10 Non-Negotiable Holiday Sides, According to Lifehacker Readers

10 Non-Negotiable Holiday Sides, According to Lifehacker Readers
Photo: Elena Veselova, Shutterstock

Last week I asked you all for your favourite, non-negotiable, I-will-flip-a-table-if-it’s-omitted side dishes and, unsurprisingly, you had some opinions. Everyone was, however, very polite, which I appreciated because people can get heated about potatoes, gravy, and casseroles.

The biggest surprise of the comments section was Brussels sprouts finally getting the respect they deserve, and the biggest letdown was the lack of support for deviled eggs, but I’ll get over it. Thanksgiving is a time for love and acceptance, after all.

You love to stuff yourselves with stuffing and dressing

Photo: Elena Veselova, Shutterstock Photo: Elena Veselova, Shutterstock

“Stuffing,” proclaimed commenter showjo1. “It is literally the only dish that is unique to thanksgiving except for maybe the turkey. All other sides are eaten throughout the year, but stuffing is special to this holiday. the aroma and ingredients used are so incredibly thanksgiving, I love it so much.”

Commenter panthercougar agreed wholeheartedly, before explaining that they love stuffing so much, they even eat it after the holidays: “I agree with you that stuffing is the most important. I also love it, and we eat it more than once a year for that reason, same with cranberry sauce. I always buy a buy a small turkey around Thanksgiving, and keep it in the freezer until February or March, and then have sort of a mini Thanksgiving meal. I also buy and freeze extra cranberries for the same reason. Once in a while I’ll make a pan of stuffing to go alongside a roasted chicken as well.”

There was a shoutout to cornbread dressing specifically, which is my personal favourite from the stuffing/dressing genre of sides.

“I have been making the oft-demanded corn bread dressing for my family for years now,” explained ANiceFullBodiedRed. “They would rise up and topple me if I did not serve it.” CyberKender was also Team Dressing, adding “Stuffing is evil. Dressing is good. Traditional Chestnut dressing is really good, but I don’t insist upon it.”

Dirk Gently was also a fan of moist bread, and likes to make a very interesting, very flavorful iteration of the classic dish with decidedly unclassic bread. “Wegmans does a crazy garlic bread that we like to mix with baguettes and rye that’s been a big hit the past few years. Cornbread stuffing is also great.”

I was thrilled to see my fellow Jiffy Cornbread Casserole lovers

Photo: Claire Lower Photo: Claire Lower

It warmed my heart to read that other people love this casserole as much as I do, and that it would be part of commenter CSX321‘s big family reunion. “That Jiffy corn casserole is my SIL’s non-negotiable, so my daughter’s making it this year,” they wrote. “This is kind of a special Thanksgiving for us. Our middle daughter lives overseas and was away for 3 years. This year all our kids plus partners will be with us, probably for the last time for several years again. We’re doing everybody’s favourite dish. Plus celebrating all our birthdays and Christmas during Thanksgiving week!”

Not only does commenter Bill make the iconic corn casserole, he figured out a way to make it gluten-free, so all members of his family could enjoy it. “It is the favourite side dish of my mother and a sister. One of whom has Celiac,” he wrote. “So several decades ago, we had to figure out a substitute for Jiffy Cornbread mix. Which came out quite good. And substitute Alton Brown’s creamed corn for the canned stuff. And then Wegmans came to NOVA. And the bring the Gluten Free Cornbread mix and creamed corn, which works quite well for cornbread casserole. With a lot less hassle. Thus restoring peace and harmony in the quest for one of the families favourite side dishes.”

I love a happy ending!

Gravy is good

Photo: Claire Lower Photo: Claire Lower

“Thanksgiving dinner is gravy,” proclaimed AngryBob-VA. “Mashed potatoes are to deliver the gravy. Everything else on the table is a garnish. I take gravy very seriously. None of my three kids will touch mashed potatoes OR gravy. That leads me to believe that they were all switched at birth with other children who look freakishly similar, like the blond kids in Stephen King’s Village of the Damned. But secretly they’re not my kids, because they won’t eat gravy.”

I told AngryBob I was sorry about his children, but at least he doesn’t have to share mashed potatoes or gravy, and muffinzz agreed. “Right? This sounds like heaven,” they said. “In our house everyone turns into Gollum around the gravy and eyeballs everyone else’s plate to make sure nobody’s getting more than a fair share.”

Several of you embraced Brussels sprouts

Photo: Claire Lower Photo: Claire Lower

I was surprised to see five different people mention Brussels sprouts, a traditionally polarising side dish, but the comments speak for themselves.

