Low effort, high deliciousness Thanksgiving side dishes
November 13, 2022 2:27 AM   Subscribe

We are hosting Thanksgiving this year and I’d like to try out a new side dish or two.

Rotating cast of characters already include:
Stuffing (stouffers is our tradition)
Cranberry sauce (homemade)
Mashed potatoes
Some sort of green salad
Charoset (an apple nut salad traditionally served on Passover; we use the Joan Nathan Ashkenazi recipe)

We do not have any significant food restrictions and since this is a side dish, food preferences are not so important.

What does easy mean to me in terms of cooking?
Doesn’t require a trip to a specialty store -in other circumstances I have no problem heading out to places other than the local big grocery store but in this case time is of the essence.
Doesn’t require more than an hour of active preparation.
Doesn’t require lots of oven time on thanksgiving day at a temperature not compatible with turkey cooking
Doesn’t require specialty cooking appliances beyond an immersion blender/food processor/microwave/toaster oven
Is likely to work the first time when prepared by someone following the recipe as written.

Apologies for all the caveats, I’m just trying to get lots of deliciousness to choose from!
posted by sciencegeek to Food & Drink (36 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Mashed sweet potatoes with butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar are a classic.
You top then with marshmallows if you’re into that.

Another easy classic is stuffing from a package mix. You can gussy it up with fresh herbs and sautéed onions. Dozens of packaged stuffing varieties are available for sale.
posted by bilabial at 3:19 AM on November 13, 2022

I’m not from a Thanksgiving country, but one of my favourite things for Christmas dinner is prunes wrapped in bacon. i.e. wrap the prunes in bacon then cook them in the oven. They don’t need very long in the oven and they don’t particularly need to be served very hot.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 3:38 AM on November 13, 2022 [1 favorite]

How about "Apples and Cranberries Baked in a Pumpkin?"

Tasty and simple.
posted by Marky at 3:39 AM on November 13, 2022 [3 favorites]

Wild rice pilaf is one of my favorites. You can make it the night before and then heat it up the day of Thanksgiving.
posted by gnutron at 3:46 AM on November 13, 2022

You can roast literally any vegetable, at about the same temperature as the turkey.

Pick any vegetable, cut it into chunks, toss those chunks in olive oil and salt and pepper, and scatter everything across a sheet tray and then it goes in the oven until it's done. The timing will depend on the kind of vegetable (root veg and winter squash would take longer than string beans) but that's about it.

And that basic recipe can improved on however you want; add a chopped herb along with the salt and pepper maybe. Or dump them directly into the same roasting pan as the turkey so it soaks up those flavors.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:00 AM on November 13, 2022 [5 favorites]

We love simple butternut squash. You can do this a day (or several days) ahead. Peel, cut in chunks, cook in an inch or so of water until soft, mash, puree. Serve with a pat of butter melting on top and a drizzle of honey.
posted by evilmomlady at 4:17 AM on November 13, 2022 [4 favorites]

We like to do peas and mushrooms. Slice whatever kind of mushrooms you have or want, pretty thin. Put a little oil in a big pan and spread the mushrooms out into one layer. Turn the heat onto medium high and don’t mess with them until they have released a lot of liquid and begin to brown. You might want to do this in batches. Anyway, stir them around and let them brown some more until the pan is almost dry, then push them all to the side of your pan. Add minced shallots or onion and a little garlic, let them cook until tender, adding some oil if you need it. Deglaze the pan with some sherry, wine, or turkey stock and mix it all up. After most of that has cooked off, add a whole bunch of frozen peas. Season liberally with salt and pepper, add a couple pats of butter, and let everything mingle for a while on low heat. This can sit on a back burner on low for a while, or you can make it ahead and reheat day-of. I like to garnish with fresh thyme before serving. Simplest with button mushrooms, fanciest with chanterelles, oyster, and porcini mushrooms, but both are really good.
posted by Mizu at 5:16 AM on November 13, 2022 [5 favorites]

We always have a baked mac and cheese, often "fancied up" with the addition of shellfish or bacon or both.
posted by donnagirl at 5:29 AM on November 13, 2022 [1 favorite]

Roasted or pan Brussels sprouts. Slice in half, use lots of olive oil, cook on high medium heat with the sprouts cut side down. Toss them when they’re well-browned. I add pancetta, but it’s not required. Add just a little balsamic vinegar when serving, and plenty of salt. They should be chewy, not cooked too well done.

