Thanksgiving: Quick, simple vegetable sides
November 2nd, 2011
04:30 PM ET
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We've long maintained that the very best thing about Thanksgiving is the side dishes, and smack dab in the middle of November, you can't do much better than vegetables. Nope - not just canned green beans en casserole (though that's seriously delicious and we'll delve into that soon), frozen creamed pearl onions (again...mmmm...) or corn pudding. We're talking fresh and in season, because that's the very best way to eat.

In addition to our in-depth guides on roasted broccoli, butternut squash, other varieties of fall squash and all the pumpkin you can shake a spatula at, here are a few quick, killer vegetable dishes you can feel excellent about heaping high on your plate.

A few fall and winter vegetable dishes that will be gracing our Thanksgiving table:

Kale chips - Pre-heat oven to 350°F, strip leaves from the center stalk, spray or brush with cooking oil (we dig olive oil, but use what you've got), sprinkle with kosher salt and spread in single layers on baking sheets. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until crispy but not burnt. Eat 'em like potato chips for a pre-feast appetizer.

This method also works well with spinach or chard leaves, and benefits beautifully from a sprinkling of sesame seeds or a spritz of soy sauce or tamari.

Cauliflower florets - Pre-heat oven to 400°F, trim florets from the center stem, spray or brush with oil, place on a baking sheet and sprinkle with a mixture of equal parts cumin, paprika, curry powder and salt - or your favorite spices. Bake for 5 minutes, flip florets with a spatula and bake for another 5 minutes or until tender and very lightly browned. Serve immediately as a side or a snack before the big event.

Winter squash - We've got you covered with Chef Tony Conte's 5@5 on squash cooking tips and our primer on roasting butternut squash, but the cucurbit that's currently rocking our socks is acorn.

Pre-heat oven to 400°F, slice acorn squash in half vertically and scoop out the seeds. Score the insides of the squash a few times on each side and brush with melted butter. Sprinkle some brown sugar and a pinch of salt on the cut sides, along with a drizzle of maple syrup if you'd like it a bit sweeter.

Place the halves, cut side up in a baking dish with 1/4 cup of water at the bottom of it. Bake for 1 hour, then check for tenderness; the flesh should be quite soft and the tops browned. Check again at 10 minute intervals until they reach desired doneness. Let the halves cool slightly and serve as-is, cut-side up, with a fork to scoop out the deliciousness.

Want to stick to the savory side? Nix the brown sugar and syrup and go with butter, grated parmesan and a bit of nutmeg. Cumin, coriander and smoked paprika also play well with most squashes' nutty sweetness.

Roasted root vegetables - Pre-heat oven to 400°F, then peel and cut your favorite root vegetables - this works well with carrots, sweet potatoes, rutabagas, parsnips, onions and celery root - into roughly 1-inch pieces and place them in baking dishes. In a bowl, whisk together equal parts olive oil and beer or apple cider and brush this over the vegetable pieces. Sprinkle with kosher salt and place baking dishes on separate racks in the oven for 30 minutes.

Stir the contents of the dishes, swap racks and check after another 30 minutes. Vegetables should be tender and browned. Stir as needed and check at 15 minute intervals for doneness. Scoop into a bowl and serve hot.

Sweet potato mash (a.k.a. the deeply delicious dish that began a romance) - Pre-heat oven to 425°F, pierce sweet potatoes several times with a fork and bake until tender and can easily be pierced with a knife. Depending upon your feelings on potato skin, either scoop out the flesh into a large bowl, or cut the potatoes into chunks and place those in a large bowl.

With a masher or a large fork, work in butter (we dig yogurt butter), a pinch of salt, a few splashes of orange juice and a few drizzles of maple syrup to taste. Sprinkle in some smoked paprika if you're feeling wacky and mash to desired consistency. Fall in love as desired.

Brussels sprouts - These are fabulous sauteed with stock, wine and shallots, blanched by boiling for a minute or two, then shocked in a bowl of ice water, served in raw ribbons with a vinaigrette dressing and countless other ways.

Our go-to method, though, is to pre-heat the oven to 350°F, slice off the stem, cut them in half, place halves on a baking sheet, then brush or spray them with oil and sprinkle with a bit of kosher salt. Then they go into the center of the oven for about 10-15 minutes or until tender, but not browned. Then boom – on goes broiler, the pan goes on the top rack and those babies sizzle until the tops are browned. Keep a close eye so they don't burn up - it'll only take a minute or two. Remove from heat and gorge.

Note: the roast-then-broil method also works well for broccoli and cauliflower - just keep an extra-close eye during the second phase so the florets don't crisp away to nothing.