“Bacon balsamic Brussel sprouts are an absolute must for me,” wrote DancingPolarBear. “I make them every year because I want them and only like 3 other people like them.” “That sounds great to me,” replied panthercougar. “But no one outside of my household would be likely to eat them.”

Making the sprouts for one’s own pleasure was a common theme. “I try every year to make a vegetable side that, inevitably, only I will eat,” wrote ThundercatsRidesAgain. “It’s a shame because they’re really good vegetable dishes: maple glazed root vegetables, honey balsamic Brussels sprouts, garlic parmesan asparagus, melted leeks, harissa maple carrots, etc. I’ve always thought they’re really good, and it makes me feel less gross because I’ve eaten something on Thanksgiving with some nutritional value. But I’m alone in that in my family. More Brussels sprouts for me! (They don’t know what they’re missing).”

Commenter shes-got-a-way also appreciated the vegetables verdant qualities, noting that though they might not be “quite the same tier” as stuffing and sweet potato casserole, they were still always welcome on the table. “I really like Brussels sprouts on Thanksgiving,” they wrote. “Nice to have something green and fresh.”

Commenter louvella also voiced support for the sprouts. “Growing up Thanksgiving was always a fun time to try new autumnal recipes (I grew up in a family that was very into cooking),” they wrote. “So there’s no particular recipe that I always have to do, but always brussels sprouts in some kind of form! There’s a recipe for brussels with pistachio and lime from Bon Appetit I’ve done for the past few years.”

Excuse me, I have to go find that recipe.

Some of you shared entire menus

Photo: Elena Veselova, Shutterstock Photo: Elena Veselova, Shutterstock

Some of you were not satisfied by naming a single dish, and that was ok by me. I love a ranking, a list, and a story, and the comments provided all three:

Commenter panthercougar favoured the classics.

To me the most important sides in order of priority are:

1) Stuffing/Dressing

2) Cranberry sauce

3) Mashed potatoes

4) Green bean casserole

And ahavatamid shared their elegant, streamlined Thanksgiving menu for one.

I have been making Thanksgiving for One for a few years now, which allows me to make what I love most. The protein is usually a game hen.

1. Sage and Walnut Dressing

2. Mashed potatoes and gravy

3. Fresh green beans and carrots

4. Cranberry sauce

5. A slice of pumpkin pie from the grocery store.

Golden Ballfield kept it even simpler. “I just do turkey, stuffing, and green beans. I arrange the 3 items on a plate, then dump gravy over all of it,” they wrote. “It’s really all you need.”

On the opposite end of the side dish spectrum, we have True Boomer’s meals of Thanksgiving past, which sound like a veritable fever dream of abundance, (though they do keep things a little simpler these days):

“When we went over the hills and through the woods to grandmothers house the menu included besides the turkey, gravy, stuffing, and mashed potatoes; fruit salad to begin,” they wrote. “Sides every year were succotash, mashed turnips, roasted sweet potatoes, apple sauce, apple butter, cranberry sauce, pepper slaw, chow chow, pickles, olives, raw celery and carrots, dinner rolls, and oyster casserole. Desserts were mince, apple, light and dark pumpkin pies and angel food cake. The last time I make Thanksgiving for family and friends (before the pandemic) I eliminated about 9 of those and all but 1 pie but added jambon en croute and a sweet potato chutney. Last year my daughter cut it down to cranberry sauce, oyster casserole, and green bean salad as the sides.”

Commenter oldandjaded also leans towards the elaborate. “Here in VA we have some more traditional southern things other than turkey, gravy, stuffing, green beans, and mashed potatoes. We always have country ham, scalloped oysters (that’s what the recipe is called but they’re not truly scalloped, just oysters with crushed saltines and butter infused with a bit of Texas Pete and Worcestershire and put in a hot oven), corn pudding (MY favourite), butter beans, sweet potato casserole with bourbon and pecans on top, and Great Uncle Bill’s Pecan Pie. I CANNOT WAIT UNTIL THANKSGIVING!!!!!!!!!!”

With a menu like that, I can’t blame them.

Pies preferences were all over the place

Photo: Elena Veselova, Shutterstock Photo: Elena Veselova, Shutterstock

Commenter Mehphisto keeps it simple and traditional. “Pumpkin Pie,” they wrote. “As long as I have some turkey and pumpkin pie, I’m fine.”

CyberKender was also “Team Pecan Pie,” but added they were “moonlighting with Team Pumpkin Pie, and trying to get Team Quince Pie into the big leagues.”

I’ve never had a quince pie, but I’d certainly like to try one.