There’s a Martha Stewart recipe for scalloped root vegetables, with beets, white and sweet potatoes, and onion, plus butter (olive oil). I’m going to make it with chickpea flour batter because I don’t eat dairy. It’s very pretty and I think it will be delicious.
posted by theora55 at 5:35 AM on November 13, 2022

Also not from a Thanksgiving country, but for Christmas, and whenever else we roast a big bird, a salad similar to this has become a tradition. It is very pretty, and fresh and crunchy, and brings a bit of health to an otherwise pretty stodgy meal. But the best part is that it is really good with gravy.
Our recipe is almost identical, but has apple slices in it, too, and rose pepper in place of paprika and cinnamon in the dressing.

Right now, I have baked a spanakopita, so it's on my mind. But I find it is one of the best sides ever, for every meal. Easy to make, and can be eaten at room temperature or hot from the oven. It it one of those things that are better the next day, too.
posted by mumimor at 5:35 AM on November 13, 2022 [1 favorite]

My family always had Southern green beans and ambrosia salad.

For the ambrosia salad, the essentials are the sour cream and coconut. The fruit can be varied, and my mom didn't use what was in the recipe I linked to. She used canned pineapple, canned mandarin oranges, green grapes, and plums. For kid me, the mandarin oranges and mini marshmallows were the best part. This is not exactly a healthful salad, and it all seems very 60s now, but we loved it.
posted by FencingGal at 6:02 AM on November 13, 2022 [3 favorites]

1. Roast some Brussels sprouts in the oven following EmpressCallipygos‘ comment above. On the stove top in a small saucier or skillet, warm a little bit of good quality extra virgin olive oil on low heat with some cocoa nib (this applies just enough heat so that the cocoa nib flavour permeates the olive oil) for about five minutes. You can do this step just before the Brussels sprouts are done, or when you put the Brussels sprouts in and then set aside, depending on what best fits the rest of your cooking schedule. When the Brussels sprouts are done, move them to a serving dish if desired and pour the cocoa nib olive oil over the top. Also add some coarse sea salt, and mix a bit. (Based on recipe from cookbook Bittersweet, which uses green beans and prosciutto instead of the salt. Probably also very good, but I ‘m vegetarian so have not tried the original version. The vegetarian treatment is also great with green beans if you can get fresh green beans - rinse them, tip and tail them, and cut into bite sized segments, then sauté on the stove top over medium. But experiments with frozen green beans have been less satisfactory.)

2. I’m on a Bryant Terry kick. His creamy cauliflower and peas recipe is fantastic. The charred lemon-thyme oil uses lemon juice and thyme separately (not the herb lemon thyme) - memail me for the recipe if you’d like, but it’s basically all in the name. The recipe does call for nigella seeds, but I didn’t have any on hand when I made it and didn’t use any substitute, and it was still very tasty.
posted by eviemath at 6:03 AM on November 13, 2022

(I can also send the original version of recipe 1, with prosciutto, by memail if you’d like!)
posted by eviemath at 6:04 AM on November 13, 2022

Not quite Southern green beans, but crispy fried onions also dress up green beans nicely, and are something I associate with Thanksgiving. If you have access to fresh green beans, sautéing them with garlic is also low effort but just a little bit fancier than average.
posted by eviemath at 6:09 AM on November 13, 2022 [1 favorite]

We have made this sweet potato and leek soup. It is really tasty and can be made ahead and then just finished off and heated up on the stove on Thanksgiving day. The cilantro garnish really adds something to it, but can be left off if you don't like cilantro.
posted by gudrun at 6:51 AM on November 13, 2022 [1 favorite]

You can do this on a stovetop, in a crock pot, or in an Instant Pot: get a couple pounds of mushrooms (whole, sliced, or buy whole and halve or quarter them), a stick of butter, a box of chicken or vegetable stock (not low-sodium, ideally), crush a clove or two of garlic. Put them all in the container and apply heat either slowly or quickly, depending on which cooking method you use. Unless you and everyone you know are mushroom haters, you will think "we cannot possibly consume this many mushrooms" and you absolutely will. This makes a great deal of leftover soup base, which I like to use to make beans (especially black-eyed peas) later in the weekend.

I've never had it last long enough to have leftovers, but I suspect they would only improve from sitting in the fridge for a day or two and then microwaved on the day.