Collard greens - We could write an entire treatise on these (many have) and you owe it to yourself to nab a copy of The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, which houses our favorite method ever. Until your copy arrives, grab a smoked ham hock or about 4 oz of your favorite smoked bacon (we like hog jowl) and place that at the bottom of a heavy, lidded pot with a tablespoon of oil. Place over medium heat until some fat is rendered off. CAREFULLY add 8 cups of water (it will pop, so stand back), a tablespoon of kosher salt and a tablespoon of red pepper flakes if you like heat (less if you don't.) Bring that to a boil, then cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

In the meantime, thoroughly wash the collard leaves (or dandelion, turnip or beet greens), strip out the hard spines and stack the leaves together. Tear them into pieces, or roll up and cut into 1-inch ribbons.

When the water is ready, add the greens a handful at a time, stirring until they have wilted in, and add the next handful. Once they're all in, cover, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for one hour.

Once they're ready, scoop them out with a slotted spoon and serve with a bowl of vinegar into which a few red pepper flakes have been added. And don't you dare discard the cooking liquid; the nutrient-rich broth is called "potlikker" and it's an excellent base for soup and simply dynamite with cornbread.

Dairy-free mashed potatoes
Perfect pie crust
Don't fear the vegan - feed them!
Quick, simple vegetable sides
How to cook a turkey
- All our best Thanksgiving advice

Got a Thanksgiving query or dilemma? Need techniques for roasting turkey or just looking for recipes to bust up your holiday rut? Wanna know what one of our anchors eats for T-Day? We're here to help. Post your question in the comments below and we'll do our best to assist.

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Filed under: Brassicas • Fall Vegetables • Feature • Holiday • HolidayShopping • Kale • Make • Recipes • Squash • T Minus • Thanksgiving • Thanksgiving • Vegetables • Winter Vegetables

soundoff (45 Responses)
  1. tina

    You left out the easiest cranberries ever! Buy a bag of fresh cranberries and cook on your stovetop, following the directions ont he bag. Cool and refrigerate. SO much better than canned, and couldn't be easier–and you can use the oven for other stuff!

    November 4, 2011 at 9:09 am |
  2. Mike B

    My only issue is the same as the first post...I only have one oven, and it needs to hold a really big turkey. We can manage
    to put a few things around the edge of the pan. How about mashed roasted sweat potatoes with butter, cinnamon, and nutmeg?

    November 4, 2011 at 8:36 am |
  3. divya

    Why so many oven dishes? My one oven will be occupied with a turkey. I was hoping for more stove-top or other recipes. Too bad, these did sound good.

    November 3, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
    • kristyc3

      Fried turkey delicious and your oven is free :)

      November 3, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
    • Melissa

      Having made most of these recipes before, I can tell you that most of them only take approximately 20 to 30 minutes. It's not like you're going to serve your turkey as soon as its done. You will have to let it rest for at least 30 minutes or so. I usually finish cooking my turkey at least an hour before serving. Also, having a nice sized toaster oven really helps. I use mine all the time for quick meals rather than heating up my full sized oven.

      November 4, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  4. Don

    can't wait to try the butternut squash recipe.

    November 3, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  5. NODAT1

    Real simple "killer" cranberry sauce

    1. Open can of cranberry sauce
    2, place open can on table
    3. Insert spoon in can
    4. Go back to watching football your job is done. You have helped prepare the thanksgiving feast!!!!

    November 3, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • AleeD From Home Sweet Home

      As long as it's jelly, it works for me! :)

      November 3, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • BAM

      Great post!

      November 22, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  6. Paul Wolborsky

    It's better to cook Squashes cut-side down on a well-oiled pan. That way the bottom still gets brown (use your spatula very carefully), and the steam cooks the inside. Then, add butter or a butter-spice mix for the flavor. This results in a lower-fat, lower-maintenance squash, and you don't have to balance a sheetpan full of water either.

    November 3, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  7. Multi-Tasking @ Work

    yum to all the veggie ideas...I always add my fresh cranberry salsa.
    1 bag of fresh cranberries
    2 jalapenos
    1 bunch of green onions
    1 bunch of cilantro
    grind up in food processer
    add: 1 cup of sugar & 4 TBSP of cumin
    mix well and let flavors get it in for a few hours. will keep in fridge for a week.
    great served on block of cream cheese w/crackers and of course turkey sandwiches and the Turkey Dinner...enjoy

    November 3, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  8. Indystraw

    For best brussel sprouts set sprouts on countertop beside stove, brown 6-8 thick bacon slices, add sprouts to bacon grease for about 30 minutes. By this time you've enjoyed a scrumptious bacon sandwich and can discard the brussel sprouts and forget you ever saw them

    November 3, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • Jerv@Indy

      LM AO! I love how you roll.

      November 3, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • AleeD@Indy

      That's what I'm talkin' about!

      November 3, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
      • Jerv@AleeD

        I'm readin' this again today and I'm still laughing!

        November 4, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  9. Aubrie

    Potlikker??? I've always seen it Pot Liquor. Hmmm......

    November 3, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  10. xxsevensxx

    About those brussel sprouts – toss them in olive oil and basalmic vinegar before putting them in the oven. Delicious.

