Thanksgiving is stressful enough as is, and this year we’ve got to deal with relatives who voted for you-know-who. We at The A.V. Club advocate a low-anxiety holiday, so let us at least keep the cooking part as stress-free as possible.
We’ve reached out to chefs, food writers, and our own staff to ask for foolproof Thanksgiving side dishes that can be explained in 100 words. Anything more complicated isn’t worth your blood pressure.
Got a recipe to share? Let us know in the comments below.
This is my wife’s trick, but since she doesn’t have a byline here, I’m passing it off as my own: I like to add a touch of wasabi paste to mashed potatoes—just a tablespoon or so, enough to give it a little kick without it being too overpowering. It’s a nice way to liven up what can otherwise be a satisfying, but also sort-of dull dish, giving it that piquant horseradish burn that makes you want to return for more. And it’s a great way to use up that tube of wasabi paste you bought a year ago and still haven’t managed to work your way through.
Gail Simmons, food writer and judge on Top Chef Charleston
Sweet potatoes with miso chili butter: Cut two large sweet potatoes into eight wedges each. Toss in a tablespoon olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast at 425 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Stir together four tablespoons softened unsalted butter, one tablespoon chopped scallions, one tablespoon miso paste, and 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes. Slather potatoes with miso butter.
Daniel Vaughn, Texas Monthly BBQ editor
Happy cranberries: Sprinkle one package cranberries with 2 cups sugar and bake in shallow pan at 350 degrees for one hour. Sprinkle another 1/4 cup of sugar and add four tablespoons of bourbon. The cranberries crackle mightily when the bourbon is poured on. That’s how you know it’s time to party.
Umami brussels sprouts and bacon: Cube bacon lardons and fry crispy. Remove bacon but keep drippings in pan. Take halved brussels sprouts and pan-fry until charred. Add bacon back, squeeze juice from half a lemon, and add a tablespoon of fish sauce. Plate and grate lemon zest on top. Ridiculously easy and delicious.
Einat Admony’s “Cauliflower Everyone Loves” recipe is so called because the cauliflower is deep fried, giving it an otherworldly deliciousness as far as this vegetable is concerned. Blanch a head of cauliflower for two minutes. Toss in a bag with flour, salt, and pepper, then deep fry (using a deep fryer is easiest, but several cups canola oil in a deep pan works just as well). Using a home deep fryer makes Admony’s already-easy recipe even easier. To really impress your Thanksgiving guests, follow the rest of her recipe and add pine nuts, dried currants, and/or a simple vinaigrette.
Kate Heddings, Food & Wine executive food editor
All-purpose beer gravy: Melt butter in a saucepan. Add minced onion and garlic and cook over low heat until softened but not browned. Whisk in flour and cook for about two minutes, then whisk in chicken stock and beer (amber or dark) and cook over moderate heat until simmering and thickened. Add a pinch of sugar and season with salt.
Cheesy onions are my particular turkey day passion. It couldn’t be simpler: Boil some pearl onions and pop ’em out of their skin; make a sauce from milk, butter, and cheddar cheese; then put them together in a pan and bake it at 400 degrees for 25 minutes. It’s a delightfully decadent alternative to something like corn casserole, and it gets in a hearty dose of cheese, which is absent from most other Thanksgiving staples. All that being said, I’ve seen people fuck up this recipe, so keep an eye on your dish while it’s in the oven.
In my house we call this “butter apples”: Just chop up whatever apples you have laying around into about one-inch cubes (you don’t even have to peel them) and sauté in the best butter you can find (like Kerrygold). Add lots of vanilla extract and cinnamon. Your kitchen will smell even more amazing, and the resulting unusual twist on applesauce will kick your Thanksgiving dinner up a few notches, in about 10 minutes and only a few ingredients. Bonus: It’s kid-friendly, so should be a hit with everyone at your table.
(Another family tradition involves frying up the leftover bread stuffing and little hockey pucks of next-day mashed potatoes for our day-after Thanksgiving breakfast, for my second favorite meal of the year.)
Jacob Wojnar, chef of Hungry Wolf Catering in San Mateo, CA
2 cans sliced beets
1 thumb-size knob of ginger, minced
1 small jalapeño, no seeds, minced
Sauté in butter until heated through. Season and serve. Fastest side dish ever.
Green bean casserole is one of the easiest Thanksgiving dishes to make, and that’s what Campbell Soup Company intended. Invented in 1955 as a way “to create a quick and easy recipe around two things most Americans always had on hand in the 1950s: green beans and Campbell’s Cream Of Mushroom Soup,” it’s time for an update. I suggest an easy swap: remove the french fried onions and instead cover that casserole with an entire bag of crumbled Funyuns. This creates a slightly tangier taste that your tastebuds will surely appreciate.
Jonathan Gill, chef of RingSide Fish House in Portland, OR
Crispy cheesy fried Brussels sprouts
1. Toss 1 lb. Brussels sprouts with 1/4 cup canola oil, season with salt and pepper.
2. Place in a baking dish large enough to hold the sprouts in one even layer.
3. Bake at 425 degrees for 25 minutes (until tender to the center when tested with the tip of a knife).
4. Transfer to a bowl and toss with fresh grated Parmesan cheese, fresh lemon juice and more salt to taste. Serve piled high with more Parmesan on top.