Pull-apart Breads are generally made with a large rustic or boule loaf, which you cross-hatch with a bread knife and stuff delicious things into the gaps and heat the whole thing through. Some of the other recipes are made with canned pizza dough, biscuits, or crescent rolls, but I like the cross-hatched ones best for appearance.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:30 AM on November 13, 2022 [2 favorites]

Jacques Pépin has a great butternut squash sauté recipe that takes less than half an hour to make. It is a good, less-sweet substitute for something like candied yams.
posted by snofoam at 7:31 AM on November 13, 2022 [1 favorite]

If you can get harissa at your local big grocery store, harissa and maple roasted carrots are fantastic. If you can't get harissa at your local big grocery store, maple roasted carrots with chili garlic sauce, homemade harissa, or an improvised spice paste of your own invention would be nice. (Maple roasted carrots are very nice by themselves, but some heat really brings it up another notch.)
posted by Jeanne at 8:04 AM on November 13, 2022 [5 favorites]

Baked Pineapple Casserole, or Pineapple Bake as we always called it is an easy to throw together delicious dish that we only ever had for special occasions growing up. There’s other variations but I think this is closest to what mom used to make.
posted by cali59 at 8:26 AM on November 13, 2022

this recipe for carrots is tested, easy, delicious, a crowd pleaser!
posted by supermedusa at 9:00 AM on November 13, 2022

The most amazing kale brussel sprouts salad you ever had. Fair warning, we do call it "fart salad", but it will be at our Thanksgiving table this year. It's great because even dressed, it's good a few days later from the fridge. IF there are leftovers (which is why I intentionally make leftovers whenever I make it).
posted by atomicstone at 9:45 AM on November 13, 2022 [2 favorites]

I checked my notes and this was the standout favorite side dish from last year's Thanksgiving: A salad of celery, tart apple, grapes, toasted pecans, and fresh goat cheese, with a dressing of olive oil, cider vinegar, salt and pepper. (It is from Abra Berens' "Ruffage" book.)

That said, for me it isn't Thanksgiving without mashed sweet potatoes, and they are the laziest thing in the world: Wash them (don't peel), wrap in a bundle in foil while still wet, and roast c 2 hours.) Let cool enough to handle: the skins slip off. Mash up roughly with some orange or lemon juice, some nutmeg and garlic salt. No need for any additional sugar, the long roasting makes them deeply sweet and caramelly.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:33 AM on November 13, 2022 [6 favorites]

We always make Green Beans Almondine for Thanksgiving. It's easy to do. Make extra nuts.

I was also going to suggest that Harissa & maple carrot recipe mentioned above. It's wonderful. I always add extra lemons.
posted by belladonna at 10:47 AM on November 13, 2022 [1 favorite]

One of our family's Thanksgiving staples is "Glorified Rice".

Prepare white rice to make 6 cups, chill overnight. Recipe calls for Minute Rice, but whatever.
drain 1 can crushed pineapple, add to rice.
Drain and halve 1 small jar maraschino cherries, reserve liquid. Add cherries to rice mixture.
Fold in 3-4 cups whipped cream, to desired fluffiness. Real, from heavy cream whipped cream. Reddi Whip or Cool Whip will fail.
Add drizzle of cherry juice to tint slightly pink. Serve well chilled. Keeps for a day or two, but starts to separate and get a little watery. Scale accordingly for crowd size. Usual serving size seems to be about 3/4 cup or so.

It's really one of those "eh, whatever, winging it" recipes. Hard to mess up. Scales pretty easily.
posted by xedrik at 12:20 PM on November 13, 2022 [1 favorite]

This Lentil salad is delicious and easy. Can be eaten hot, room temp, or cold.
posted by bookworm4125 at 12:23 PM on November 13, 2022

Oh weird the link didn't work. Sorry. http://orangette.net/2007/05/spring-clean/
posted by bookworm4125 at 12:24 PM on November 13, 2022 [1 favorite]

I had this salad the first time in an airport. it is amazing. It's very seasonal, oranges, fennel, olives and onions, and very simple to make. Such a good counterpoint to all the fatty foods.
posted by mumimor at 3:41 PM on November 13, 2022

Deviled eggs are super easy and delicious. I'm not sure if they're considered a Thanksgiving dish specifically, but we always make them. I mixed hot sauce into the "stuffing" for half of them last year for people who wanted some heat.
posted by Eyelash at 4:47 PM on November 13, 2022

I just came across this Alton Brown recipe for pumpkin soup that is baked inside a whole pumpkin. Haven't tried it but it's intriguing and thematically appropriate.
posted by yeahlikethat at 4:50 PM on November 13, 2022

Try making green bean casserole without the canned cream of mushroom
Soup. Most people have only ever had the ones with the canned stuff. And make sure to use fresh green beans.

I usually get tired so end up just sautéing any veggie I have on hand: asparagus, broccoli, etc. it’s quick and easy.

+1 vote for roasted Brussels sprouts.

A roasted root veg platter is fun too: chop up beets, carrots (the more colorful, the better) , parsnips, sweet potatoes, turnips, etc. Toss with olive oil and bake. Delicious!
posted by Neekee at 7:16 PM on November 13, 2022

The article touts this as an Easter dish, but I like it just about any time. Southern Baked Pineapple Casserole.

