Gobble, gobble everyone, you guessed it, this week is Thanksgiving. Arguably this holiday is immersed in as much controversy as Columbus Day and for good reason. But as you can tell by the title, we aren’t discussing the societal impact of this holiday and how it glorifies the decimation of entire groups of indigenous people. Not today, anyway.
Thanksgiving is only a holiday I like because it was a time for my family together and to break bread with one another. And you get to eat a lot of amazing food, even though I recently found out that I have a friend who very much dislikes Thanksgiving food. No judgment, well maybe a little. With so many options for your dinner table, how can you not like the food at Thanksgiving?
For me, sides have always been what makes Thanksgiving. Sure, sure you can say its the turkey, but so many people are only half good at cooking that famous bird that it can be both a pleasure and pain. And because of that friend I decided to share with you my Top Ten Thanksgiving sides, Some of them are traditional and some are just family traditions. So let’s get to my list. Fair warning, these are not my pictures. They do not constitute the side dishes I would serve and how they would look.
Green Bean Casserole
10. Green bean Casserole. This one is at number 10 because it isn’t exactly a favorite but it always seems to turn up. Nothing special about it. It’s just green beans, cream of mushroom soup, and those French onion sticks that come in a can. Sure, it’s tasty but it’s hardly memorable. It was always the dish people would bring with they couldn’t think of anything else or was simply a last minute thought. Even better, there are the ones that claim its a family recipe, Yeah from French’s Onion Stick family. I mean no disrespect if this is your go to side dish. It made the list, so I do enjoy it. Next time, stick with biscuits, rolls, or even cornbread.
9. Stuffing. As I type this, I can hear the world heave a collective cringe. I have heard horror stories about people only opening a box of Stove Top Stuffing and cooking it to serve, talk about trauma inducing memories. Since I was a kid it has been one of my favorites this time of year. I have heard of people cooking it in the turkey, around the turkey, and even separately. My family would take bag stuffing, like Pepperidge Farms, and pour enough broth on it to get it good and moist. Next we would add raisins and either slices of oranges or apples to add sweetness and flavor. Then, my mother would add just a little sugar to help out. From there it varied depending on my mother’s mom cooking it or my mom. Memaw would cook the turkey until about the last 45 minutes then she would put some of the stuffing around the turkey and put it back to finish cooking and the rest would go in a cake pan. Mom would just do the pan. It always came out the perfect amount of moist with just enough crunch on top.
8. Mashed Potatoes. I for one love mashed taters at almost any meal. When you pair that creamy starchy dish with gravy, it becomes heaven. That makes it a perfect match for Thanksgiving. The debate comes to whether you leave the skins on or off. For me, personally, I prefer to have skin partially on my red potatoes. Yellow, Yukon Gold, or whatever other white potato I prefer to be skinless. Either way, heap me up a mound and pass that gravy.
7. Gravy, Speaking of mashed potatoes and gravy, what Thanksgiving is complete without a boat full of gravy? This is another that has a million variations of making it. Being southern, I was always taught to make a roux for any of my gravy. Sometimes, however, that may not be the best route. I learned a technique called a ‘slurry.’ Essentially, you take cornstarch and cold water and mix till smooth. Then you add this to your mixture. This allows the corn starch not to lump before it touches the warm liquid and keeps its smooth texture. Try it, I’m sure you will like it as well. Hey, remember that corn starch is gluten free, so if you have people who are gluten intolerant or you are, this is a great way to still have gravy.
6. Macaroni Salad. What kind of southerner would I be if I did not include macaroni salad. This is like mashed potatoes and is perfect for any lunch/dinner or year round. It is a great compliment to Thanksgiving dinner, as it adds a cold side to an otherwise overly hot menu. And it is amazingly simple to make. Mom always cut up tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, and some celery to make it. Add to it mayonnaise and cooked macaroni and viola. When I was young I avoided it, oddly enough. It wasn’t until one time mom made it that I decided to give it a bit. She has just put it in a bowl and into the fridge. The warm, just mixed concoction hitting my tongue opened up my mind to the awesomeness of macaroni salad. From that point on I loved it. It is one of the many dishes that my mom used to make that I miss. I never seem to get it just right.
