Traditional Thanksgiving side dishes get an easy, but still delicious, makeover
Take an easy route with the main course so you can focus on these yummy sides
I love fall in general, but I really love it because it’s home to my favorite holiday: Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving because it’s simply about gathering with family and friends. I also love it because of the way the house smells. It's a predictable, familiar smell because for most people their menu doesn’t vary much from year to year. Every piece of the meal brings its own delicious smell and always seems to bring a different member of the family for a walk through the kitchen as it’s being prepared.
In my earlier years of Turkey Day, I took great pride in the preparation of my turkey. I had a special brine, and it turned out beautifully year after year. Then when I had our fourth child a month before Thanksgiving, all of my energy was gone. On our first Thanksgiving as a family of six, I can recall two of the boys greeting me in the morning with a loving “Wow, mom. You look so tired”. I hurried to get dressed and apply some makeup only to have my then 6-year-old point out that I still had “so much purple” around my eyes.
I did manage to get the turkey ready, but that is when I came up with the plan for Thanksgiving meals moving forward. I would use smoked turkeys from our local meat market and spend my time on Thanksgiving focusing on the sides and desserts and having fun with family. It made life so much easier, and I have always thought the side dishes were the best part of the meal anyway!
Whatever your favorite turkey preparations are, I am going to share with you a few of my favorite side dishes for Thanksgiving or any fall get-together. Even better, they can all be made ahead of time, which can make your next holiday one of your easiest ever. You can spend more time relaxing with family!
One dish that gets everyone’s attention and is sure to bring foot-traffic through the kitchen is Butter and Herb Stuffing because it just “smells like Thanksgiving”. It also doesn’t require fancy ingredients. Sometimes I have used leftover whole grain breads that I have had around the house, but most of the time I just cube up slices of white bread. (The same kind that the kids use for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.) That gets the most rave reviews because I think that is probably what all of our grandmothers used to use.
Poultry seasoning can be hard to find around the holiday, but don’t sweat it. If you are unable to find poultry seasoning, just use roughly the same total amount of ground sage, ground rosemary, thyme, and marjoram if you have it. I usually only have the first 3 on hand, and it still turns out great!
Another tip is to have more bread cubes on hand in case you get carried away with seasoning or with the chicken stock. There really isn’t a right or wrong way to make stuffing…taste and adjust as you mix. It’s a dish loaded with love, and everyone makes it their own unique way!
Butter and Herb Stuffing
- 10 cups cubed, dried bread
- 6 tablespoons butter, salted
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 cups celery, small dice (including some of the celery leaves)
- 1 large onion, small dice
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (2 cloves fresh minced)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons poultry seasoning (or more to taste after mixing)
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 2 cups chicken stock
Preheat your oven to 375. Prepare a 9×9 baking dish and set aside.
Place the dried bread cubes in a large bowl and set them aside. In a large saute pan, melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add celery, onion, garlic powder, and poultry seasoning. Cook the vegetables until they are tender and onions are translucent – about 5-10 minutes. Pour the vegetable mixture over the cubed bread. Season with fresh parsley, salt, and pepper. Gradually add in the chicken stock, while gently stirring with your hands or a wooden spoon. Let the mixture rest for 5 minutes. Stir again and check for any dry bread crumbs. Add a little more chicken stock if needed. (You want the bread crumbs moist, but not too mushy.)
Check seasonings and add more poultry seasoning, herbs, or salt and pepper as desired. Pour the stuffing mixture into the baking dish.
Bake for 30 minutes. Serve warm.
MAKE AHEAD TIP: This recipe can be made up to the point of baking up to 2 days before serving. Most of the time I make this early in the morning the day that I am serving it and store it in the refrigerator until I am ready to bake. I usually let my turkey rest, covered in foil, for at least 30 minutes before serving and that allows plenty of time to bake side dishes in the oven.
The next recipe is usually one that you find on the back of a soup can, but in the interest of saving oven space, and a few calories, I came up with an Air Fryer Green Bean "Casserole". I was concerned that I would miss some of the flavors of the traditional casserole. In fact, I love the freshness of it. Even better, the crispy onions can be made earlier in the day, so when it comes time to make the dish, a quick 15 minutes in the air fryer makes it ready to go!
For my Air Fryer Green Bean “Casserole”, I start with fresh, trimmed and cleaned green beans. I also cheat a bit and use pre-sliced mushrooms. You are welcome to sub in any mushroom you like, but I use the traditional white to keep the flavors as close to traditional as possible. (You can also slice your own, but since most of my kitchen helpers are busy watching parades, football, or cartoons during meal prep time, I take all the help I can get.)
The seasoning is also simple; it’s the same one that I use if I make my own cream of mushroom soup: salt, pepper, garlic powder, and a touch of onion powder. Adjust or change it up if you wish, but my goal was to keep it traditional. Another bonus to making this side dish is that it’s perfect for friends and family that are vegan or vegetarian, dairy-free, and if you make the crispy fried onions with gluten-free flour, gluten-free!
Air Fryer Green Bean “Casserole”
- 1.5 lbs green beans, fresh, cleaned, and trimmed
- 8 ounces of sliced fresh mushrooms
- ½ large yellow onion, sliced into thin half-moons
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- ⅛ teaspoon onion powder
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- Crispy Onion Straws (Recipe below)
Place the beans, mushrooms, and onions in a mixing bowl. Toss with olive oil, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper. Add to the air fryer. Cook at 400 degrees for 8 minutes. Stir. Cook for an additional 6-7 minutes. Remove from the air fryer and place onto a serving platter. Top with Crispy Onion Straws.
Crispy Onion Straws
- ½ large yellow onion, sliced into thin half moons
- 1 tablespoon water
- 3 tablespoons all purpose flour (or gluten free flour blend)
- 1.5 cups oil for frying
- Salt for seasoning
Place the sliced onions in a small bowl. Add one tablespoon of water. Break apart the onions with your hands as needed and make sure the water is coating all of the onions. Sprinkle with flour. Use your fingers to gently coat all onion strips with flour.
Preheat your frying oil to 350 degrees. Add a few onion pieces at a time. Do not overcrowd the pan. Fry until golden brown. Carefully remove the straws and place on a plate lined with paper towel. Sprinkle with salt.
Of course, I saved one of my favorites for last. It’s also last because it’s basically a dessert that we have allowed to be served with the main course! This version is slightly less sweet than many of the traditional versions. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying low sugar, but it is slightly more savory than the presweetened canned version!
The best part about this dish is that you can make it up to two days ahead of time (without the marshmallows on the top) and just put it in the oven about 45 minutes prior to serving your holiday meal!
Maple Marshmallow Sweet Potato Casserole
- 4 large sweet potatoes (baked, peel, and cut into 1-inch cubes)
- 5 tablespoons butter
- ¾ cup maple syrup
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
- ½ bag large marshmallows
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place sweet potatoes in a greased casserole dish and set aside. In a small saucepan, combine butter, maple syrup, salt and pepper. Heat over low heat until butter is melted. Pour the mixture over the sweet potatoes and stir until coated. Bake for 20 minutes. Top the sweet potatoes with large marshmallows. Return the dish to the oven and bake for 5 to 10 minutes or until marshmallows are golden brown.
Note: To make this dish ahead of time, place the dish in the refrigerator for up to 2 days prior to baking. Then increase your initial baking time to 30 minutes. Top with marshmallows and follow the remaining directions.