In case there's a paywall, I am pasting the recipe here, hope it formats OK. Credit to Sharon Rigsby, from the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper, not to me.
Southern Baked Pineapple Casserole Recipe

Serves 4


1 20 oz can pineapple chunks in juice, drained (reserve 3 Tbsp of the juice)

1/4 cup granulated sugar

3 Tbsp all-purpose flour

1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

15 buttery round crackers (I use Ritz)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix the sugar, flour and three tablespoons of pineapple juice in a medium-size bowl until it is smooth and creamy.

Add the drained pineapple chunks and mix well to ensure the pineapple chunks are covered with the liquid.

Grease a small baking dish with butter or spray with non-stick cooking spray. Pour the pineapple mixture in the dish and spread out evenly.

Sprinkle the shredded cheese evenly over the top of the pineapple mixture.

Place the crackers in a small plastic storage bag and crush them with your hands. Add the butter and squish around until the butter and cracker crumbs are well mixed.

Sprinkle the cracker/butter topping evenly over the top of the cheese.

Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown and the pineapple mixture is bubbly.


To make this casserole ahead, cover the dish containing the pineapple mixture and cheese with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Before baking, top with the cracker/butter mixture and bake as directed.

This recipe for Southern Baked Pineapple Casserole calls for 1/4 cup of sugar, which is how I usually make it. But, feel free to reduce the amount or leave it out altogether. Taste your pineapple first; if it’s really sweet, you don’t need as much sugar.

Southern Baked Pineapple Casserole is very versatile. Not only is it a great side dish, but it’s sweet enough for dessert too! Try topping leftovers with a dollop of whipped cream or serve them over vanilla ice cream or a piece of pound cake.

This recipe serves four. If you need to feed more folks, simply double or triple the recipe.
posted by TimHare at 8:58 PM on November 13, 2022

“Stuffing (stouffers is our tradition)”

I can’t resist pointing out that Stouffers has never made a stuffing, but that many people who grew up in the eighties believe they did. I learned this on an episode of “How To With John Wilson” and it blew my mind. Also, agreed that you should make Brussels sprouts.
posted by cakelite at 8:30 AM on November 14, 2022 [4 favorites]

Most people have only ever had the ones with the canned stuff.

I find lots of people love green been casserole, even if you make it with the canned mushroom soup. Heck, a half and half of green bean casserole and green beans almondine mentioned above sounds delightful. I mean separate trays of course, not mixed together.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:17 AM on November 14, 2022

Green Beans ceasar

cube two slices of bread per can of beans. Heat up a small amount of oil and toast the bread cubes in it.. remove from pan. then add how every many cans of green beans you need to feed your family.

for each can of green beans add 2 T oil of choice, 1 T vinegar, 1T minced onion, 1 t garlic and salt and pepper to taste. cook on low for 20 minutes or so until the green beans are very tender. you can keep warm at this point for how every long. just before serving toss with homemade croutons and top with parmesean cheese, either freshly shredded or even the powdery stuff is fine.
posted by domino at 6:17 AM on November 15, 2022

My mom’s recipe for broccoli rice casserole is one of our faves at holiday meals. (I’m sure it’s from the back of a package of something, but it’s been a staple in my family long enough to be a family recipe.) Since it’s all cooked before going in the oven, there’s a lot of flexibility about when you finish it off. We prep the day before and toss it in the oven toward the end of the turkey cooking time.

Broccoli & Rice Casserole
1 box Ben's original wild rice, cook according to directions on box. (I cook mine in the microwave).
1 small pkg. frozen broccoli, (again I cook mine in the microwave and I never add water)
1/2 cup chopped onions,
1/2 cup celery;
3 Tbls. oleo;
1/2 cup evaporated milk;
1 can cream of chicken soup;
1 jar Cheez Whiz.
Saute onions and celery in oleo. Combine all ingredients and cook in oven until top is bubbling.
posted by malthusan at 9:59 AM on November 15, 2022

Super easy and big hit. Buy a few bags of pre-shredded Brussels sprouts. (Or you can make your own in the food processor using the slicing blade instead of the chopping blade.) Finely chop up half a package of bacon. In a sautée pan, cook bacon pieces on low until they're golden and ditch most of the liquid fat. Reserve the bacon bits on the side. Then sauté the sliced sprouts in the remaining fat until they're bright green. Add the bacon bits back in, with salt, pepper, and maybe a pinch of red pepper flakes for spice.

Boom you're done, it's delicious. (Can also use turkey bacon with a little olive oil if you're health-conscious.)
posted by egeanin at 2:54 PM on November 15, 2022

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