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Try new holiday side dishes that sparkle with flavor

Cabbage, Kale and Potato Gratin makes a great side dish alternative for the holiday season.

MCT photo

Sometime still before New Year’s Day, a lot of us will hear the familiar phrase: “Oh, just bring a side dish.” ‘Tis still the season for family dinners, holiday buffets and potluck parties.

But before you reach for the cream of mushroom soup and the French-fried onions, consider trying something different.

Most home cooks tend to rely on the few tried-and-true recipes they’ve been making for years. And while tradition is a good thing at the holidays, boring is not.

Missy Salmon, chef and market manager for Totally Cooked Catering in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, said tradition doesn’t have to mean same-old, same-old.

“People need to play off of the favorites, maybe adding different flavors. Change it up a bit, or even substitute a vegetable that’s similar,” she said. For example, Salmon suggested, substitute broccoli rabe for green beans.

But because the holidays are rooted in tradition, you may have to be careful if you start eliminating dishes the family holds dear — like the green-bean casserole.

Salmon recalled the year her mother decided she wasn’t making a broccoli-cheese casserole she makes every Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. “There was quite an uproar,” she said.

In her new cookbook “What Can I Bring?” Anne Byrn said a salad is a great way to freshen up any holiday meal.

“Some people never include a salad, and it gives you a break from the heavy food,” she said.

Like Salmon, Byrn said cooks should look for new twists on familiar ingredients. She suggested turning the green-bean casserole into a green bean salad, for example.

While a lot of cooks focus on pumpkins or sweet potatoes, there are plenty of other root vegetables that make great holiday side dishes. “There’s beautiful squashes, like a roasted butternut squash,” Byrn said.

Salmon said something new may be as simple as looking at the same foods in a new way. “Fruits can be used as a hot, savory item as opposed to always dessert,” she said.

Salmon’s recipe for Curried Fruit is served warm as a savory side dish and goes great with turkey, chicken or pork because of the curry powder. It’s especially easy because it’s made with canned fruits.

One of the best parts of holiday cooking, Salmon said, is that most cooks are willing to make something extra special.

“They splurge a bit more, use better ingredients and seek out the things that are a bit more unusual,” she said.

These recipes include examples of ways to take side dishes beyond the green-bean casserole.

The Corn Casserole is a crowd pleaser, a variation on traditional corn custards and corn-bread stuffing. One of Byrn’s favorites, Spinach Salad With Curried Apple and Cashew Dressing, features traditional fall apples and dried cranberries, but with an Asian flair. All of them will help get you through the remainder of the holiday season without a single can of cream of mushroom soup.


1 (12-oz.) can pineapple chunks

1 (15-oz.) can sliced peaches

1 (15-oz.) can black cherries

1 (15-oz.) can pear halves

1 (15-oz.) can peeled apricots

1/3 cup melted butter

1 cup brown sugar

2 tsp. curry powder

Drain fruits. Gently toss fruits in a large ovenproof dish. Blend melted butter, brown sugar and curry together, and pour over fruit. Cover and bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees. Serve hot.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Note: Can sizes are approximates.

— Chef Missy Salmon


3 lbs. broccoli rabe

1/4 cup olive oil

3 tbsp. thinly sliced garlic

1 to 2 anchovy fillets, optional

1/4 to 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper, as needed

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Wash the broccoli rabe and remove any tough stems and very large leaves.

Blanch the broccoli rabe in the boiling water until it is bright green, about 3 minutes. Drain and rinse the broccoli rabe to stop the cooking. Squeeze dry and chop, if desired.

In a saute pan, heat the oil over low heat. Add the garlic and cook gently, stirring frequently, until the garlic is limp and barely golden, about 2 minutes. Keep the heat very low to avoid scorching the garlic.

Add the anchovy fillets, if using, and smash them into the olive oil with the back of a spoon. Cook until the anchovy is dissolved, about 1 minute. Add the red pepper flakes and stir into the oil.

Increase the heat to high, add the broccoli rabe and saute quickly until the broccoli rabe is very hot, about 3 minutes.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately on heated plates or in a heated serving bowl.

Makes 6 servings.

— The Culinary Institute of America: Vegetables


For the dressing:

2 tbsp. white wine vinegar

1 tbsp. dry white wine

2 tsp. Dijon mustard

1 tsp. soy sauce

3 tbsp. sugar, or more to taste

1/2 tsp. curry powder

1/2 tsp. salt or more to taste

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste

1/2 cup vegetable oil

For the salad:

1 package (about 10 oz.) chopped romaine lettuce (about 8 loosely packed cups)

1 package (5 oz.) spinach leaves, rinsed and drained well, stems removed (4 to 5 loosely packed cups)

1 medium Granny Smith apple, cored and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

1/3 cup cashews

1/4 cup dried cranberries

2 scallions, green parts only, chopped

1 tbsp. sesame seeds, toasted

To toast sesame seeds, place them in a heavy skillet over medium heat and stir until they are golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Make the dressing: Place the white wine vinegar, wine, mustard, soy sauce, sugar, curry powder, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Add the oil, a little at a time, whisking to combine until the dressing has thickened.

Taste for seasoning, adding a tablespoon of sugar and more salt and/or pepper as needed. Set the dressing aside.

Prepare the salad: Place the romaine and spinach in a large salad bowl and toss to combine. Top with the apple, cashews, cranberries, scallions and sesame seeds.

Stir the salad dressing to recombine, then pour half of it over the salad and toss to coat well. Taste for seasoning and add dressing if needed.

Any leftover dressing can be refrigerated for up to two weeks.

Serve at once.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

-- “What Can I Bring?” by Anne Byrn


1 (15-oz.) can corn, drained

1 (15-oz.) can creamed corn

1 stick butter or margarine, melted

2 eggs, beaten

8 oz. sour cream

1 box corn muffin mix

Mix all ingredients together and pour into a greased casserole dish.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes, until center is set and top begins to brown.

Makes 8 servings.

— Lisa Abraham’s recipe collection

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