to this holiday staple. Simply boil the cloves with the cranberries, sugar, and water. Be sure to count how many cloves you add in (you'll need about 3 cloves per cup of sauce), because you'll need to remove them before serving.
3. Wine: Adding wine to cranberry sauce enhances its sweetness and helps mellow the tart berries. Replace 3/4 of the water in your cranberry sauce recipe with a light red wine (like Pinot Noir or Beaujolais Nouveau). Only add about half the amount of sugar, then taste the sauce once it's cooked and adjust as needed.
4. Nuts: Toasted nuts add a pleasantly crunchy texture. Try using pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, or almonds. Chop the nut of your choice and toast lightly in a pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until fragrant and lightly browned.
5. Pears: Chunks of pear bring extra fruity fall flavor to the sauce. Peel and chop 1/2 a pear per cup of cranberry sauce. You can cook them with cinnamon, a pinch of sugar, and butter, and toss them in when the sauce is done. Or, just add them to simmer with the berries. We recommend using Bartlett pears because they have a great crunchy texture and a smooth flavor that can hold its own against bold cranberries.
See more: 10 Easy Thanksgiving Appetizers
The basic ingredients: Boiled potatoes, milk, and butter
1. Blue Cheese and Scallions: Thanksgiving is a day of indulgence, and these potatoes are a tribute to that tradition. Creamy, sharp, and salty blue cheese adds rich flavor, while scallions add a crisp freshness. Mix in 2 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese and a 1/2 tablespoon finely sliced scallions per 1 cup of mashed potatoes. We recommend using bold blue cheeses like Roquefort, Gorgonzola, or Stilton.
2. Pancetta and Parmesan: For many families, lasagna is a staple at the Thanksgiving table. Take the Italian theme a little further by incorporating two of Italy's greatest ingredients in your spuds. Pancetta is available in whole pieces from the butcher, and chopped pancetta is also available in packages at many supermarkets. Cook the chopped pancetta in a pan over medium heat until the fat is rendered out and the pieces are golden brown and crisp. Drain the pancetta and reserve the fat. Add 2 tablespoons each cooked pancetta and freshly grated parmesan per cup of potatoes. Then, forget butter, and boost the pancetta flavor by incorporating some of the drippings from the rendered pork.
3. Chives and Crème Fraîche: This light and elegant combination gives hearty potatoes a sophisticated flair. Stir 1 to 2 tablespoons each (per cup of potatoes) finely chopped fresh chives and crème fraîche into the mashed spuds. Reduce the amount of milk you add to prevent the potatoes getting too liquidy or thin.
4. Cauliflower: Sneaking cauliflower into rich, homey mashed potatoes is a great way to trick the kids into eating their veggies. But, it also adds a nice, mild vegetal flavor to an otherwise very plain dish. You can boil equal amounts of potatoes and cauliflower and mash them together. Or, steam small cauliflower florets and stir them into smooth potatoes for a chunkier texture.
5. Paprika and Sour Cream: Add international appeal to your holiday meal with this Hungarian-inspired take on mashed potatoes. Mix in 1 teaspoon paprika and 2 tablespoons sour cream for each cup of potatoes. Be sure to reduce the amount of milk in your recipe. Sweet and smoked paprika are both great for this preparation. If your family tends to like spicy, bold flavors, opt for the smoked version. If you prefer a milder mash, go for the sweet. For a lighter version, try reduced-fat or fat-free sour cream.
See more: 10 Recipes for Thanksgiving Leftovers
The basic ingredients: String beans or haricots verts
1. Sliced Almonds: Green beans and almonds are natural companions. The nuts add even more crunch to the already crisp vegetables. Simply toast the almonds and sprinkle them over the cooked beans. Not a fan of almonds? Try chopped hazelnuts instead.
