Easy & Cheesy Christmas Day Side Dishes
By Michelle Stansbury, Eat, Drink, Be San Diego
I’ll do my best to avoid any cheesy jokes during this ode to the cheesiest Christmas side dishes…. but, no promises. Whether grated, melted, or block, there are few foods more delicious in this world than cheese. Cheese makes almost any dish better, from potatoes (of course), to casseroles, and even many desserts. You can count on some of your most popular Christmas Day side dishes to also be the cheesiest. So, I’ve compiled my favorite easy and cheesy side dishes to wow your family this holiday season.
Cheese + Potato Side Dishes
Potatoes might be cheese’s best friend. Scalloped potatoes obviously feature creamy cheesy goodness, but there are plenty of other options to add cheese into your potato side dishes this Christmas. Mashed potatoes go great with a little (or a lot) of goat cheese stirred in. Baked potatoes would be naked without cheddar cheese melting on top, and smashed roasted potatoes can be loaded up with golden, crispy parmesan cheese.
Even sweet potatoes can get in on the cheese! Instead of topping your sweet potatoes with marshmallows, melt some shredded Gruyère cheese (a delicious hard yellow Swiss cheese often used in fondue) onto sliced sweet potatoes and add a sprinkle of sage for a savory twist.
Cheese + Veggie Side Dishes
Getting kids to eat their veggies is no longer a chore when cheese is in the mix. Cheddar cheese with broccoli is a classic combination, often served as a creamy casserole or rich soup. Brussels sprouts become decadent when baked with pancetta and parmesan cheese, either roasted or in a gratin.
For a more elegant cheesy Christmas side dish, try adding toasted hazelnuts and creamy ricotta to roasted zucchini. Stuff mushrooms with herbed goat cheese before or after baking for a fantastic Christmas side dish that looks far more time-intensive than it actually is. For a go-on-anything hearty dip, combine chopped spinach with cheese (spinach goes with almost any kind of cheese!) and blend in sour or heavy cream.
Cheese + Bread Side Dishes
What are two of the best things to ever land on a plate? Bread… and cheese. Put them together, and you can’t go wrong! A traditional combination is garlic bread loaded up with gooey mozzarella cheese. Or, to spice things up, try making your next batch of cornmeal biscuits with cheddar, chives, and jalapenos. For an easy “almost-homemade” Christmas side dish, wrap some blue cheese (or your favorite fromage) inside pre-made croissant or crescent dough and bake until golden.
To elevate your bread and cheese game, try some brie and pear crostinis as a Christmas side dish. Thinly sliced luscious pears sit on top of crusty bread, topped with generous amounts of gooey brie, finished with a drizzle of honey. Decadent!
Cheese + Grains Side Dishes
Besides bread, there are plenty of other grains to pair with delicious cheese for Christmas side dishes. Try a creamy goat cheese polenta with garlicky greens, or southern-style grits with sharp cheddar. To go healthy-ish for your Christmas side dish, combine quinoa with lemon, olive oil, and parmesan, and top with freshly cracked black pepper. The key to fluffy, flavorful grains is to first plump them up with a good-quality vegetable or meat broth, instead of just water, for an extra layer of flavor. And then add more cheese, of course!
Cheese + Salad Side Dishes
Upgrade your salads from obligatory to exceptional with a generous addition of cheese. A classic wedge salad of iceberg lettuce drizzled with blue cheese dressing and sprinkled with bacon bits plus more blue cheese makes for a presentation that is as delicious as it is elegant. Another timeless option for a Christmas side dish is a caprese salad, with layers of thick tomato and buffalo mozzarella slices adorned with torn basil leaves. A fresh take on the caprese salad switches out the mozzarella with creamy burrata and the tomatoes for persimmons or peaches. For a more traditional Christmas side dish, top mixed greens with roasted beets and goat cheese dressed in a light citrus vinaigrette, finished with pistachios.
Cheese + Pasta Side Dishes
You can’t talk about pasta and cheese without first mentioning mac and cheese. I grew up on boxed mac and cheese, but never truly appreciated how good it could be until I made the dish from scratch. It was a fondue-style mac and cheese with Gruyère and white wine, baked with a garlic breadcrumb topping. Another superstar grown-up mac and cheese is made with white cheddar and truffle, an elevated version that you’ll dream about all through the holiday season.
However, macaroni and cheese isn’t the only cheesy pasta worth considering as a Christmas side dish! A classic lasagna is a traditional favorite at the Christmas table, and, if made without meat, can serve double duty as your vegetarian main. Or, to step it up, make your own ricotta gnudi recipe. Gnudi is a lot like gnocchi, and is a surprisingly easy homemade pasta to make! Just mix ricotta and parmesan with a few additional ingredients, shape, and then boil for an impressive side dish or first course. Dress it with a simple pomodoro (tomato) sauce, or just brown butter and sage. So satisfying!
Cheese + Dessert Dishes
Cheese with dessert can be a perfect way to end your holiday meal! The most obvious cheese-centric dessert is cheesecake, with mascarpone, ricotta, and cream cheese combined into a graham cracker crust. Consider serving your next apple pie with cheddar cheese instead of ice cream, for a downhome feel. Or, go cheese crazy, and try a raspberry jam baked brie — a warm, melty pile of velvety cheese and vibrant fruit to layer onto French bread or croissants.
There’s a reason people say “cheese!” when being photographed; even just saying the word makes you smile.