I've always believed that side dishes are the best part of any Thanksgiving menu—and the best place to mix things things up a bit. So here's my declaration: If you try one new thing for Thanksgiving this year, let it be a new side dish. Don't worry, these new dishes don't have to replace Grandma's green bean casserole. They can sit right alongside it. No one's ever going to be mad about one new side dish on the buffet, and when they're as fun as these recipes are, your new side hustle might even steal the show.
You might think I'm over-selling this "fun" thing. But I really did have a lot of fun dreaming up these new side dishes, and I hope (I think!) it shows. Each of these recipes—or all of them—could easily slide into any Thanksgiving menu you're already planning. Plus, they're all naturally gluten-free, and two of them are vegetarian. The third (the green bean salad) isn't vegetarian, but it is dairy-free. So you should be able to find at least one new dish that every one of your guests can enjoy, no matter their dietary restrictions.
1. A More Fun Way to Eat All The Potatoes
I've always found it very hard to choose between sweet potatoes and their less-sweet brethren. In my family we often end up making both, because no one else can decide either. But this year, I realized I could combine all the potatoes in one dish to make everyone happy. (I also added purple sweet potatoes. They're just so good-looking.) This dish is truly flexible; you can add as many colors of potatoes as you can find, or stick with just one. Do try to find potatoes that are roughly around the same size so they roast at roughly the same rate.
Once the potatoes are roasted, I tear them open, creating skin-on craggy pieces that get dotted with lots of spicy cilantro-lime butter. The butter (which can be made ahead) is bright and potent, and yes, all of it is necessary to sauce and flavor your potatoes. After the butter melts on the hot potatoes, shower the colorful platter in jewel-like pomegranate seeds, a squeeze of lime, and a flurry of flaky salt.Anna Stockwell
2. A More Fun Way to Add Butternut Squash
Some kind of creamy corn thing is always a part of my family's Thanksgiving spread. And then there's always someone who thinks there should be butternut squash featured somewhere. So this year, I'm stirring cubes of that butternut squash into a big pot of creamy polenta. As the polenta cooks, the squash gets nice and melty-soft, so that by the time I'm ready to stir in the milk, I can mash the squash against the side of the pot, and stir to break it up even further. In goes butter and Parmesan, and then I pour the whole creamy squashy situation into a baking dish. This can all be done up to two days before the party. But before I chill the casserole, I poke cubes of Fontina into the mixture, which turn into pockets of melted cheese that will pull off the serving spoon in irresistible strands. Top off the casserole with crisped, fragrant sage leaves, because what kind of butternut squash and cheese party would it be if you didn't invite sage, too?
3. A More Fun Way to Not Cook Green Beans
For many years, my mama would put a pot of green beans on to boil just before we served Thanksgiving dinner. She'd get swept away in conversation and chaos, forgetting the green beans until they were over-cooked into mush. Now, I like a crispy green bean. And the truth is, you don't actually need to cook them at all. Just smash them to break up the membranes and then marinate them in in a flavorful dressing, and no one will have to remember to do anything at the last minute, because it can all be prepped far in advance.
I have a Thai aunt who taught me how to make green papaya salads in her big kruk, bashing shredded papaya and raw green beans with the wooden pestle until they are tender enough to absorb the dressing. That technique stuck with me, but without a kruk, I fill a bag with green beans and bash them with a rolling pin. You have to really smash them. Yes, they will break and split and look weird, but that's how they get tender enough to really soak up the dressing and taste great without cooking. This side dish is nothing like my aunt's papaya salad: to start, there's no papaya. But I still splash a secret amount of fish sauce into the sweet-tart citrus dressing, and add raw chiles and crunchy peanuts to the mix. With a Southeast Asian nod to the fried onions that would top a classic green bean casserole, I serve my salad topped with store-bought fried shallots, which are so crispy and so delicious.Anna Stockwell
Originally Appeared on Epicurious