Thanksgiving Side Dishes That Steal the Spotlight

Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner with All the Sides. Homemade Roasted Turkey and all traditional dishes on Festive Thanksgiving table.

By Michelle Stansbury, Eat, Drink, Be San Diego

When it comes to Thanksgiving and steakhouses, the real star for me is the side dishes. I’ve got nothing against turkey (or steak, for that matter), but good side dishes steal the spotlight. Potatoes can be mashed, smashed, baked, or scalloped, without even venturing into the wonderful world of sweet potatoes and yams. Green beans can be roasted, blistered, sautéed, or served in a casserole. While most people opt for traditional, comfort food side dishes, if you want to wow your guests, try a few of these incredible, over-the-top Thanksgiving side dishes.  

Hasselback Potatoes

One of the most impressive Thanksgiving potato side dishes is Hasselback Potatoes, a labor of love that wows the table. Hasselback Potatoes were first created in a Swedish tavern called Hasselbacken. From Swedish cuisine, they have been replicated throughout the globe. In addition to being delicious since they are, in essence, a baked potato, the real appeal of Hasselback Potatoes is their incredible look, as well as their crispy texture.  

The edge of each slice becomes crispy, almost like a potato chip, while the inside is soft like a baked potato. If you’re comfortable with a knife, Hasselback Potatoes don’t take very long to prepare but looks incredibly impressive. Simply make thin, vertical slices in the potato that do not reach the bottom, add butter and herbs to the crevices, and bake.  

  • Pro tip: Finish your potatoes with cheese, bacon, chives, and sour cream.  

Composed Waldorf Salad

Anything named after the Waldorf-Astoria hotel is sure to impress! The Waldorf salad was created in 1896 for a charity ball by maître d’hôtel, Oscar Tschirky, and originally just contained celery, apples, and mayonnaise. Walnuts and grapes were added sometime later to the dish. To up the fancy factor more, separate the ingredients into sections on the bed of lettuce, instead of combining. This method, referred to as a Composed Waldorf salad, creates a lovely visual appeal while also allowing picky eaters to pick their toppings.  

  • Pro tip: Replace the mayonnaise dressing with a lighter, homemade spin. Try a lemon and walnut oil vinaigrette with cumin to bring out all the flavors of the salad without the heaviness of mayo. 

Homemade Rolls

When you go to the extra trouble of making homemade rolls for Thanksgiving, your guests will be treated to the smell of freshly baked bread as they walk in the door. There are thousands of recipes out there for standard homemade rolls, but if you want to try something a little special, consider making soft pretzel rolls. The baking soda bath is what gives pretzels their unique flavor; follow it with scoring the top of each roll and sprinkling with salt so they will be unmistakable. Serve with a beer cheese dip, if you are feeling extra ambitious!  

Another impressive option is homemade flaky and buttery croissants. Croissants are decadent because of the labor put into them. The dough gets rolled and folded over and over, creating layers of dough and butter in a technique called laminating. As the croissants are baked, the butter melts, giving off steam that puffs up each layer.  

  • Pro tip: Use butter molds to create restaurant-fancy butter pats for your guests to enjoy with the homemade rolls! 

Not Your Granny’s Cranberry Sauce

I grew up with canned cranberry sauce and still get a little nostalgic for the sweet, Jello-like side dish. But there are also some sensational cranberry sauce options out there that will be sure to impress. Try incorporating Port or Grand Marnier for a boozy kick, and rosemary or ginger for a kick. Cranberry sauce is a Thanksgiving classic in part because cranberries are one of the few fruits that are native to the United States. A couple of the other commercially grown fruits native to the U.S. (if you’d like to further impress your guests) are concord grapes and blueberries. 

  • Pro tip: For an incredible presentation, try a mold to form the cranberry sauce into a fun, nostalgic shape.  

Galettes or Tarts

Tarts bring a wow factor to your Thanksgiving table, and a galette, the tart’s more rustic cousin, is similarly impressive. Galette (or, crostata in Italy) is a free-form pastry, the dough is rolled out and then folded around your filling. Speaking of fillings, savory galettes are perfect as a Thanksgiving side dish, try it with fennel, onion, and Gruyère cheese. Or, explore a galette with roasted eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, and thyme, topped with goat cheese. 

For something a little sweet, that doesn’t have to be saved for dessert, opt for a Brie and Apple Tart, drizzled with honey. Along the same lines, a fig and lavender galette, made with almonds and goat cheese, makes for an incredibly sweet and savory addition to your Thanksgiving side dishes.  

  •  Pro tip: To save a little time, store-bought pastry dough works just as well as homemade.  

Literally Anything IN a Pumpkin

Welcome to the show stopper. Take almost any delicious Thanksgiving side and serve it in a hollowed-out pumpkin, and get ready for the “wow”s. Baked macaroni and cheese with Italian sausage works great in a pumpkin, or for a jaw-dropping dish, try pumpkin risotto. Pumpkin risotto is an impressive Thanksgiving side dish even without its dramatic bowl, with flavors like thyme and nutmeg with decadent cream and goat cheese. Or, for a dessert, serve pumpkin pie or pumpkin ice cream (or both!) in the gourd. 

For an easy side dish to serve in your pumpkin, pumpkin soup is a natural choice. If you’re extra ambitious, hollow miniature pumpkins instead, so everyone can start their meal with soup served in an individual pumpkin.  

  • Pro tip: The added benefit of using a pumpkin as a serving dish is that it means one less dish to clean!  
Picture of Michelle Stansbury of Eat Dring Be SD/cp,

Michelle Stansbury

Michelle Stansbury is a San Diego-based blogger and freelance writer who writes about travel, food, cannabis, and relationships. Follow her @discovermichelle or visit https://www.eatdrinkbesd.com/. Her work has appeared in national magazines like Marie Claire, Forbes, Cosmo, Reader’s Digest, and Bustle.