5 Side Dishes, 5 Ways

Published in Gourmet Live 11.07.12
Take your favorite Thanksgiving side dishes from boring to brilliant with these quick and easy ingredient upgrades

By Kendra Vizcaino-Lico
5 Side Dishes, 5 Ways

Turkey may be the star of Thanksgiving dinner, but side dishes can make or break the meal. Update your old holiday standbys with a few simple additions that will have your guests reaching for second helpings.


The basic ingredients: Day-old bread or cornbread, butter, chicken or turkey stock, onions, celery, herbs, and eggs

The upgrades:
1. Dried Cranberries: Cranberries add a sweet and tangy flavor to stuffing. They go particularly well in a cornbread dressing. Sprinkle in about 2 tablespoons of cranberries per cup of stuffing.

2. Sausage: This flavorful addition may not be ideal for the vegetarians at the table, but the meat eaters will be thankful. Sausage adds great flavor and texture. Cook fresh sausage through and slice or crumble it into the bread mixture before baking. Dried sausage, like chorizo, will also work very well and can be added without precooking.

3. Chestnuts: Roasted chestnuts give a toasty, earthy flavor to plain stuffing. They also add a meaty texture while leaving the side dish vegetarian-friendly. To roast the chestnuts (three to four per cup of stuffing), cut an X in the shell of each nut and roast for 20 to 30 minutes in a 425°F oven. Let cool, then peel off and discard the shells. Chop up the nuts and add to the bread mixture prior to cooking the stuffing.

4. Oysters: These seafood morsels bring a briny flavor to this bready side, not to mention that eating oysters on Thanksgiving is a tradition rooted in American history. Add about five freshly shucked raw oysters per cup of stuffing prior to baking. You can leave them whole for a chunkier stuffing or chop them up if you prefer them to melt into the dressing.

5. Chiles: Bring the heat with fresh chiles. Sauté chopped chiles in the butter with your other aromatics for a spicy twist. For a milder heat, remove the seeds and ribs from the pepper. You can also control the heat level with your choice of chile. From mildest to spiciest, Anaheim, poblano, jalapeño, chipotle, and serrano peppers are good options, since they have a sweet, smooth chile flavor behind their spice. Depending on the heat level and size of the peppers you pick, you will need from 1 to 4 tablespoons per cup of stuffing.

Cranberry Sauce

The basic ingredients: Cranberries, sugar, and water

The upgrades:
1. Orange Zest: Citrus brightens up the flavor of cranberry sauce. Use a rasp grater to finely zest about 1 to 2 teaspoons per cup of cranberry sauce. Don't have a rasp grater? Use a vegetable peeler to slice off strips of the orange peel. Cut away any white pith, and toss the slices in to cook with the cranberries. Remove the slices from the sauce before serving.

2. Cloves: Whole cloves bring a beautiful aroma and warm depth of flavor to this holiday staple. Simply boil the cloves with the cranberries, sugar, and water. Be sure to count how many cloves you add in (you'll need about 3 cloves per cup of sauce), because you'll need to remove them before serving.

3. Wine: Adding wine to cranberry sauce enhances its sweetness and helps mellow the tart berries. Replace 3/4 of the water in your cranberry sauce recipe with a light red wine (like Pinot Noir or Beaujolais Nouveau). Only add about half the amount of sugar, then taste the sauce once it's cooked and adjust as needed.

4. Nuts: Toasted nuts add a pleasantly crunchy texture. Try using pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, or almonds. Chop the nut of your choice and toast lightly in a pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until fragrant and lightly browned.

5. Pears: Chunks of pear bring extra fruity fall flavor to the sauce. Peel and chop 1/2 a pear per cup of cranberry sauce. You can cook them with cinnamon, a pinch of sugar, and butter, and toss them in when the sauce is done. Or, just add them to simmer with the berries. We recommend using Bartlett pears because they have a great crunchy texture and a smooth flavor that can hold its own against bold cranberries.

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