Thanksgiving Side Dishes with Some Tasty Twists

by | Nov 2022

Garnishing a side dish.

Photos: Chris Emeott

Shake up your Thanksgiving feast with comforting and colorful side dishes.

Not that we aren’t thankful for the meaty bird, but why is turkey the cynosure of Thanksgiving meals when side dishes are the real reason we pass around for seconds and raid the refrigerator after midnight? This year, buck tradition, and delight your guests by adding a few new side dishes to your repertoire.

As you gather the recipes, be mindful of your overall menu. Whether you want to revamp it all and add new culinary masterpieces or simply freshen up beloved recipes, take into consideration time and space. What can you prep in the weeks, days and hours ahead? How much food can fit in the refrigerator? (Remember to include dishes your guests are bringing.) Do you have room in the oven for the varying cooking times and temperatures on the day of your hosting event? Can you use a crockpot to keep a dish hot?

You’ll also want to accommodate dietary preferences and restrictions. Make guests feel included by tastefully serving a side dish or two that appeal to their vegetarian, gluten-free, low-salt, vegan, dairy-free or other needs.

For expert advice, we turned to Rachael Perron, culinary and branding director at Kowalski’s Markets.

Why is it important to serve sides?

Sides can be the most fun part of Thanksgiving dinner, so the sky’s the limit. Let your appetite be your guide. Plan for a balance of textures as well as temperatures. It’s nice to have crispy, cold accompaniments (like a green salad) to warm, soft piles of mashed potatoes, turkey and gravy.

What else should we consider?

… Plan for a mix of sweet and savory and a mix of colors. There is a lot of brown in a typical turkey day meal!

How about outside-the-box sides?

One of my favorite tricks to switch up vegetable sides is to add salty, tangy cheese to cut their sweetness. This is an especially good trick with sweet potatoes or butternut squash for which blue cheese is a great match. On green beans, try feta or Gorgonzola instead of the traditional cream casserole preparation. A touch of lemon zest and toasted nuts, like pine nuts or pecans, add more layers of flavor plus that all-important crunch factor.

What about an alternative entrée?

A whole-roasted cauliflower is elegant and satisfying as a main dish, plus meat-eaters will love it as a side dish. A spatchcocked roasted chicken is a great alternative to a turkey for a small group, and it cooks faster.

Reinventing the Meal

Don’t forget to plan for leftovers. If you find yourself with extra green beans with bacon and raw veggies from the relish tray or charcuterie board, make a cheesy soup.  If you end up with too much turkey and French loaf, layer it with cranberry sauce and stuffing for a crispy panini. Leftover potatoes? Roll them into fried mashed potato balls or form patties with cheese and breakfast meat.

Let’s Cook

Are you ready to change up your Thanksgiving side dishes, and have your guests begging for the recipes? Here’s a few to get you started.

Bread & Sausage Stuffing
Courtesy of Staci Perry Mergenthal at Random Sweets (

  • 2 lbs. bulk pork sausage, cooked and drained
  • 1 lb. bulk Italian pork sausage, cooked and drained, reserving 1 Tbsp. of the fat
  • 4½ cups chopped celery
  • 2¼ cups diced yellow onion
  • 5½ sticks of butter
  • 5 Tbsp. liquid smoke
  • 5 tsp. dried sage leaves or 6 Tbsp. fresh-chopped sage leaves
  • 4 tsp. dried thyme leaves or 5 Tbsp. fresh-chopped thyme leaves
  • 1½ tsp. salt
  • 1 ½ tsp. pepper
  • 24 cups of bread cubes, any varieties

Grease a large roaster pan, approximately 16 x 12 x 3. In a large saucepan over medium heat, cook celery and onion in the butter and liquid smoke, stirring frequently until the vegetables are soft. Add about ¾ of the bread cubes, stirring to coat with butter. Transfer to the roaster pan. Add remaining bread cubes, seasonings and the cooked sausage with fat. Toss to combine. Cover with foil, and store in refrigerator until ready to bake (up to 48 hours). Heat oven to 325 F. Bake 50 minutes covered for 40 minutes. Uncover, and bake another 20 minutes until heated throughout. 

