Holiday Vegetable Sides
Thanksgiving isn’t complete without the right side dishes. But what’s the secret to the perfect green bean casserole? And is there a way to make a memorable cranberry sauce? Whether you’re looking for interesting ways to dress up roasted carrots or want to make Brussels sprouts that everyone will really love (yes, love), we have all the recipes, tips, and techniques.
Trimming Green Beans Quickly
Line up several green beans in a row on a cutting board. Trim about 1/2 inch from each end, then cut the beans as directed in your favorite green bean recipes.
Cutting Up Broccoli
Hold the broccoli upside down on a cutting board. Trim the florets from the stalk, separating the larger florets into 1-inch pieces, if necessary.
Trim the top and bottom from the stalk. Cut away 1/8 inch of the tough outer peel.
Cut the stalk in half lengthwise and then into 1/2-inch pieces.
Cutting Carrots on the Bias
Cut the carrots on the bias into pieces that are 1/4 inch thick and 2 inches long.
While testing our recipe for Roasted Butternut Squash Soup, we noticed that, in addition to whole squash, there were two other options in the produce department: precut chunks of peeled butternut squash and peeled, halved butternut squash. Though both options promised to streamline the prep time, we were concerned that what we saved in time would be offset by dry texture and stale flavor. After trying the squash chunks and halved squash in our soup, we weren’t surprised that tasters preferred the “creamy” texture and “earthy sweetness” of the soup made with fresh, whole squash that you peel and cube yourself. Still, tasters found the peeled, halved squash to be an acceptable substitute in the soup, lauding it as “balanced and nutty” though “not as squashy” as the whole squash. The precut chunks, however, were “dry and stringy” with “barely any squash flavor.”
PEELED AND CHOPPED
Dry and flavorless.
PEELED AND HALVED
Acceptable in a pinch.
Peeling and Cutting Butternut Squash
1. After cutting straight across the top and bottom of the squash, use a sharp vegetable peeler to remove the peel.
2. To cut through the tough squash safely, gently tap on the back of a chef's knife or cleaver using a rubber mallet.
For many of our green bean recipes, we recommend blanching the beans by dunking them in boiling water and then shocking them in a bowl of ice water to set their color and preserve their crisp texture. To avoid having to fish the vegetables out of icy water, we place a fine-mesh strainer in a bowl filled with ice water and dump the hot vegetables into it. When the veggies are cool, the strainer can be lifted out, leaving the ice behind.
The Right Tools for Holiday Vegetable Recipes
A large skillet is our preferred vessel for preparing holiday side dishes like sautéed greens, green beans, and carrots. A 12-inch model has enough cooking surface so that the vegetables are not crowded and can really brown.
If you’re serving a meltingly cheesy casserole on your holiday dinner table, it’s likely that you’ll need a broiler-safe gratin dish. Our heavy-duty favorite, made of porcelain, has a feature that we found as important as its ability to go under the broiler: easy-grip handles for trouble-free maneuvering.
A salad spinner does more than just dry salad greens. It’s also useful for drying ingredients for other side dishes, like herbs and vegetables. We spun gallons of greens in three different spinners. Our favorite models: the ones that feature a simple, easy-to-use hand pump in the center.
Many holiday side dishes start with parcooking vegetables like green beans and hearty greens, and a colander helps you effortlessly separate the vegetables from the water once they’re done cooking. A well-designed colander should have a large-capacity bowl that is well perforated, sturdily constructed, and firm footed. Our favorite fit those requirements to a T and even sat in the sink without tipping or sliding.
Key Ingredients for Holiday Vegetable Sides
Butter is a key ingredient in most holiday vegetable dishes. But not all brands are the same. Fat levels vary and some butters are cultured to give them a tangy flavor. What’s the best butter for your vegetables—and the rest of your holiday cooking?
Making a homemade, slow-simmered chicken stock is not high on many home cooks’ to-do lists leading up to the holidays. So if you’re going to go the store-bought route, you better make sure you buy the best broth available. And the best clue is the label. The best-tasting brands were lower-sodium and included vegetables in their ingredients.
“Bad” bacon might not exist, but when it comes to laying a meaty foundation for sautéed greens or Brussels sprouts, some brands are better than others. Our testing of various supermarket bacons confirmed that tasters like smokiness—but not too much, as our only not recommended product proved.
Maple syrup takes a front seat in several holiday side dishes. But shopping for it can be confusing. Are maple syrup and pancake syrup the same? And the bigger question: Which tastes best? Our favorites had one thing in common: They were all real maple syrup.
Our Favorite Holiday Vegetable Sides
Pulling a green bean casserole from the freezer sounds great around the holidays but not if the beans are limp and the sauce is watery. Our Make-Ahead Green Bean Casserole recipe avoids these shortcomings. Preparing the casserole with raw—not canned—beans lent the casserole a nice green color and firm texture, and cornstarch helped produce a silky sauce.
Our Make-Ahead Garlic Green Beans recipe gets most of the prep done well in advance of dinner. Boiling then shocking the beans in ice water stopped the cooking and kept the beans fresh in the fridge for up to two days. Reheating was also quick and easy: All we needed was a skillet and some garlic butter.
