Kitchen & Cooking

5 twists on traditional Thanksgiving dishes

It's time to create some new traditions.

Credit: GettyImages / asiantiger247

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If your family is anything like mine, you probably find yourself eating the same selection of Thanksgiving sides year after year: Grandma's green bean casserole, dad's mac and cheese, and Aunt Betty's cranberry sauce. (To be honest, I've always suspected it came straight out of the can).

Sure, they're good, and it can be comforting to come home to a familiar meal. But variety is the spice of life, isn't it? It's time for a change.

The truth is, you don't need to stray too far from your roots to spice up your turkey's supporting cast. With a few simple alterations, you can easily kick your traditional sides up a notch—all without fear of alienating your grandmother. And the best part? It doesn't take a lot of extra work, either.

Gourmet Green Bean Casserole

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Green bean casserole is one of those dishes that's famous for everything but its main ingredient. No one has ever taken a bite and exclaimed, "These green beans are simply exquisite!" Everyone knows that green bean casserole is all about the sodium-heavy cream of mushroom soup and the French fried onions.

At least it was, until the queen of class, Miss Martha Stewart, had her say. In her decidedly more gourmet version, canned soup and pre-packaged fried onions are replaced with milk, fresh mushrooms, and pan-fried shallots. There goes your childhood.

If you want to really impress your relatives, call them haricots verts instead. Same thing, different language, but it sure sounds classier.

Why is it classy? This dish involves a culinary technique known as an "ice bath," which is a great way to stop food cooking. In other words, when you dunk your perfectly-cooked green beans into freezing-cold water, they will remain crisp, rather than turning mushy from the residual heat. If you're willing to go to all this trouble for green beans, you're already looking several shades classier.

Who will you impress? Your mother, who will be blown away by the fact that you know what a shallot is.

Broccoli-Cheese Mashed Potatoes

The jury is still out on whether homemade mashed potatoes are better than instant dehydrated potato flakes. [Ed. note: No, it's not.] But one thing's for sure: Homemade mashed taters sure look like you put some effort into them. Any side dish you bring to Thanksgiving dinner needs to look like blood, sweat, and tears went into it. (Not literally, please.)

The showoffs over at Cooking Classy have concocted a scrumptious medley of Russet potatoes, broccoli florets, and Parmesan cheese. The recipe also calls for plenty of butter, milk, heavy cream, and sour cream—you know, to push you over the edge into that blissful holiday food coma.

Why is it classy? There's broccoli. In the mashed potatoes. Not only do you get a lovely splash of color, but you get to claim it's healthy... sort of. Also, the recipe has you garnish the top of the dish with shredded cheddar cheese. Adding a garnish to a meal is as close to sophistication as most of us can hope to get.

Who will you impress? Your significant other, who will view your dedication to garnishing the mashed potatoes as "commitment."

Candied Yam Soufflé

You wake up late on Thursday only to discover that you forgot to make a side dish for the family Thanksgiving feast. You quickly dust off a two-year-old can of yams, toss them in a casserole dish with butter and brown sugar, and sprinkle marshmallows on top. Et voilà: instant side dish. Trust me, I've been there.

You can do so much better, though. Food Network chef Sandra Lee has a totally refined take on the tasty (if still slightly lazy) candied yam casserole: candied yam soufflé.

You're still using the tried-and-true gigantic cans of yams, but this time you'll be mashing them with a mixture of brown sugar, butter, and pecans. Once everything is mixed into an orangey-brown froth, pour it into a pie pan and smother it with Marshmallow Fluff. Once baked, the finished product has a cake-like texture—you know, like a soufflé!

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Why is it classy? It’s a soufflé—any French word is automatically classy. (See: Haricots verts.) Also, it’s fairly easy to outclass your standard mushroom-topped candied yam casserole.

Who will you impress? Your father, who considered disowning you when he heard you were bringing candied yams to Thanksgiving dinner. Thank goodness for soufflés.

Cran-Marnier Sauce

There's absolutely nothing wrong with canned cranberry sauce—it's one of life's remaining cheap thrills. If the host decides to open a can and serve it in a fancy dish, so be it. But if you're appointed the task of bringing cranberry sauce to your family's Thanksgiving dinner, you had better bring your A-game, and that means homemade cranberry sauce.

Here comes celebrity chef Rachel Ray to the rescue. Her recipe for homemade cranberry sauce with a hint of Grand Marnier—cleverly titled Cran-Marnier—is sure to win over the entire family. Even better, it's super-easy to make. Just boil some water with cranberries and sugar, simmer it for 10 minutes or so, and splash some Grand Marnier (or rival orange liqueur) into it.

Why is it classy? It has Grand Marnier, the fanciest of all liqueurs. Correct pronunciation (gran-mar-nyay) will earn you bonus points.

Who will you impress? Your grandfather, who—after tasting this delicious cranberry sauce—will write you into his will.

Fancy Mac & Cheese

Like instant mashed potatoes, there's nothing wrong with the boxed variant of mac and cheese. It's the savory equivalent of ice cream—eat this after an awful day at work, or a particularly nasty breakup and you'll be back on your feet in no time. That's a proven, scientific fact.

Thanksgiving isn't a breakup, unfortunately. It's a feast that we celebrate because the Pilgrims had a great harvest in 1621—a harvest that, admittedly, didn't involve powdered cheese.

This Tasty Kitchen recipe for "fancy" mac and cheese would make the Pilgrims proud. How fancy is it? Try five-types-of-cheese fancy. This recipe also calls for mushrooms, onions, and—yes—bacon. Bonus: If something happens to the turkey, this will make a fine main course.

Why is it classy? There are more types of cheese in this dish than you probably even knew existed. Compare that to the one type (or is it zero?) of cheese in the boxed version.

Who will you impress? Yourself. Graduating from instant mac and cheese to this grown-up variation is your final step in becoming a full-fledged adult. Congratulations.


Why isn't stuffing on the list? Because it's just as much of a main course as turkey! Let us know of any other classy Thanksgiving recipes in the comments.

Editor's Note

This article was originally published on 11/25/13.