Seven side dishes to put your own stamp on Thanksgiving

In Hollywood, actors trying to balance their indie credit and credit card bills often employ a “one for them, one for me” strategy, alternating the kinds of daring movies they really want to make with the blockbuster hits that fuel their A-list celebrity and their bank accounts.

Thanksgiving cooks can take the same strategy when it comes to the side dishes that grace their holiday tables. Maybe you hate making the green bean casserole that everyone else loves and have been wanting to try something with Brussels sprouts instead. Or maybe you just can’t have Thanksgiving dinner without grandma’s three-meat dressing, but you know you have a vegan guest who needs something to eat that’s not on the relish tray, such as a dairy-free truffled potato gratin.

To give you a few new ideas for your side dishes this year, we’ve compiled seven recipes, all with a slight twist from what you might expect. Ina Garten’s carrot and cauliflower puree that can complement or replace traditional mashed russets. A lighter spin on green bean casserole, made with fresh green beans and shiitake mushrooms, no less. The most decadent sweet potato casserole from the culinary minds at Ruth’s Chris, and a no-holds-barred meaty stuffing from an Austin chef with Louisiana roots.

Carrot and Cauliflower Purée

This is a nice potato-free alternative to mashed potatoes that you can make several days ahead of Thanksgiving. Garten says the idea for brown butter in this vegetable puree came from a trip to France. “At one of my favorite restaurants in Paris, I was served a simple carrot purée that had an elusive flavor, so I asked the waiter for the secret. He whispered that it was browned butter — what the French call beurre noisette. It was such a simple ingredient that completely transformed this vegetable purée.” She recommends using fresh carrots with the green tops still attached because they are sweeter than bagged carrots. To make this ahead, prepare completely and refrigerate for up to four days. Reheat over low heat on top of the stove.

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 medium head cauliflower, core removed, and cut into florets

1 1/2 lb. carrots, unpeeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

4 oz. good salted butter, such as Président

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons of salt and the cauliflower and boil for 20 minutes, until the cauliflower is very tender. Remove the cauliflower to a bowl, using a slotted spoon or strainer. Add the carrots to the boiling water and cook for another 20 minutes, until very tender. Drain the carrots and add them to the cauliflower. (Do them separately, light-colored vegetables first, since they might not cook in the same amount of time.)

Place a food mill fitted with the medium disk over a large saucepan and process the vegetables into the pan.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small (8-inch) sauté pan over medium-low heat and cook until the milk solids in the pan turn golden brown. Watch the butter carefully because it will turn black very quickly! Whisk the browned butter plus 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper into the vegetable purée. Taste for seasonings, reheat over low heat, and serve hot. Serves 5 to 6.

— From “Make It Ahead” by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter, $35)

Truffled Potato Gratin

2 cups cool water

1 cup raw unsalted cashews, soaked for at least 2 hours and drained

2 cloves garlic

1 Tbsp. truffle oil, plus more for drizzling

1 tsp. fine sea salt

3 extra-large (about 2 1/2 lb.) russet potatoes, thinly sliced

Sprig fresh rosemary

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease an 8-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish with shortening.

In a blender, combine the water, cashews, garlic, truffle oil and salt. Blend until the mixture is completely smooth and there are no traces of nuts. (The better the blender, the smoother the puree.)

Evenly layer the potatoes in the prepared baking dish. Pour the blended sauce over the top, making sure to submerge the potatoes in the sauce. Place the sprig of rosemary in the center of the potatoes.

Cover the casserole with aluminum foil and bake for 75 to 90 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft and tender when a knife is inserted into the center and the top is puffed up. Let the potatoes cool for 15 minutes before serving. Just before serving, very lightly drizzle the top with additional truffle oil for an extra kick.

— From “Vegan Casseroles: Pasta Bakes, Gratins, Pot Pies and More” by Julie Hasson (Running Press, $20)

Fried Confetti Corn

Sweet, creamy and decadently rich, this fried corn begs to be served with fried chicken and a side of greens.

8 bacon slices

6 cups fresh sweet corn kernels (about 8 ears)

1 cup diced sweet onion

1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper

1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper

1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese, cubed

1/2 cup half-and-half

1 tsp. sugar

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat 6 to 8 minutes or until crisp. Remove bacon, and drain on paper towels, reserving 2 Tbsp. drippings in skillet. Coarsely crumble bacon.

Sauté corn and next 3 ingredients in hot drippings in skillet over medium-high heat 6 minutes or until tender. Add cream cheese and half-and-half, stirring until cream cheese melts. Stir in sugar and next 2 ingredients. Transfer to a serving dish, and top with bacon. Serves 8.

— From “Southern Living Bourbon & Bacon: The Ultimate Guide to the South’s Favorite Foods” by Morgan Murphy (Oxmoor House, $22.95)

Brussels Sprouts with Honey and Bacon

Honey balances the flavor in these pan-seared Brussels sprouts, making them a fast family favorite alongside your holiday turkey, beef, pork or lamb. This recipe comes from the Dallas-based honey company Nature Nate’s.

