Everyone looks forward to the traditional side dishes for Thanksgiving Day dinner. Stuffing, creamy mashed potatoes, tart cranberry sauce, golden-brown rolls, roasted sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, warm biscuits, and more! Are you hungry yet?
So while we all crave traditional Thanksgiving accompaniments, traditional doesn’t have to mean plain. Put a little twist on the classics for your best-ever Thanksgiving Day dinner!
If you have a favorite recipe you’ve always used and are hesitant to stray far from it, start with your base—bread. While white bread makes a great stuffing, other breads will add a new flavor profile. This is one simple way to put a twist on everyone’s favorite part of Thanksgiving. Sourdough creates a unique flavor and still melds well with the rest of your recipe. Whole wheat or whole grain breads are a heartier approach and are full of flavor. Or consider something a little more unique and flavorful, such as focaccia, potato bread, corn bread, rye, or pumpernickel.
Use spices or spice blends with your cubed bread: garlic, Italian, onion, southwestern, chipotle, Cajun, curry, Mexican, Creole, and more.
Add fruits and vegetables! Apples, apricots, pears, and cranberries (of course) give stuffing a fresh flavor. Onions are always a good base for stuffing; to change things up, try leeks instead of onions. If you do decide to keep onions in your recipe, try caramelized onions or shallots for a touch of sweetness. Instead of celery, use diced fennel bulb. Mushrooms may already be a part of your holiday dinner with green bean casserole but don’t be afraid to use them in stuffing too. Cremini, wild, and porcini are great additions, just to name a few. Sun-dried tomatoes are also a great addition.
Nuts like pecans, hazelnuts, chestnuts, walnuts, and pine nuts add a delicious crunch to your stuffing. For even more flavor, be sure to roast the nuts in the oven or toast them lightly in a pan before adding to your mixture.
Cheeses are wonderful add-ons to any finished stuffing recipe. Try Manchego, Parmesan, Romano, pepper-jack, Gruyère, cheddar, or goat cheese.
If you already serve sausage stuffing at your holiday meal, think about changing up the type of sausage you use. Try one of these sausages to spice up your traditional stuffing: sweet Italian, Italian fennel, kielbasa, chorizo, apricot-cranberry, apple-spice, or andouille. Not a fan of sausage? Try pancetta, prosciutto, bacon, ham, or even crab!
Think of your classic mashed potatoes and turkey gravy. Creamy, buttery, and fluffy are words to describe the best mashed potatoes. What could make them better?
Again, if you don’t want to stray too far from the classic, start small with one or two ingredients. Garlic is always a great addition to mashed potatoes. Roast the garlic cloves whole and smash in with the potatoes for a milder flavor. To get a robust garlicky flavor, finely dice the garlic and sauté before adding to the mashed potato mixture.
For cheesy, add a handful of shredded cheddar or Colby cheese. Feeling adventurous? Sprinkle crumbly blue cheese in with a few roasted chiles for spicy and sharp flavors. Want a more mild flavor? Chop some spinach and toss it with crumbled feta or goat cheese.
Try creative “BLT potatoes” with bacon, leek, and tomato mashed (or smashed) into your potatoes. A nice smokey bacon will do the trick for this variation. Not only will the flavors be delicious, but the dish will look visually interesting with the red from the tomato, the green from the leeks, brown from the bacon, and depending on the type of potato you use, more red or even purple.
If you like horseradish, add some to your mashed potatoes. Use horseradish with sour cream to make creamy horseradish mashed potatoes and top with chives to finish your dish.
For some, cranberry sauce has always been in the shape of a can. For others, it’s all about the fresh cranberries. For whichever category your cranberry sauce falls into, one easy way to make cranberry sauce a star of your Thanksgiving show is to make it into a relish or chutney.
Start with a basic cranberry recipe and add flavors you enjoy. Since fruit is the main ingredient, start there. Oranges and lemons complement cranberries by adding acidity to the tart of the cranberry. To incorporate in your sauce, use the juice and zest. For a relish, add the juice, zest, and a few slices. For a chutney, think chunky and use all of the aforementioned pieces and full, unpeeled slices. Apples are another way to add acidity and great flavor. Core, peel, and slice, plus add apple cider vinegar to your cranberries. Pears are another good addition to any cranberry sauce.
For a stronger-tasting cranberry sauce add a nice red wine. It’s best to use a wine you’d actually drink when cooking with wine. Go with a dry bold wine. Port wine will also strengthen the flavors. Another option is liquor. Grand Marnier will complement your cranberry sauce because it is made with orange peels. Brandy can also be added—try cherry brandy.
Other flavors you may want to incorporate into your cranberry sauce include crystallized ginger, brown sugar, vanilla beans, and cinnamon.
While the most popular variety of sweet potatoes made for Thanksgiving tends to be a baked sweet potato casserole, there are still ways to differentiate yours from the pack.
For the casserole-lovers out there, try using honey instead of brown sugar.
If you love twice baked potatoes, you’ll enjoy twice-baked sweet potatoes! The methods are very similar, just use cream cheese, brown sugar, and cinnamon.
For the best of both sweet potatoes worlds—casserole and baked—try stuffed sweet potatoes. After baking your sweet potatoes, slit them open and stuff with all the ingredients you would put in your casserole—marshmallows, brown sugar, cinnamon, and toasted pecans. Bake a little longer after stuffing for the flavors to meld and the marshmallows to get golden brown and gooey.
Looking to add a new dish to your Thanksgiving menu? Don’t hesitate to add a non-traditional item for a bit of a change. One guaranteed crowd-pleaser would be home-made macaroni and cheese. Macaroni and cheese will not only make any kids at the table happy but anyone who likes creamy and gooey cheese.
Vegetables are always a great place to start when looking for new things to try. If you’re giving your oven a workout with the turkey, casseroles, and pies, try a simple sauteed vegetable dish. Carrots, broccoli, asparagus, zucchini, sliced yellow squash, acorn, or butternut squash are great when steamed then sauteed with butter. To finish, toss with freshly chopped dill. Need more green with your turkey? Spinach is a versatile veggie. Try it in a salad, creamed, sauteed in garlic, baked with cheese, or as a dip for a tasty starter.
If you have planned for a number of courses for your dinner, soup is a nice way to start your meal. Any number of soups will complement your dinner well. Most Thanksgiving dinners do not include a lot of tomato-based dishes so tomato-based soups are often a great choice. Enjoy Manhattan-style clam chowder, vegetable, or cream of tomato soups. For meals that are not already heavy on the cream and cheese, try chowders like corn chowder or New England-style clam chowder. Creamy soups like broccoli cheddar or cream of potato will also be a hit. Another option is to serve a chicken broth soup like Italian wedding, chicken and pasta, or French onion soup.
What types of dishes are you planning on serving? Do you have any non-traditional accompaniments you love to serve? What’s the strangest Thanksgiving accompaniment you’ve ever seen? What is your favorite type of stuffing? Are you planning on preparing a traditional dish with a twist this year? Take a photo of your Thanksgiving dinner and post it on our Facebook wall!