Gorgonzola Green Beans
Courtesy of Kowalski’s Markets

  • 1 1/2 lbs. green beans, trimmed and cut in half on the diagonal
  • 2 Tbsp. Kowalski’s extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp. Kowalski’s balsamic vinegar
  • freshly-ground Kowalski’s citrus salt, to taste
  • freshly-ground Kowalski’s black peppercorns, to taste
  • 1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
  • 2 Tbsp. thinly-sliced red onion pieces
  • 2 Tbsp. toasted pine nuts
  • freshly-grated lemon zest, to taste

In a large saucepan, bring salted water to a boil; add beans. Return water to a boil; boil just until beans are crisp-tender (about five minutes). Drain; move beans to a large mixing bowl. Drizzle with oil and vinegar; toss to coat. Season to taste with citrus salt and pepper; toss again. Move beans to a serving platter; sprinkle evenly with cheese, onion, pine nuts and lemon zest. Serve immediately.

Harvest Thyme Salad
Courtesy of Kowalski’s Markets and Salad Girl

  • 12 oz. broccoli coleslaw mix, such as Mann’s
  • 2 peeled, cooked beets, such as Love Beets, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 cup Kowalski’s roasted and salted pepitas
  • 1 cup dried currants
  • 1 cup Kowalski’s dried cranberries
  • ½ cup chopped Kowalski’s dried mango or apricots
  • 8 oz. Salad Girl Organic Dairy-Free Sweet & Sassy Dressing
  • 1 ½ tsp. fresh thyme leaves

In a large mixing bowl, combine slaw mix, beets and most of the pepitas and dried fruits, reserving a small bit for garnish; toss. Drizzle salad with most of the dressing; toss to coat. Add additional dressing to taste. Garnish salad with thyme, reserved pepitas and dried fruits. 

Maple Blue Butternut Squash
Courtesy of Kowalski’s Markets

Maple Blue Butternut Squash

  • 4 tsp. Kowalski’s unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp. brown sugar
  • 4 lbs. peeled butternut squash, cut into ½-inch cubes (about 4 1/3 cups)
  • 2/3 tsp. kosher salt
  • ¾ tsp. freshly-ground Kowalski’s black peppercorns
  • 1/3 cup blue cheese crumbles
  • 2 Tbsp., plus 2 tsp., Kowalski’s pure maple syrup

Preheat broiler. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat; stir in brown sugar until dissolved (about two minutes). Add squash cubes, salt and pepper; cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned on edges (10-12 minutes). Divide squash among (6 oz. each) oven-safe ramekins; top evenly with cheese and maple syrup. Broil squash 6 inches from the broiler until cheese is melted (about two minutes). 

Parmesan Green Bean Fries
Courtesy of Kowalski’s Markets

Parmesan Green Bean Fries

  • 1 lb. fresh Minnesota-grown green beans
  • 1/2 Tbsp. Kowalski’s extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp. freshly-shredded Kowalski’s Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly-ground Kowalski’s black peppercorns
  • 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • balsamic dipping sauce, for serving

Preheat oven to 400 F. In an extra-large mixing bowl, toss beans with oil. Sprinkle with cheese, salt and pepper; toss to coat. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs; toss again to evenly coat. Spread beans on two parchment-lined baking sheets; bake in preheated oven until crumbs and cheese are dark golden-brown and beans have reached desired tenderness (8-10 minutes). Let cool on pan for two minutes before serving. 

Penne in Pumpkin Cream Sauce
Courtesy of Kowalski’s Markets

  • 15 oz. canned pumpkin puree, (about 1 ¾ cups)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 Tbsp. thinly-sliced fresh sage, divided
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp. freshly-ground Kowalski’s black peppercorns
  • 1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes, more or less to taste
  • 1 dash freshly-grated nutmeg
  • 12 oz. dried penne pasta
  • ½ cup freshly-grated parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1 cup baby kale

In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, whisk pumpkin puree with cream; simmer until sauce thickens slightly (about five minutes). Stir in 1 Tbsp. sage, salt, pepper, red pepper and nutmeg. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions; drain. Add pasta to saucepan; stir into sauce with ¾ of the cheese. Stir in kale until it wilts. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and sage; serve immediately. 

