Vegetarian Thanksgiving Sides
Creamy, Light Macaroni and Cheese
A trio of bold, nutty cheeses and a velvety butternut squash puree helped create our cheesiest mac and cheese in September 2011. The squash trick lets us cut back on cheese overall for an impressive makeover, shaving 500 calories and 30g sat fat.
Balsamic-Glazed Pearl Onions
Deeply caramelized with balsamic vinegar until glossy and browned, these sweet and tangy jewels are a gorgeous addition to your holiday plate. We actually prefer frozen, peeled pearl onions over fresh for convenience; you save a lot of time by not peeling fresh pearl onions. You will be tempted to stir the pan frequently as the liquid reduces, but the onions need time to cook undisturbed in order to get deeply browned. Keep the heat low so the liquid in the pan doesn’t dry up too quickly.
Ginger-Chile Roasted Acorn Squash
Fresh ginger, red Fresno chile, and pomegranate don’t usually appear on the Thanksgiving table, but we love how they transform simply roasted squash into a dish with tingly heat and pops of color. Leave the sheet pan in the oven as it preheats to jump-start browning, saving roasting time in the oven.
Creamed Greens with Farro
This dish takes its cues from classic creamed spinach and raises the bar with braised mixed greens, whole-grain farro, and a crisp panko crust. Hearty yet not heavy, and gorgeous straight out of the oven, this is the kind of side that looks and feels holiday special. Swiss chard and dark, bumpy lacinato kale both wilt down fairly quickly; their texture and vibrancy will stand out once combined with the creamy three-cheese sauce. The farro can be cooked, drained, and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to a week before Thanksgiving.
Crispy Cauliflower with Italian Salsa Verde
Crunch and zing are often missing from the holiday spread; these crispy, cheesy cauliflower florets with fresh lemon-parsley sauce achieve both. Serve with classic holiday dishes at Thanksgiving, or with roasted fish or a simple pasta toss on any weeknight. A thorough coat of cooking spray on the cauliflower will help the breading adhere and keep the florets from drying out as they bake. Finely grated Parmesan will go further in the breading; use a microplane or pulse in a food processor until finely ground.
Balsamic Onion and Thyme Tarte Tatin
This jam is an excellent, refined sugar-free alternative to the traditional, often too-sweet sauce, and tastes even better a day or two after it’s made. Because fresh cranberries are so tart on their own, be sure to use a sweet onion such as Vidalia in the jam. Pair this condiment with your Thanksgiving plate, then use as a sandwich spread for holiday leftovers.
Green Bean Casserole with Caulifower Cream
Once simmered in milk and pureed, cauliflower transforms into a silky, luscious cream sauce—a dead ringer for the classic yet with a much better profile, saving nearly 500mg sodium and 4g fat per serving. We intensify the mushroom presence by using meaty cremini and shiitake mushrooms and roasting them first to cook out the excess liquid. If you can’t find shiitakes, use 2 (8-oz.) packages of cremini mushrooms. Skip the fried onions and use torn whole-wheat bread for a rustic, crunchy topper.
Garlic-Caper Roasted Mushrooms
Roasted mushrooms are a revelation—intensely savory yet still tender and juicy. The mushrooms transform again once tossed with garlic butter, briny capers, and fresh lemon. Use cremini or baby bella mushrooms here—white button mushrooms are too mild. Dress the mushrooms right after roasting so the mixture stays vibrant. Both earthy and bright, this dish pairs well with any combination of fall dishes.
Maple-Sumac Roasted Walnuts
Here’s a perfectly simple and delicious snack. A little sumac adds a bright piney-citrusy note. Look for it at specialty spice stores. A tablespoon of lemon rind can sub for sumac, if you prefer.
Fennel and Blood Orange Salad
This salad is a feast for the eyes, and a welcome relief from the brown and gold tones on the Thanksgiving table. Sweet-tart blood oranges and a honey vinaigrette offset the bitter edge of the endive and radicchio (you can also use milder romaine lettuce hearts). If you can’t find blood oranges, try ruby red grapefruit or pretty pink Cara Cara oranges.