1 lb. Brussels sprouts, tips and outer leaves removed and quartered

2 Tbsp. honey

2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

Zest of 1 small lemon

3 slices thick cut bacon, minced

1/2 cup red onion, diced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a small bowl combine honey, vinegar and lemon zest.

Cook bacon in a heavy-bottom skillet or wok over medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes, then add red onion and continue to cook until onion is tender, about 5 more minutes.

Add Brussels sprouts to the bacon and onions and cook, stirring frequently to brown evenly, about 7 minutes until tender. Season with salt and pepper.

Add prepared honey to the pan to glaze, stirring to coat and finish cooking through, 1-2 more minutes. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper and serve. Serves 4 to 6.

— From Nature Nate’s

Not Your ’70s Green Bean Casserole

Made with a light hand, this deconstructed version of a classic is a visual treat and lets each flavor shine through. You really taste the green beans, the mushrooms and the crispy onions. You can make it vegan by using olive oil instead of butter, and you can also make the green beans and mushroom sauce ahead. Refrigerate the lightly cooked beans and sauce in separate containers and assemble the casserole when you are ready to bake it, but extend the baking time at 325 degrees to 30 minutes.

For the beans:

1 clove garlic, sliced

1/2 tsp. sea salt

2 lb. fresh green beans

For the mushroom sauce:

2 Tbsp. butter or olive oil

1 (8-oz) package shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

1 bundle scallions

Salt, to taste

Black pepper, to taste

A few fresh thyme leaves

2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

2 cups mushroom broth

For the crispy onions:

1 small onion, thinly sliced

Olive oil

Salt, to taste

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Season with garlic and salt. Place the beans into the pot and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. While the beans are cooking, prepare an ice water bath. Test a bean – it should be crisp-tender. When they are done, plunge the beans into the ice bath to stop the cooking process and set the bright green color.

Heat the butter or oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and scallions. Season with salt, pepper and thyme.

Cook until the vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour and allow it to coat the mushrooms and scallions. Keep stirring, scraping up the browned bits. When you can no longer see any traces of white flour, pour in the broth. Keep stirring until the mixture becomes creamy. Taste for seasonings and adjust if needed.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat the onion slices in olive oil. Lay them out on a baking sheet and sprinkle with sea salt. Roast for 10 to 12 minutes, until golden brown and crispy. Remove and allow to cool.

Lower the oven to 325 degrees. Coat the bottom of a 9-inch-by-13-inch casserole dish with the warm mushroom sauce. Cover with a layer of blanched green beans. Spoon more sauce over the beans and repeat layers. Finish the top with the oven-crisp onions. Bake until thoroughly heated, about 15 minutes, and serve. Serves 8 to 10.

— From “The Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook: Recipes and Stories to Celebrate the Bounty of the Moment” by Nancy Vienneau (Nelson Books, $24.99)

Cornbread Dressing

For James Robert, the former Eddie V’s chef who is now preparing to open a new restaurant called Fixe downtown, it’s not Thanksgiving without his mom’s cornbread dressing and dirty rice, which they ate every year when he was growing up in Opelousas, La. “Both recipes were handed down from my grandmother to my mom, from my mom to me, and my grandmother’s original recipes are still floating around the family on index cards. Most are pretty torn, tattered and weathered, but cooking a recipe from one of her cards, though, is a pretty special thing.”

1 1/2 lb. ground beef

1 lb. ground pork

1/2 lb. smoked pork sausage, diced

2 yellow onions, diced

2 red bell peppers, diced

6 stalks celery, diced

24 cremini mushrooms, quartered

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup whole milk

2 cups chicken stock

2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 Tbsp. yellow mustard

2 eggs, large, beaten

1 large batch of cornbread, pre-made and crumbled

1 Tbsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. black pepper

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp. espelette pepper (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On stovetop, brown meats and vegetables in small amount of fat in sauté pot large enough to hold all ingredients.

Add cornbread, then wet ingredients and seasonings. Mix should be soupy. Pour mix into large casserole dish, and bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, uncovered, until golden brown on top and bubbly around sides.

Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes, then serve.

— James Robert, executive chef of Fixe

Ruth’s Sweet Potato Casserole

You can also buy this and other side dishes that will serve 10 to 12 people for $29.95 each by calling Ruth’s Chris at 512-477-7884.

For the crust:

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup flour

3/4 cup chopped nuts (pecans preferred)

1/4 cup melted butter

For the sweet potato mixture:

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. vanilla

2 cups mashed sweet potatoes

1 egg, well beaten

1/4 cup butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the ingredients for the crust mixture in mixing bowl and reserve. Combine sweet potato mixture ingredients in another mixing bowl in the order listed. Combine thoroughly.

Pour sweet potato mixture into buttered baking dish. Sprinkle crust mixture evenly onto surface. Bake for 30 minutes. Allow to rest for at least 30 minutes before serving. Serves 4.

— Ruth’s Chris

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