7 Easy-as-Heck Sides, Here to Save Thanksgiving

Recipes you don't have to worry about.

November 19, 2018

Not every Thanksgiving dish needs to be complicated. In fact, not every Thanksgiving dish should be complicated. As far as I’m concerned, any big holiday menu deserves a couple laidback recipes to balance the to-do list.

Laidback can mean a lot of things: a little ingredient list, a small amount of active prep or cook time, a fuss-free technique. Whatever it is, the recipe should be something you feel like you’ve got in the bag, not something to worry about.

For me, this eliminates a couple staples right off the bat: 1) Turkey, which, let’s be real, is always a bit of an ordeal. (Also why we created The Turkey Whisperer, to troubleshoot anything and everything.) 2) Dessert, which inevitably involves a lot of steps, from preparing the pie dough to making the filling to assembling to figuring out a topping.

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This leaves us with sides. Thanksgiving has a lot of these—all the more reason to streamline and simplify. Below, I’ve collected some of the easiest sides on our site. Permission to work smarter, not harder this holiday: granted.

This recipe was a finalist in our Best Root Vegetable Side contest and for good reason. Sweet potatoes, maple syrup, and smoky chipotles are the combo we never knew we needed. Besides its teeny-tiny ingredient list, its method is only three steps. You cook the potatoes in a microwave (yep, a microwave!), while simmering the rest of the ingredients, then combine with a hand mixer or immersion blender.

How to get the creamiest potatoes? Use not one, not two, but three different dairy products: butter, cream cheese, and sour cream. Not only does this bring unbeatable richness (the whole point of mashed potatoes, right?) but the cream cheese and sour cream are delightfully tangy. Instead of futzing with a ricer or food mill, this recipe turns to a good ol’ electric mixer. After boiling the diced potatoes, you beat them together with the other ingredients like cake batter. Bonus: If you want to make this ahead, you can reheat in the oven before serving.

This year, I wanted to find out what would happen if I ditched all the usual stuffing ingredients, like sausage, nuts, fruits, even onion and celery—and, in turn, ditched all the usual stuffing steps, like browning, toasting, chopping, and sautéing. It turns out: Good things happen. Brown butter and fresh sage send Thanksgiving signals to your brain (science!), while the bread takes center stage in all its warm, spoonable, custardy glory.

This recipe takes the green bean casserole formula and turns it into a pseudo-salad. Boil green beans until crisp-tender, then toss with a crème fraîche dressing that’s all sorts of zingy thanks to vinegar and mustard. Top with toasted hazelnuts and call it a day. My favorite part about this is all the make-ahead possibilities: You can cook the green beans, make the dressing, and toast the nuts days in advance. Then just assemble like any salad on Thanksgiving.

Also known as “The Best Broccoli of Your Life,” Ina Garten’s Parmesan-roasted broccoli is famous for good reason. The result is deeply browned florets with crispy, nubby tops, brightened up by lemon juice and zest, fresh basil, and, oh right, lots of nutty Parmesan. My favorite part: all the tossing takes place on a sheet pan. No mixing bowl necessary. As Ina would say, “How easy is that?”

As Linzarella noted in the recipe’s comment section: “This is absolutely the PERFECT Thanksgiving salad.” This holiday’s staples are rich, richer, and richest, which makes a raw, bitter salad like this one an automatic standout. You can prep both the radicchio and the dressing in advance, making the day-of task as simple as: toss. Another streamlining trick is to slice the onions thinly and leave them in the salad—bonus pickles that bring even more brightness to the mix.

If there’s an easier bread, I don’t know her. Flour, yeast, salt, sugar, and water kindly lead you to open-crumbed, bakery-caliber loaves. No kneading, no overnight-fermentation necessary. Because the yeast is instant, the whole recipe can come together in as little as a few hours. To add more Thanksgiving vibes, try: Substituting 1 cup flour with 1 cup cornmeal. Adapting the dough into herby dinner rolls.

What are your go-to easy sides for Thanksgiving? Tell us in the comments!

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.