Instead of taking up valuable oven space with a green bean casserole, we developed a slow-cooker version. Fresh beans held up well in the slow cooker, but our mushrooms came out slimy. Sautéing the mushrooms before adding them to the slow cooker took care of the texture issue and added depth to the sauce.
Green beans amandine is a simple dish of tender green beans tossed with crisp, toasted almonds and a light lemon-butter sauce. Steaming the green beans with a little water in a covered skillet kept the beans crisp-tender when we paired them with the flavorful mixture of golden brown nuts and browned butter.
Standard back-of-the-bag cranberry sauce recipes usually turn out watered down or mushy. For our perfect Basic Cranberry Sauce recipe, cutting down on the additional liquid and monitoring our frozen berries closely as they cooked on the stovetop avoided both of these pitfalls and gave our cranberry sauce recipe the perfect consistency.
Bored by the same old cranberry sauce recipes? So were we, so we put a spin on this Thanksgiving staple by taking inspiration from the classic Waldorf combination of apples, walnuts, raisins, and celery. The ingredients complemented the berries’ tartness, while shredding some of the apple helped to thicken the mixture.
Determined to avoid the usual pitfalls of cranberry sauce recipes—like soupy texture and lip-puckering tartness—we cut back on the additional liquid and used maple syrup and orange juice to sweeten the sauce.
Our Cranberry-Apple-Orange Relish recipe is the perfect blend of sweet, tart, bitter, and spicy. In our recipe, we used an entire orange—peel and all—for a deep citrus flavor and mild bitterness to temper the relish’s sweetness. And we pulsed the mixture to a coarse cornmeal texture in a food processor so the Cranberry-Apple-Orange Relish retained some crunch.
We wanted a buttered carrots recipe that married the two main ingredients—but didn’t leave a pool of grease on our plates. We made a point not to add additional liquid and instead concentrated the carrots’ natural juices—which we stretched with just a few tablespoons of butter.
Our streamlined Skillet-Roasted Carrots and Parsnips recipe provides deep roasted flavor while allowing you to use your oven for other dishes. After browning the carrots and parsnips in vegetable oil, we added water to the pan before covering, which created a gentle steaming effect and produced nicely browned, tender roasted carrots and parsnips.
Roasted carrots recipes maximize the vegetable’s sweet, earthy flavor. The high heat caramelizes sugars and browns the exteriors, leaving the insides tender and moist. For our best Sugar-Glazed Roasted Carrots recipe, we cooked the carrots hot and fast. The intense heat promoted rapid caramelization, which, in turn, kept the middles from drying out.
We wanted a turnip recipe that could turn humble turnips into an exciting holiday side dish. To do this, we cooked the turnips in water, which made them silky and tender. We also added rosemary, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, and shallots to the cooking liquid to boost our roasted glazed turnips’ flavor and tame their bitterness.
The key to tasting maple in every bite of our Maple-Glazed Acorn Squash recipe was getting our glaze to stick. Cutting our acorn squash into thin slices increased its surface area and provided room for ample amounts of maple glaze. Tossing the slices with vegetable oil and sugar ensured the squash browned quickly, and reducing our glaze made sure it stuck to the squash.
A sweet glaze highlights the best qualities of roasted butternut squash, but only if the squash cooks evenly and the flavors are in balance. Ours calls for a mixture of dark brown sugar, butter, salt, and pepper to coat squash cubes, which had enough surface area to brown, yet were small enough to cook in a reasonable amount of time.
To give the tender greens in our Garlicky Greens with Andouille and Onion recipe a boost of flavor, we cooked spicy andouille sausage with onion and garlic and then sautéed the greens in the sausage drippings. The greens got another flavor boost from the simmering liquid once we reduced it to a potent glaze.
Our Braised Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Pecans recipe combines the assertive flavor of Brussels sprouts with smoky bacon and bittersweet pecans. We braised the Brussels sprouts until just tender by partially covering them with broth and simmering them until they were cooked through. Smoky bacon, sweet pecans, aromatic shallots, and garlic were the perfect complements to the braised Brussels sprouts.
For our Maple-Glazed Brussels Sprouts recipe, we wanted sweet—but not cloying—taste in every bite. Adding maple syrup to the simmering liquid provided this welcome sweetness. But unevenly cooked sprouts would have ruined our whole recipe, so we halved them through the stem. This way, they were all the same size and they didn’t fall apart in the skillet.
Broccoli rabe’s assertive, peppery flavor is appealing, but broccoli rabe recipes can sometimes taste downright bitter and overwhelming. To ensure that all the components in our sautéed broccoli rabe recipe cooked evenly, we chopped the rabe into small pieces. We curbed its bitterness by precooking it in boiling water and then sautéed it with flavor-packed ingredients like garlic and roasted red peppers.
For an irresistible Cheesy Broccoli and Rice Casserole recipe, we rethought every aspect of the dish. We used half-and-half and a bit of chicken broth for the sauce and added cheddar and Parmesan for pronounced cheese flavor. And for a cheesy broccoli and rice casserole that tasted like broccoli, we used both the broccoli’s stalks and florets.