Sweet Potato Casserole
5. Sweet Potato Casserole. Another one of mom’s amazing recipes. I know some people dont like sweet potatoes at all, but this recipe can usually cure that ill. It’s mashed up sweet potatoes covered with crushed walnuts or pecans, brown sugar, and a little flour. You can also add cornflakes to it, like mom did. The sweetness of this recipe is borderline dessert. And let me tell you, it is amazing the next day warmed up. The flavors have a chance to fully meld together and it is a sweet and heavenly dance across your pallet. Where is that dish of sweet potato casserole? Oh right, Thanksgiving is Thursday.
Macaroni and Cheese
4. Macaroni and Cheese. For me, nothing said holidays or special days like when mom would make her macaroni and cheese. This wasn’t simply boiling water, throwing in noodles, and add powdered cheese. This was a special time so it was made in the crock pot. Real cheese, cream, noodles and cooking low and slow. You dig into it and the cheese stretches as you dish out your serving. It was heaven in a fork full.
3. Bread. I admit it, I am a bread junkie, no matter the bread. But there were two things you could put next to your turkey on Thanksgiving that I absolutely love, biscuits or corn bread. Any good southern person worth their salt knows that either of those two things always belongs on a plate. How else are you going to sop up any of the juices of the meal. To the day, my favorite biscuits from my great aunt Recie. She would start making biscuits before the sun came up and always did them on a wood fire oven. She saved every aluminium pie tin that came into the house, just to make her biscuits in. She even made them for people to take with them when they left, hence using the pie tins. Was so much easier to put cling wrap over that and take them with. To this day, my mouth waters at the thought of those fresh from the oven biscuits, Thanksgiving just isn’t the same without them.
2. Cranberry Sauce. Okay, this one causes debates in many households as to which is better. To me, nothing said Thanksgiving like that can of Ocean Spray Cranberry sauce, that’s right the one in the can with the can markings on the side. Sure it had a tinge of metallic taste. Yeah it was cheap. No it wasn’t overly pretty to look at, lying on its side in some dish on the table. However, the memories tied to it is what makes it for me. Its the one side that I never minded getting mixed in with everything on the plate. And hey, if you are bad at cutting, follow those nifty little lines and you are guaranteed to get a perfect slice each time. Save your fancy cranberry sauce, when you add all those extra ingredients you are changing the very nature of what it should be. Interesting tidbit, traditionally cranberry sauce recipes can be traced back to 1796 and it is more plausible that it was of the more chunky variety than the canned goodness we have now. We have Ocean Spray to thank for that. They designed the bog harvest which lead to many imperfect berries that could not be sold. So they decided to turn it into a jelly like consistency and put it in a can to sell.
1.Corn Pudding. Okay, before you say it, I realize most of you may not have ever heard of corn pudding and are having the most bizarre images running through your mind. Let me help set your mind at ease and tell you how amazing it is. This was a dish that we had on Sundays, when people came to dinner, and just about every holiday imaginable. Before you go running to the web to look for a recipe for this amazing delicious goodness let me tell you there are tons of recipes out there and many of them are on the more salty side. You want the one that is a bit more sweet. It’s essentially corn, sugar, eggs, and flour. Baked to create a casserole of sorts You may have your doubts, but there is not a single person I have made this for that does not ask me for it again. Memaw and mom both made corn pudding and they were a little different. My version is between the two and has the best of both. It has so many memories tied to it that there is no way I would not keep this as part of my Thanksgiving side dishes.
These are my favorite side dishes for Thanksgiving. I hope some of them are on your favorites list and hope that maybe a few of them that you want to add to your rotation. I would love to hear some of your favorite dishes for the holidays, drop me a comment and let me know what are your go tos. If you have tried any of the ones I have suggested, let me know your thoughts in comments as well.