    November 3, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  11. pat

    Roasted beets topped with fresh microgreens.

    November 3, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  12. ViriginiaMike

    I've tried making Brussels sprouts, kale chips, and butternut squash as described here–love them. I'll have to try this method for root vegetables sometime and the reader comment to add turnips to mashed potatoes! My wife and daughter go nuts over simply prepared vegetables.

    P.S.: When simmering my greens in stock, I like to start with a base of sauteed (or better yet: caramelized) sweet onion. It helps balance the bitterness.

    November 2, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
  13. Ln

    Easiest – and most delicious – sweet potatoes. Ever. Peel & thinly slice a couple of pounds sweet potatoes. Spray a casserole dish with cooking spray. Spread a thin layer of sliced sweet potatoes on bottom of casserole. Dot well with apricot jam (I use Polaner, sweetened with fruit juice). Add another layer of potatoes, then jam. Continue until casserole is full, finishing with jam. Bake, covered, at 350F until a bit browned on top & bubbly, potatoes fork tender – about 1 1/2 hours. Totally simple. Completely foolproof. Absolutely yummy! Bon appetit!

    November 2, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
  14. LP

    Steam your Brussels until barely tender, remove from pot. Discard liquid.
    Add diced bacon to the pot and cook until crisp. Remove bacon, leave the fat.
    Put Brussels back into the pot, along with brown sugar and cider vinegar.
    Simmer till the liquid is slightly thickened. Sprinkle bacon over each serving.

    November 2, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  15. Gobber

    Hmm. Simple vegetable sides.
    Vice President. Speaker of the House.
    The Rice pudding, fortunately, got put in the fridge.

    November 2, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
    • Gobber

      There goes my appetite ...

      November 2, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  16. mdc

    Collard greens, mustards and turnip greens with turnips. Good eatin'.

    November 2, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
  17. At the risk of the obvious...

    why must we always relegate veggies to the side? I'm a "flexitarian" and think there's more variety in the produce section than the meat section in most of our grocery stores.

    And so, for turkey day, the turkey has probably ALWAYS been the side dish for me. Bring on the stuffing mixed with gravy mixed with cranberry sauce please!

    November 2, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • Jeff

      who cares... your opinion is self righteous. keep it to yourself

      November 2, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
      • SJ

        Seriously, Jeff?

        November 2, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
      • Jeff

        Well duh seriously. I wouldn't have typed it if I didn't mean it...

        November 2, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
      • Erik

        Follow your own advice, Jeff.

        November 2, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
      • STFU Cafe@Jeff

        Jeff, party of one....your table is ready...Jeff, party of one...

        November 2, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
      • Gingerpeach

        sorry to know you are such an unhappy person. nastyness loves company but you won't find it here.

        November 2, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
      • Leah

        While I think Jeff could have articulated his irritation a bit better than that, I have to agree with him.

        "why must we always relegate veggies to the side?" – No one said we had to. The purpose of the article wasn't to lower the level of veggies to a side dish. The point was to give ideas for quick and easy side dishes for veggies of the season. If the person wanted the article to be written in their own opinon of using a veggie as a main course, then their opinion is pretty self-righteous in thinking that the author should be following THEIR personal preferences.

        November 2, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
      • Kaitlyn

        And you call "at the risk........" opinion self rightous? Come on, Jeff, really do come on down to the table for one! You are pitiful!

        November 3, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
      • KING STFU

        How are all of you any of less self righteous than Jeff? Nobody cares about your piety thoughts about Jeff.
        Stay on topic please.

        November 24, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
    • Chris

      You think there's more variety in the produce section than the meat section? Are you waiting for dog, cat or horse to be added? Obviously there are more vegetables than types of meat. What does that have to do with the article???

      November 2, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
    • Paula Deen

      You're all wrong. Butter is the main dish and everything else is a side item.

      November 3, 2011 at 9:09 am |
    • kristyc3

      I like the "sides" as a main course too.....having said that fried turkey is also on the table. I always say, if you put enough food on the table, everyone will find something to eat.

      November 3, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
  18. IHEG

    Brussell sprouts were already on the menu- can't wait to roast them now, thanks!

    November 2, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  19. jillmarie

    Great tips! I especially love the roasted root vegetable ideas. Also, basting with a beer mixture sounds delish! I've been meaning to try kale chips, and may try spinach tips as well.

    November 2, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • KD

      I've done this recipe every year and it is easy and delish. Amazingly, even those who say they don't like "root" veggies love this.

      November 2, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  20. Beth

    Great list of totally simple preparations. I also love mashing turnips together with mashed potatoes. They add a sweetness and an even smoother texture. Mix in a little gorgonzola cheese to completely elevate the dish!

    November 2, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • Ally

      I've mixed in cauliflower and celery root before too. Delish...and cuts the calories in a serving. I almost don't like mashed potatos without something else mixed in anymore.

      November 3, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
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