2. Fried Shallots: This elevated version of green-bean casserole is even tastier than the original. It employs lightly crisp, frizzled shallots instead of the usual canned fried onions. Thinly slice shallots (about 4 to 5 shallots total for one medium-size casserole) and dredge them lightly in flour or cornstarch. Heat one inch of vegetable or canola oil to 350° in a medium-size pot over medium heat. Fry the shallots in batches so you don't overcrowd the pot. Cook for about 2 to 4 minutes until crisp and golden brown. Drain on a paper towel, and season lightly with salt. Top your cooked green bean casserole with the shallots and serve.
3. Bacon: You can never go wrong with bacon. Smoky, salty pork will perk up the flavor of your plain green beans. Sprinkle crisply cooked, crumbled bacon over green beans before serving. To amplify the flavor, save the bacon drippings and sauté the beans in the reserved flavorful fat.
4. Mushrooms: These fabulous fungi will add earthy flavor and meaty texture to simple green beans. Use one type of mushroom or a combination. We recommend shiitake, oyster, cremini, and/or maitake mushrooms. If these varieties are not available, plain white button mushrooms will taste great, too. Clean the mushrooms, remove the stems, and slice. Sauté the mushrooms (about 1/2 cup for each cup of beans) in a little butter until browned. Season them with salt and pepper, toss with the cooked beans, and serve.
5. Roasted Red Peppers: An unconventional but surprisingly tasty flavor combination. Roasted red peppers add a burst of color and a mildly sweet, lightly smoky flavor to the beans. You can use jarred red peppers or roast your own. If using jarred, dry them thoroughly before chopping. Add the chopped peppers (about 1/4 cup per cup of beans) to the beans about 2 minutes before they are done, just to warm through.
SWEET POTATO CASSEROLE
The basic ingredients: Baked or boiled peeled sweet potatoes, butter, and mini marshmallows
1. Pecans: The addition of toasted pecans complements the candy sweetness of the dish and adds a delightful crunch. Toast chopped pecans in a pan over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until fragrant and lightly browned. Let cool, and sprinkle over the top of the casserole after it has been baked.
2. Raisins: Plump and juicy, this fruit adds tremendous texture to a tasty but mushy dish. Stir the raisins (2 tablespoons per cup of potatoes) into the potato mixture, or sprinkle them on top of the marshmallows before baking. Dark and golden raisins work equally well. For a grown-up twist, soak the raisins for about 30 minutes (or until plumped) in bourbon before adding them to the casserole.
3. Apples: Play up the flavor of fall by adding fresh, crisp apples. Peel, core, and dice the apples into small- to medium-size pieces. Sauté the apples (about 1/4 cup per cup of sweet potatoes) with a little butter and a pinch of cinnamon and sugar until softened. Stir them into the sweet potatoes prior to baking the casserole.
4. Curry: The warm, aromatic spice of curry complement the sweetness of the potatoes perfectly. Add 1 teaspoon yellow curry powder per cup of sweet potatoes. The spice will give this simple dish a whole new dimension of flavor.
5. Pumpkin: We know Thanksgiving is a busy day, and canned pumpkin will do just fine (not canned pumpkin pie filling); about 1/4 cup per cup of sweet potatoes. But if you have the time, it's best to roast your own. Peel, seed, and chop a small pumpkin (we recommend Cinderella or cheese varieties). Chop it into small cubes (you'll need about 1/4 cup pumpkin per cup of casserole) and toss with olive oil to lightly coat, adding salt, and pepper. Roast on a lightly oiled sheet pan at 350°F for about 20 minutes or until fork-tender. You can add the roasted chunks whole or mash them before adding to the potatoes.
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Take your favorite Thanksgiving side dishes from boring to brilliant with these quick and easy ingredient upgrades
SUPPER CLUB PICK
My after-school snack was a sacred ritual. I sat on the carpet in my parents' bedroom at a low table, the television turned to "I Dream of Jeannie," and ate a peanut butter and honey sandwich cut into neat squares. I wasn't fussy about crusts. I just loved the sticky pairing of creamy peanut butter with syrupy golden sweetness drizzled from a honey bear in diagonals across the soft white bread. Nothing else--save for maybe apples and peanut butter in a pinch--could have made for as sweet an