Our Very Best Holiday Side Dish Recipes, According to Our Food Editors
Tried, tested, and time honored, these are the sides you'll want to add to your holiday menu.
Every year, the food editors at Martha Stewart Living get to celebrate the holidays twice. First, there's the recipe development and photo shoots in the summer (otherwise known as Christmas in July); then, there's Thanksgiving and the holidays with their families (their other families) like the rest of us. By the time the year is done, they have roasted an enormous amount of turkeys (spatchcocked, upside down, stuffed, unstuffed, turkey breast, you get the picture), but they all agree that a big bird is not the centerpiece of their Thanksgiving celebrations. Like most people, our food editors say the sides are what really make a holiday meal so special. In fact, assistant food editor Riley Wofford once created a Thanksgiving menu that is literally all sides.
When we asked our food brain trust to nominate recipes for a holiday sides Hall of Fame—the best of the best from 30 years of Martha Stewart Living—they were understandably enthusiastic and opinionated. That's why when we call this collection "the best," we can emphatically declare that we really mean it. There are gratins (one with cauliflower, chestnuts, and Gruyère and another with potatoes, both sweet and white, and leeks), but there is also stuffing, including a clever take on stuffing inside roasted red onions and a decadent take on stuffing with oysters and brioche. We've also got classic creamed spinach with pearl onions and a few less expected (but absolutely essential) dishes like a colorful julienned salad of carrots and kale or Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Hazelnut Crunch.
And because our food editors are practical and know the importance of prepping ahead, you'll find that their all-time favorites include a mix of recipes that can be made entirely ahead of time as well as ones with elements that are prepped early, then put together at the last moment. Simply put, these side dishes aren't just delicious—they're sensibly mixed to help a cook keep on schedule with their holiday meal.
Make any of these stellar side dishes to round out your holiday menu, and we promise you'll be met with delicious results.
Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Hazelnut Crunch
There are so many reasons why this Brussels sprout salad makes our list. "It's no cook, so while you have about a thousand other things shoved into the oven and simmering away on the stovetop, this you simply toss to combine and it's ready to serve," says Greg Lofts, deputy food editor. "Also, you can prep ahead: The Brussels can be shaved in mere seconds in a food processor with the shredding blade attached and they don't oxidize or otherwise discolor when cut, so you can do that, toast the hazelnuts, make the dressing at least a couple days ahead and all you have to do is toss it together on Turkey day."
Cauliflower and Chestnut Gratin
"Cauliflower gratin never had it so good, this one is filled with savory thyme, earthy chestnuts, and silky heavy cream, then rounded out with a hit of bright sharp horseradish and glug of wine to offset the richness," swoons Sarah Carey, editorial director of food and entertaining. "To top it off, there's one of my favorite melty cheeses, nutty and sharp Gruyère."
Twice-Cooked Potato and Leek Casserole
"Great for when you can't decide on a Yukon gold or a sweet potato side!" says Shira Bocar, food editor at large, about this must-make side. "It's creamy, comforting, and twice baked without the hassle of stuffing potato skins. Plus, it pairs well with everything on your holiday table."
Escarole Salad with Lemon and Anchovy Dressing
"I don't think a lot of people consider celery a star player when it comes to holiday sides," says Lauryn Tyrell, senior food editor, "But braised in homemade stock, butter, and thyme, it becomes unctuous and cozy. A bit like sneaking the vegetable bits from the bottom of a roasting pan before the turkey goes to the table."
Roasted Carrots with Chimichurri
"It's an unexpected way to serve carrots at the holiday table," says Greg. "The (chimichurri) sauce is bright and herby and really lets the sweet, earthy carrots shine without overpowering them," says Greg. More reasons to love this side: "The sauce can also be made a day or two ahead and tossed with the roasted carrots hot from the oven."
Pan Seared Mushrooms with Cream and Dill
"I do like a simple side to round out a meal, but that doesn't mean it should be boring," says Sarah. "In this recipe the mushrooms are cooked in three batches to ensure that each one has an appropriate amount of sear (read: flavor). Then the whole thing is topped off with some sherry vinegar and cream (you've got to have balance) and a generous amount of one of my favorite (underrated if you ask me) herbs, dill."
Julienned Carrot and Kale Salad
"This salad is exactly what you want after a rich meal," says Shira. It's "vibrant and fresh with nutty hemp seed hearts. It holds up at room temperature so it's a great buffet addition."
Ginger-Braised Red Cabbage
This side is a sentimental favorite for Riley. "I like this dish because it's very similar to something we always had at holiday gatherings growing up," she explains. There are practical reasons to make this recipe, too: "The whole thing can be made the day before; it just gets better as the flavors meld. And it's a nice pop of color on the table."
Creamed Spinach and Pearl Onions
"It's nice to have something smooth and creamy on the plate to balance all the other textures of the turkey, stuffing, and other sides," says Greg.
Red Onions Stuffed with Parsley Breadcrumbs
"I'm having a love affair with (cooked) red onions lately," says Lauryn. "They take on a beautiful jewel tone when roasted and I find their gentle sweetness a welcome complement to a lot of savory dishes on the holiday table. I'd eat them simply roasted with sea salt and olive oil, but stuffed with breadcrumbs and herbs is even better."
Oyster Brioche Stuffing
"This is like stuffing on steroids, with the briny oysters and sweet, toasty brioche lending this recipe legend status," says Greg. "But also I'm just a sucker for anything involving oysters. They feel like a special occasion, celebration food every time and a little luxurious without breaking the bank."