9 (Slightly) Unexpected Thanksgiving Vegetable Sides
I’ve published something like 15,000 recipes over the years, and I remember most of them by heart. (Actually…maybe not.) But when we go through autumn vegetable recipes—which is what you want most of on your Thanksgiving table—a few really stand out. The ones included here are among those winners, and I’m happy to say most of them are current—they wouldn’t be classified as classics, but they don’t veer so far off course that your guests will find anything weird about them. The Brussels sprouts are probably the closest thing to revolutionary, unless everyone has spent time in Southeast Asia. But they’re different and good. And the same is true of the rest of these: different and good. So, let’s get to it.
Photo: Quentin Bacon
Aside from cranberry sauce, most Thanksgiving foods are desperately lacking in bright flavors. If you want to mitigate that, keep some lemons and a zester on hand; for something even (a little) more unusual, try these Brussels sprouts, which use the Malaysian technique of boiling down coconut milk until all that remains is coconut oil and milk solids. The resulting dish is called rendang, which usually contains meat but is fantastic for Brussels sprouts. I know it’s outside the box, but surprising flavors (lemongrass, lime, turmeric, ginger, chiles) can be such a welcome presence on the Thanksgiving table.
Photo: Grub Street
This technique is dead simple. I take a lump of butter—and then, sometimes, another lump of butter—and put it in a pan on the stove while the oven heats to 375 degrees. I trim and scrub the carrots. I roll them in the melted butter, add a healthy amount of salt, and put the pan in the oven. Now and then, I turn them. Sometimes, when I’m feeling gluttonous (Thanksgiving certainly qualifies), I put in more butter. If they’re getting close to browning too quickly, I turn the oven down to 300 degrees—this is not a dish to rush. When they’re tender, which takes about 45 minutes—or even an hour, for one-inch-thick carrots—I take them out. They’re great right away, and really good even after they’ve cooled a bit, when they’re still warm but not quite room temperature.
Traditionally, this dish is served throughout Scandinavia as part of the smorgasbord or Christmas dinner, but it seems (to me, at least) equally at home in a Thanksgiving spread. The apples dissolve, leaving a sweetness that is balanced by the tartness of the vinegar; to emphasize one element or the other, add either the (sweet) jelly or the (astringent) red wine. Kind of like cranberry sauce, this dish is a nice counterpoint to the heaviness of the rest of the meal.
Photo: Sam Kaplan for the New York Times
In this recipe that I learned from Jean-Georges Vongerichten, horseradish (which loses most of its potency when heated) gives classic potato gratin a gentle kick in the ass. The trick is finding fresh horseradish—and then peeling and slicing it (some people wear goggles, not a terrible idea).
Grilled Acorn Squash with Smoky Maple Butter
Photo: Christina Holmes
For hearty grillers or our friends in warm-weather climes, this super simple side is the perfect combination of sweet and savory. Plus, it not only helps free up precious oven space, but is a really effective way to get your obnoxious uncle out of the kitchen for a bit (“Hey, Uncle Jack. I’ve got an important job for you. Just grab your coat…”).
Celeriac (aka celery root) doesn’t get a ton of love on Thanksgiving. I’m not sure how the Brussels sprouts and sweet potato lobbies got their hooks into this holiday first, but it seems to be a real thing. Anyway, celeriac is just as deserving. If you like that mellow, celery-ish flavor, then the best way to cook it is simply; here, it’s just roasted in a pan with rosemary- and garlic-infused butter. Easy and full of flavor.
Photo: Evan Sung for the New York Times
Call me a heretic, but I think that sweet potatoes deserve a better Thanksgiving companion than marshmallows. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that classic casserole, but it’s by no means the only option. Grating sweet potatoes opens up a whole new world of possibilities (plus, they cook in a flash). Here they’re simply stir-fried with brown butter and sage, an accompaniment every bit as “traditional” as marshmallows, and dare I say, even better.
Photo: Craig Lee for the New York Times
I’m a BIG fan of salad at Thanksgiving. Something light, bright, and crisp to balance all the richness? (Maybe it’s un-American, but it seems like a good idea). This version, with thinly sliced raw beets and fennel, gets you all of that without having to wave the white flag and serve lettuce.
Photo: Burcu Avsar & Zach DeSart
What’s usually the crunchiest thing on the Thanksgiving table? Stuffing crust, maybe? A turkey wing if you’re lucky? Those fried onions on the green bean casserole? Point is, it’s kind of soft meal; not a ton of different textures happening. That’s why raw Brussels sprouts can be a welcome change of pace. The trick is to shred them finely, “bruise” them a bit, and dress them at least an hour before serving. The longer the salad sits, the softer and milder tasting the leaves become.
Talk To Me, Goose!
Questions, comments, brilliant suggestions? Just want to share the recipe for your grandma's potato salad, or your mom's meatloaf, or your uncle Drew's three-day 100-percent rye loaf (yes, please)? Don't hesitate to reach out anytime.