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Updated by GOAT Series Staff on Apr 17, 2018
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Greatest Thanksgiving Side Dish of All Time

What is the greatest Thanksgiving side dish of all time?

1

Gravy

Gravy

Gravy is a dish that is basically as old as the concept of cooked meat. Once we figured out we could slowly roast our meat over the fire and collect the delicious juice that runs off of it, we also realized we could use those drippings to make – you guessed it –a meat-based paste to slather all over our meat. It sounds ridiculous and really highlights the primal nature of man, but there’s no denying how good it is. Since Thanksgiving is really the time for pulling out all the stops when it comes to a decadent dinner and putting any diet plans on hold, gravy is an essential part of the meal. Go ahead, put gravy on the turkey, the mashed potatoes, the stuffing, the green beans, the squash – all of it. This is the one time a year when it’s OK. Gravy can also be made from vegetables, and mushroom gravy is a popular meat substitute. There’s no proof that gravy was used during the first Thanksgiving, but since cooking this way was second-nature by this time when it came to handling poultry or other meat, it probably was. Almost all Thanksgiving dinners incorporate gravy as a major part of the meal today.

Origin: Used in cooking since ancient times; dates back to 1390 in an English cookbook | Niche in the Thanksgiving meal: Poured over turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing for added flavor

Main ingredients: salt, caramel color, turkey stock, cornstarch | Essential pairings: mashed potatoes, stuffing | Variations: Can be made from drippings of any meat or from vegetable stock, can also be made from packages today | Thanksgiving variations: brown gravy in America comes from poultry, turkey gravy can also be lighter in color

2

Stuffing

Stuffing

Another way to make meaty dishes even more delectable is to fill them with something – vegetables, bread, seasonings, and even other meats. This practice has also been going on for a long time in Europe and since the founding of America, with many variations. Today’s traditional Thanksgiving stuffing usually consists of bread, celery, onion, and poultry seasoning. However, there are many ways to switch it up, like adding dried cranberries or nuts to the mix, or using other seasonings like oregano. The first Thanksgiving more than likely did feature a stuffing of some kind, but it was probably just what they had lying around from hunting and gathering – giblets, berries, and nuts. This stands as one of the absolute essentials of Thanksgiving dinner.

Origin: Earliest documented use was in Rome; used in English cooking as far back as 1390 | Niche in the Thanksgiving meal: Stuffed inside of the turkey, or served on the side, sometimes with gravy on top

Main ingredients: dried bread, onion, celery, salt, pepper | Essential pairings: turkey (stuffed inside), mashed potatoes, gravy | Variations: Stuffing made of giblets; stuffing for vegetables | Thanksgiving variations: Add giblets, add poultry seasoning, use corn bread for breading, throw in additions like dried fruit or nuts

3

Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry Sauce

You either love it or hate it – cranberry sauce is kind of an acquired taste. Not everyone wants a tart and tangy berry paste with their turkey and gravy, but those who have learned to love the stuff will rave on about it all day, and demand the perfect recipe to satisfy their cravings. Cranberry sauce is really basic – all you need is cranberries and sugar, although you can add other fruit juices, spices, or syrups to make things interesting. Traditional cranberry sauce is actually made from cooking down the berries in sugar water, but today many just opt to buy the gelatinous stuff that comes in a can – either because they can’t be bothered to do a slow-cook, or because they actually prefer it. They probably had cranberries at the first Thanksgiving, but since they didn’t have sugar imported yet, they probably didn’t make it into a sauce. However, there is a chance they could have done something similar with a substitute like molasses. Not everyone takes a helping, but almost all meals include it in some form or another.

Origin: American chefs in the late 1600s developed this dish | Niche in the Thanksgiving meal: Used as a tart side dish to balance the heavy salt and carbs

Main ingredients: cranberries, sugar | Essential pairings: savory dishes like stuffing and gravy, turkey, mashed potatoes | Variations: Sweet and tart variations controlled by adding orange juice, zest, ginger, maple sugar, etc. | Thanksgiving variations: Homemade is chunky with real cranberries, canned is gelatinous

4

Mashed Potatoes

Mashed Potatoes

So delicious and absolutely classic – if you don’t like mashed potatoes you must not have a soul. If you think mashed potatoes are too dull, there are about a million ways to spice them up, from adding cheese or spices to the mix to using a special gravy. This dish is the picture of comfort food, calories, and Holiday fun, and can even be made with dehydrated potato powder or from a frozen concentrate, although the real deal is much better and still really easy to make – just boil potatoes, and mash them up with whatever you think will make them tasty. All you need is the time to wait for them to get nice and soft.Although this has come to be such a beloved staple in the U.S., there’s no way it was at the first Thanksgiving. Potatoes weren’t even on the continent yet. Today, a Thanksgiving dinner without mashed potatoes is a very sad affair indeed.

Origin: Recipes have been around since 1747 in America and Europe; India has a version called Aloo Bharta | Niche in the Thanksgiving meal: Hearty side dish almost always included, served with gravy alongside turkey and stuffing

Main ingredients: potatoes, butter, milk, cream | Essential pairings: either chicken or beef gravy, stuffing, meat | Variations: Fresh or dehydrated, additions like garlic, chives, cheese, etc. can spice it up | Thanksgiving variations: boiled or baked potatoes

5

Butternut Squash

Butternut Squash

This super-traditional side dish can be found at most Thanksgiving tables, in one form or another. Some like it savory, with salt, onion, garlic or other spices, while other like it sweet, almost like sweet potato-based Thanksgiving dishes. The savory dish is usually cubed, while the sweet one is mashed. One of the best things about Thanksgiving is all the experimentation and variation that is possible from recipe to recipe, and butternut squash is a great example of this innovation. Two versions of the same vegetable can look and taste almost nothing alike. This was almost definitely served at the first Thanksgiving, since squash was one of the main foods the settlers were eating at the time due to the large fall harvest yield.

