Everybody has their personal MVP dish at Thanksgiving dinner. The turkey! The potatoes! The stuffing! The cranberry sauce! The pie! Sadly, the humble vegetable side dish often gets lost in the starchy/meaty/sugary blaze of glory and rarely gets the love it deserves. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in for the indulgent side of this holiday, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found these light and bright offerings to be the true secret to a perfectly balanced Thanksgiving plate. Check out our veggie-loaded lineup for new side dish ideas to add your holiday table this year.
The traditional Thanksgiving spread typically consists entirely of cooked dishes. Adding some raw vegetables in the mix instantly helps brighten up the plate and lighten the stomach. This vibrant salad from Pinch of Yum is just the ticket, featuring loads of baby kale mixed with wild rice and toasted walnuts for some added texture and crunch. Feta cheese brings a salty note, while pomegranate seeds give the dish a pop of color and sweetness, and a tangy citrus vinaigrette binds it all together. Bonus: All of the components can be prepped ahead so come dinnertime, all you have to do is toss everything together and serve. Get the recipe on Pinch of Yum.
Butter and cream are two of the main culprits when it comes to the infamous Thanksgiving feast food coma. That’s why I always like to have at least one vegan dish to help cut some of the richness. Minimalist Baker’s Vegan Zucchini Gratin is an ingenious take on a classically heavy cooking preparation (vegetables mixed with a thick cream sauce, topped with cheese or breadcrumbs, and baked). Vegetables are the star here — specifically zucchini, yellow squash, asparagus, and onions — rather than the sauce, which is actually omitted in place of a light drizzle of olive oil. A homemade vegan Parmesan cheese made from ground raw cashews and nutritional yeast yields that signature crunchy topping and golden brown hue. Get the recipe on Minimalist Baker.
I am a major proponent of eating cruciferous vegetables (broccoli/cauliflower) raw. Not only are they addictively crunchy, but also a great sponge for bold dressings and sauces. Cookie + Kate’s Quinoa Broccoli Slaw demonstrates this perfectly by combining shredded broccoli and cooked quinoa with a homemade honey-mustard dressing spiked with lemon juice and garlic. While delicious on its own, chopped basil and sliced almonds give it extra texture and flair. All of the flavor you want in a Thanksgiving side dish and one that you can guiltlessly eat by the scoopful. Get the recipe on Cookie + Kate.
Green beans may be the most common green vegetable on the Thanksgiving table, typically served up via the most unoriginal preparation. I adore green bean casserole, but I so often find myself longing for crunchy beans instead of the mushy, cooked down version. This Pomelo Green Bean recipe from 101 Cookbooks maintains the natural snap and color of the green bean by just giving it a quick blanch in salt water. After cooling, the beans get tossed in a walnut pesto of sorts (a combination of chopped toasted walnuts, garlic, herbs, and olive oil) and combined with a generous amount of shredded radicchio for bitterness and sliced pomelo (a member of the citrus family that starts to pop up in grocery stores during the winter months) for acidity. If you can’t find pomelo, grapefruit or orange segments would make excellent substitutions. Get the recipe on 101 Cookbooks.
Braised red cabbage was a classic side dish on my Thanksgiving table growing up, and I always loved the way it broke up the monotone, beige hue of the feast. This preparation from Smitten Kitchen achieves this same effect but takes the route of a cold slaw studded with chopped dates, crumbled feta, and lots of toasted sesame seeds. The slaw gets doused in a super simple lime vinaigrette, waking the whole dish up and beckoning you to dive in. Get the recipe on Smitten Kitchen.
Fennel is one of my favorite vegetables and it’s often unfairly overlooked at Thanksgiving. Sprouted Kitchen’s Golden Fennel Kale Chop makes fennel the star and cuts its raw anise flavor by giving it a roast in the oven. Once softened and nicely browned, the fennel pieces are combined with chopped kale, chickpeas, golden raisins, Parmesan cheese, and toasted pine nuts. The salad gets dressed in a punchy vinaigrette based with lemon, mustard, and lots of fresh herbs. A creative spin on the kale salad that’s perfectly suited for Thanksgiving. Get the recipe on Sprouted Kitchen.
Roasted carrots are a fairly common Thanksgiving side dish offering, but they are so often beckoning for added flavor. This salad from Dolly and Oatmeal takes bunches of baby carrots and sliced shallots and coats them in olive oil and freshly ground fennel seeds before roasting them off until tender. The prepared vegetables then get mixed with sliced Honeycrisp apples, chopped parsley, and sesame seeds as well as a drizzle of olive oil and some blood orange juice to tie it all together. A new take on an old standby that looks just as great as it tastes. Get the recipe on Dolly and Oatmeal.
As you come together with family for your holiday meals, take a moment to remember that not everyone is so easily able to enjoy such fabulous food. Feed your stomach, then your soul by joining the fight to end world hunger.
More from Make It Better:
- 7 Creative Ways to Shake Up Your Thanksgiving Turkey
- 11 Festive Restaurants for Holiday Dining Around Chicago
- 7 Mouthwatering Fall Dessert Recipes With an Unexpected Twist
Maddie Mays is a Chicago-born personal chef, caterer, and writer. Her love of gastronomy began with an introduction to the Food Network as a teenager and has since blossomed into a deep-rooted passion. She spent her early career in the food world working at the famed Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan, before moving on to other notable spots including Detroit’s Sister Pie bakery, and Floriole Bakery, Read It and Eat bookstore, and The Social Table in Chicago. In her spare time, she can be found practicing yoga, hosting dinner parties for friends, and sifting through her ever-growing cookbook collection. Maddie is also a supporter of PAWS Chicago. Since adopting her two cats from the shelter, she has served as a volunteer and donated her cooking services as an auction item at fundraisers. Get in touch with Maddie at madonfood.com