Spatchcocked Roasted Chicken
Courtesy of Kowalski’s Markets

  • 1 quart water, very warm
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, plus 2 tsp., divided
  • 1 small handful Kowalski’s black peppercorns
  • ice, as needed
  • 4 lbs. whole roasting chicken, approximately
  • 2 Tbsp. Kowalski’s extra virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling the pan
  • 1 Tbsp. Kowalski’s Signature Classic Garlic & Herb Rub
  • 2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary, plus a few sprigs for garnish
  • 2 tsp. fresh lemon zest
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly-ground Kowalski’s black peppercorns
  • lemon slices, for garnish

Preheat oven to 450 F. In a large mixing bowl, combine warm water, ½ cup salt, sugar and whole peppercorns; stir until dissolved. Add ice until mixture is cooled and measures about 2 quarts; set aside. Arrange chicken breast-side down on a cutting board. Using kitchen shears, cut along one side of the backbone, from the cavity end up to the neck. Repeat on other side of backbone; remove backbone and discard. Turn chicken breast-side up. Using both hands, press down firmly, and quickly to crack the breast bone and flatten the bird. Place chicken in a large pot; cover with brine mixture. Refrigerate for at least one hour (up to 24 hours). Remove chicken from brine; discard brine. Place chicken breast-side up in a cast iron skillet coated lightly with oil. Rub chicken with oil; season with rub, remaining salt, chopped rosemary, lemon zest and ground pepper. Roast in a preheated 450 F. oven until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh registers 160 F. (about 40 minutes); let stand, covered, for 10 minutes (temperature should increase to 165 F. before serving). Garnish whole bird with rosemary sprigs and lemon slices; serve in the pan with tools for carving at the table.

Courtesy of Kowalski’s Markets

  • 7 oz. Kowalski’s Brie
  • 1 Tbsp. Kowalski’s French butter
  • 3 Tbsp. Kowalski’s extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 lbs. Yukon gold potatoes, sliced ¼-inch thick
  • kosher salt and freshly-ground Kowalski’s black peppercorns, to taste
  • 1 small shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 3 oz. diced pancetta
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • snipped fresh chives, for garnish

Preheat oven to 375 F. Using a sharp knife, remove rind from the cheese in large strips and pieces; set rind and cheese aside, discarding any very small pieces. Use butter to grease a round baking dish, such as a deep-dish pie plate; set aside. Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add potatoes; cook, stirring occasionally, until almost tender (about 15 minutes). Remove potatoes from pan; season generously with salt and pepper. Set seasoned potatoes aside.

Add remaining oil to the pan. Add shallot and pancetta; cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots are translucent and tender and pancetta is cooked (about 6 minutes). Scoop shallots and pancetta from the pan; set aside. Add wine to the pan; cook until wine is nearly evaporated. Add cream and large pieces of rind; reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Scoop bits of rind from the cream mixture and discard. Stir in potatoes, shallots and pancetta. Scoop potato mixture into greased baking dish. Place cheese wheel in the center of the potatoes; bake in preheated oven until the top is golden-brown and cheese is somewhat melty (about 15 minutes). Let stand for 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with chives.

Whole Roasted Cauliflower
Courtesy of Kowalski’s Markets

Whole roasted cauliflower.

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • ¼ cup Kowalski’s extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup Kowalski’s freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. granulated garlic
  • 1 ¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. smoke paprika
  • ½ tsp. freshly-ground Kowalski’s black peppercorns
  • ½ tsp. turmeric
  • 1 lemon, sliced ¼-inch thick
  • 1/3 cup rosemary gremolata, approximately, for garnish if desired (recipe on Kowalski’s website)
  • ¾ cup pistachio mousse, approximately, for serving if desired (recipe on Kowalski’s website)

Heat oven to 425°F. Remove leaves and stem from cauliflower, leaving enough stem to keep the head from falling apart while allowing to sit flat; set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together oil, juice and spices (through turmeric). Using a basting brush, evenly coat the bottom (stem side) of the cauliflower with oil mixture. Place cauliflower, stem side down, on a parchment-lined baking sheet; coat cauliflower evenly with remaining oil. Place lemon slices on the baking sheet with cauliflower; toss gently with oil that has dripped onto the pan. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Rotate pan 180 degrees; bake until cauliflower is very dark golden-brown and fork-tender (about 25 minutes more). Garnish with rosemary gremolata and serve with pistachio mousse, if desired.

Kowalski’s Markets
440 Water St., Excelsior; 952.229.8300
Facebook: Kowalski’s Markets
Instagram: @kowalskis_markets
Twitter: @kowalskismarkets


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