Origin: Native to North America, recipes date back to times of the First Thanksgiving | Niche in the Thanksgiving meal: Good hearty vegetable side dish

Main ingredients: butternut squash, oil, salt, pepper, onions or garlic | Essential pairings: turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes | Variations: Different seasonings used for cooking | Thanksgiving variations: A sweet variation with brown sugar, or savory with onions and garlic - cubed or mashed

6

Sweet Potato Casserole

Sweet Potato Casserole

This delicious side might as well be a desert, but it’s served with dinner. That’s one of the great things about this holiday – after you polish off the sweet potato casserole and baked apples with dinner, you can move on to the pumpkin pie and mousse for dessert. Sweet potato casserole is always sweet with lots of butter and brown sugar, and it usually has pecans, marshmallows, or both. This dish may be a little over-the-top for some, especially along with more savory offerings, but when done correctly it really is delightful. Sweet potatoes were around at the time of the first Thanksgiving, but apparently they weren’t being used for cooking yet, so they probably weren’t a part of the initial meal. Not everyone makes sweep potato casserole, but it is popular in most states.

Origin: An American cookbook in 1796 had a "potato pudding" recipe that was basically sweet potato casserole | Niche in the Thanksgiving meal: Either desert or a side with the rest of the meal

Main ingredients: sweet potatoes, brown sugar, marshmallows, molasses, pecans, sometimes marshmallow | Essential pairings: stuffing, turkey, gravy | Variations: With or without marshmallows, can be made more tart with orange juice | Thanksgiving variations: serve with cranberry sauce

7

Baked Apples

Baked Apples

Another basically-dessert side that we can only get away with once a year, baked apples are great no matter what. All you need to do is bake them with some sugar and cinnamon, and there you go. There aren’t a ton of variations possible here, although you can use more vinegar and make them a bit more tart and savory, but they are the perfect complement, in small doses, to the bigger portions in the meal. Just make sure not to have apple pie for desert, too; that may be overkill. Apples weren’t indigenous to the region of the first Thanksgiving, berries were, so this dish probably was not featured. This is often a feature at Thanksgiving dinners.

Origin: Recipe dates back to 1685 in London | Niche in the Thanksgiving meal: Serve as a dessert or a side dish

Main ingredients: apples, sugar, cinnamon | Essential pairings: squash, sweet potatoes, savory dishes | Variations: More vinegar and spices to make it savory, more cinnamon and sugar to make it sweeter | Thanksgiving variations: served at end of meal with pie and icecream

8

Green Bean Casserole

Green Bean Casserole

Invented in 1955 by Campbell’s Soup, this dish is the perfect way to take something pretty healthy, green beans, and make it totally unhealthy by adding a bunch of mushroom soup and fried onions. However, it is tasty, and it has become something of a very all-American staple to go with this decidedly American holiday. Another popular way to cook green beans on Thanksgiving is to use a bunch of bacon or pork fat to cook up with them. This dish was obviously not around for the first Thanksgiving, but green beans certainly were, and they could have used additives in their cooking.Today, mostly Southern families make this, but it is found here and there throughout the U.S.

Origin: Created in 1955 by the Campbell Soup company | Niche in the Thanksgiving meal: A popular way to dress up and fatten up a traditional side dish

Main ingredients: green beans, cream of mushroom soup, French fried onions | Essential pairings: mashed potatoes, gravy, turkey | Variations: Adding other vegetables or spices | Thanksgiving variations: Just plain green beans with added spice and flavorings

9

Beet Salad

Beet Salad

One of the few healthy offerings to the Thanksgiving menu, beet salad is a great way to add a bit of tangy vinegar to an otherwise buttery and sweet meal. This dish can either consist of whole or shredded beets, usually canned, and can be just beets and nuts or any number of veggies. The key here is plenty of oil and vinegar for flavoring. Beets were not in America when the first Thanksgiving took place, so this wouldn’t have been on the menu. Not everyone makes this for Thanksgiving, but it is a popular alternative.

Origin: Beets have been used in cooking since the days of Ancient Rome, and were always popular in central Europe | Niche in the Thanksgiving meal: As a vinegar-rich dish to balance on the sweetness and heartiness

Main ingredients: oil and vinegar, other vegetables | Essential pairings: sweet and hearty Thanksgiving dishes | Variations: Different vegetables added | Thanksgiving variations: shredded or whole beet pieces, usually from canned beets

10

Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and Cheese

This is one of the most non-traditional Thanksgiving sides, and it’s mostly found in the South. Still, anyone who has had homemade, baked macaroni and cheese with their turkey and stuffing can attest to the wonders they experienced. And it has to be homemade – no one wants Kraft on Thanksgiving day. This recipe actually dates back to the 1400s and originates in Italy, but was introduced to England soon after. Still, it was definitely not at the first feast, since they wouldn’t have had access to processed noodles or dairy.

Origin: Italian recipe that dates back to the 14th century; was brought to England in the 14th century | Niche in the Thanksgiving meal: Not always used, but often added as a hearty starch side dish in Southern culture

Main ingredients: macaroni noodles, cheese, butter | Essential pairings: squash, baked apples, turkey | Variations: different noodle styles and sizes, different types of cheese | Thanksgiving variations: Usually baked like a casserole