Raw and Roasted Carrots and Fennel
This salad demonstrates the magic that happens when you showcase both the raw and cooked sides of ingredients. If using carrots without tops, substitute 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro, parsley, or dill for the chopped carrot tops. Caramelized, tender bits of carrots and fennel mingle with fresh slices of their raw, crunchy counterparts.
Roasted Butternut Squash With Sticky Walnut Topping
Molasses complements the sweetness of the roasted butternut squash and gives the slices a deeply bronzed look. We add cider vinegar for balance and stir in walnuts for a sticky, praline-like topping. The dish is best served warm, when the molasses mixture is still gooey. You can roast the squash ahead and reheat the slices while you make the topping. A quick trick for cleaning a sticky saucepan: Fill with water and bring to a boil, letting any residue dissolve, and then drain.
Roasted Turnips With Sage Browned Butter
Sage and browned butter is a classic pairing that enhances roasted turnips (which look like white, oversized radishes). Toss with the butter mixture as soon as the turnips are done.
Herbed Whole-Grain Yeast Rolls
Golden whole-grain yeast rolls get a fresh, fragrant hit from a whole host of seasonal herbs, including fresh sage, rosemary, and chives. Make ahead and freeze up to 1 month, saving the butter and herb coat for after reheating. The yeast should begin to foam after 5 minutes in the warm milk; if it doesn’t, it may be a sign that your yeast is no longer active and should be replaced. Use leftover rolls for tomorrow’s breakfast, or make turkey sliders with split toasted rolls, cranberry sauce, and sliced turkey.
White Balsamic and Rosemary Cranberry Sauce
If you’re looking for a way to amp up your traditional sauce, this is it. Fresh rosemary gives the sauce a light herbal flavor (the berries are robust enough to stand up to the piny herb). White balsamic vinegar balances the sweet and adds a dimension of fruity tang to the tart cranberries. If you don’t have white balsamic, use white wine vinegar or cider vinegar—regular balsamic is a bit too strong and would darken the finished sauce. Beyond your holiday plate (and inevitable holiday leftovers), add to a cheese plate or sandwich buffet. Omit the orange liqueur from the master recipe. Simmer cranberries with rosemary sprigs, sugar, water, and cranberries. Stir in balsamic vinegar.
For a holiday side with earthy, savory depth, add a trio of mushrooms: creminis, meaty shiitakes, and mild white button mushrooms. A splash of sherry vinegar picks up the browned bits in the pan and rounds out the flavors beautifully. The mushrooms will release plenty of liquid after a couple of minutes in the pan; be patient and let these juices evaporate so your stuffing will be rich, not soggy.
Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes
Keep mashed potatoes warm by placing in a heatproof bowl, covering with plastic wrap, and setting over a saucepan of gently simmering water. This will keep them moist and warm without scorching. A ricer finely breaks up the cooked potatoes without activating the potato starches, which could make the consistency gluey. It also allows the butter and liquid, such as milk or buttermilk, to quickly incorporate so the mash is smooth and free of lumps. If you don't have a ricer, use a potato masher, being careful not to overwork the potatoes. Our Butternut-Swirled Mashed Potatoes and Roasted Garlic and Parmesan Mashed Potatoes variations require a little extra time but are well worth the effort.
Skillet Green Bean Casserole
We've shortened (and lightened) this holiday classic by bringing everything together in one pan and using the stovetop and broiler rather than baking.
Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad
Chef Jonathan Waxman taught Cooking Light Editor Hunter Lewis how to make this fall salad many years ago. Riff with the ingredients to find the flavor balance you prefer. For a vegan version, omit the Parmesan cheese.
Sweet Potato Casserole With Crunchy Oat Topping
This classic casserole often straddles the line between side and dessert (indeed, we've enjoyed the leftovers both ways). We dial down the sugar to steer the dish back to savory territory, and add a crunchy oat and nut topper for texture. A final drizzle of maple syrup just before serving gives the casserole a lovely sheen. While we call for a ricer in our master mashed potatoes, a potato masher is perfectly acceptable here since the spuds will be bound with an egg, topped, and baked. Chopped almonds or walnuts would be a delicious sub for the pecans.
Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Pomegranate and Pine Nuts
For a bit of showmanship, bring the whole cauliflower to the table, and then "carve" and dress with the vinaigrette, pomegranate arils, pine nuts, and parsley.
Modify the recipe for our Honey Whole-Wheat Pull-Apart Rolls by stirring in Asiago cheese and chopped rosemary. Substitute 1 tablespoon sugar for honey and reducing butter to 1 1/2 tablespoons. Add 1/4 cup grated Asiago cheese and 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary to milk mixture with butter, sugar, and eggs in step 1. Sprinkle 1 tablespoons grated Asiago over rolls before baking.
Lemon-Herb Sheet Pan Roasted Vegetables
Combine 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper in a bowl, stirring with a whisk. Combine butternut squash, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, and potatoes from master recipe in a large bowl, then follow remaining steps.
Potato and Leek Gratin
A mandoline will slice the potatoes quickly and to the same thickness, though a sharp knife will also work. Instead of being buried in cream, the potatoes and leeks are simmered in and drizzled with milk so the potatoes get wonderfully crisp and tender and the cheeses form a melty, golden crust. The result is a rich, rustic potato side with contrasting flavors and textures—a bit of crunch to round out the stuffing, sauces, and mashes on the plate. Reheat leftovers in the oven until crisped and warmed through, and then serve with eggs and a side of fruit for breakfast.
Cheesy Potato Casserole
Rather than using sodium-loaded canned soup, we made our own creamy sauce to update this dish.
Spiralized Beet and Butternut Squash Noodles with Parsley Pesto
What's better than roasted beets? Spiralized beets, duh! The nifty gadget turns beets and butternut squash into twirly noodles tossed in a delightful herby sauce.
Braised Leeks with Parmesan
Wash leeks after they’re halved by dunking them in a bowl of cold water and vigorously swishing to dislodge dirt and grit trapped between the layers. You may need to repeat the process once or twice, depending on the level of grit. We love the simplicity of this dish. White wine provides a little tangy acid to the leeks, while Parmesan cheese packs an umami whallop, making for a supremely satisfying side.
Baked Mac and Cheese
We added a surprise ingredient, canola mayonnaise, to make things extra creamy.
A fresh, crisp salad balances the lineup of heavier, rich side dishes. You can follow a recipe or just compose one with pretty cuts of your favorite vegetables and herbs tossed with a light vinaigrette. Make this salad a day ahead if you want the flavors to absorb into the cauliflower a little more. Just hold off on adding the cheese until right before serving.
Glazed Sweet Potatoes with Maple Gastrique
The gastrique, a tangy-sweet glaze, is Thanksgiving worthy but also simple enough to pull off on a weekday.
Green Beans with Dried Cranberries and Hazelnuts
Every plate needs a little green on it. Blanch the beans ahead, and store in the refrigerator to eliminate a task from the Thanksgiving Day prep list.
Sweet Potato Casserole
No Thanksgiving table is complete without this sweetened vegetable. Our modern twist on the classic sweet potato casserole is a fragrant vanilla bean streusel.
Roasted Cranberries and Grapes with Rosemary
Your relish is going to get a much needed revamp with the addition of grapes and rosemary. Black grapes have thicker skins than red grapes, and they'll hold up better under the broiler.
Roasted Broccoli with Pistachios and Pickled Golden Raisins
Some version of broccoli, usually laden with cream and cheese, lands on many a Thanksgiving table. But this dish, with its beautifully balanced flavors, is much lighter—and vegan.
Mom's Smashed Mashed Potatoes
To keep potatoes warm until the meal is ready, place them, loosely covered, in a heatproof dish or bowl, and set them (without submerging them) in a larger pot of hot water over very low heat. They'll stay warm without scorching on the bottom.
Old-Fashioned Mustard Pickles
Traditionally, the vegetables are salted and left to soften. Instead, we blanched them to tenderize before pickling.
Cran-Blueberry Sauce with Candied Ginger
Make this sauce a couple of days ahead, and refrigerate in an airtight container. Reheat in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, adding water—a tablespoon or two—to thin it.