Out of all the pie opinions I read, John Small Berries’ were the closest to my own. “I know pumpkin pie is the traditional Thanksgiving dessert, and I don’t mind it at all,” he wrote. “But I refuse to allow a Thanksgiving dinner to proceed without the presence of pecan pie. I almost always make my own, just for safety’s sake (and because my recipe has bourbon in it).”

It’s called having principles.

The there were the apple fans, all of whom favoured a crisp topping.“I typically make a crumb-topped apple pie, which is superior to a double crust pie,” wrote panthercougar.

Silverwing548 agreed. “Apple crisp has always been a necessity at our table,” they wrote. “Though since my mum died and I’ve had to take over that task, I’ve transformed it into apple crisp pie to please both the pie people and the crisp people. So I guess I’m on team apple pie now? I avoid big desserts most of the year, so I figure if I’m only making apple crisp once a year I might as well put in the extra effort and make a pie crust.”

Commenter shes-got-a-way favoured a non-traditional, but still delicious pie. “I wouldn’t say it’s ‘non-negotiable’ but we had stopped doing coconut custard pie after my grandfather died because my aunt thought he was the only one who liked it,” they wrote. “And I’m like wait a minute, I really liked it too! So I ended up buying one from a local bakery to bring to dinner after that.”

Honestly coconut custard is a top-tier pie and I would not be mad if it made it’s way into my Thanksgiving dessert spread.

Mashed potatoes weren’t as big as I thought they’d be

Photo: Claire Lower Photo: Claire Lower

Support for sweet potatoes was quite varied, but LeftyLooseyGoosey was their strongest supporter. “Mashed potatoes,” they wrote. “Everything else is unimportant. And I’m talking real potatoes (russet/yukon gold/etc), none of that sweet potato nonsense.”

DotComCTO had room in their heart for both white potatoes and “sweet potato nonsense.” “Ree Drummond’s Sweet Soul ‘Taters,” they wrote, then added, “and my wife’s mashed potatoes w/gravy we make from the turkey pan drippings.”

Then there were those who were completely ambivalent.

“Honestly would be fine without white mashed potatoes,” wrote shes-got-a-way. “I like them well enough but I also eat them all the time.”

ThundercatsRidesAgain expressed a similar level of enthusiasm. “I suppose that mashed potatoes are our non-negotiable,” they wrote, “but honestly I’m not attached to anything so strongly that I would make a fuss if it weren’t on the table.”

One of you (a genius) craves pickles

Photo: Mironov Vladimir, Shutterstock Photo: Mironov Vladimir, Shutterstock

Give Aegri_mentis an award for this bit of culinary brilliance:

Since this is so individually based; I have to have fridge pickles at Thanksgiving. Just slices of cucumber and slivers of onion in a seasoned brine made the day before the meal. Thanksgiving meals tend to be fatty, and fridge pickles help cleanse the palette just like the pickled ginger that comes with sushi.

This, to me, is poetry (and just plain smart).

Only one of you mentioned deviled eggs

Photo: Claire Lower Photo: Claire Lower

After reading filthy deviled egg libel in Sarah’s Thanksgiving libel roundup, I was slightly comforted to see support for my favourite holiday appetizer.

“For me I must have deviled eggs,” wrote Chris G, a true American hero. “I was raised on them at every holiday meal thanks to my Grandma and my family will yell if I don’t make them. I also need canned, gelatinous cranberry sauce because that’s what I grew up having so that is what I need. Sure, make your carefully crafted, artisanal, foo foo cranberry sauce, but just make sure I get my slab of glop as well!”

Chris G is right, and I’m glad he said what he said! I’m disappointed in the rest of you, however.

And one of you rejected the idea of non-negotiables entirely (instead, you should try something new)

There's blueberries in the cranberry sauce. (Photo: Claire Lower) There’s blueberries in the cranberry sauce. (Photo: Claire Lower)

“I strongly reject the idea that certain recipes/dishes are mandatory,” wrote Tristan.

Yes, Thanksgiving is all about tradition, and tradition is great. But, you should allow for room to grow and expand. Take that beloved recipe and give it a twist. Try something new this year. I’m not saying that you need to abandon all your tradition. Even if it’s only one dish, make it differently this year. You can always go back next year.

I like to take one big risk every Thanksgiving. I make something that we’ve never made before. Some years it’s a miss. Some years we decide that our experiment deserves a place at the table next year. I like to take a “classic” dish and prepare it in a different style. It isn’t the dish I remember fondly being lovingly prepared by my grandmother. But, I try to prepare it with as much affection using the techniques I have developed for myself in pursuit of it.

Do not cling so tightly to nostalgia that you deny yourself the opportunity to try something new.

I am going to reference this comment next time someone yells at me for putting miso in the stuffing, MSG on the turkey, or blueberries in the cranberry sauce.

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