We all know the best part of any holiday meal is the side dishes. Sure, the entrée is delicious and we all want seconds. The soup is warm and comforting, and the salad is light and flavorful. But the array of all the different side dishes is that really excites us. There are potato dishes, rice dishes, vegetable dishes and so much more. This Christmas, try changing things up a bit. You can make all the traditional dishes but add one or two new side dishes and watch how merry everyone’s Christmas gets.
1. Cheesy Polenta
Mashed potatoes might be the traditional side dish but it’s always fun to shake things up a bit. This polenta is rich, creamy and cheesy. It cooks up super-quick and everyone will love it. Here’s how to make my Cheesy Polenta: In a large saucepan, bring 6 cups of water to a boil over high heat. Add ½ tsp. kosher salt to the boiling water. Add 2 cups polenta gradually while whisking. Lower the heat and cook the polenta until it is thickened and smooth. Continue to mix for 15 minutes. When the polenta is at a consistency to your liking, turn off the heat. Melt in 3 Tbs. vegan butter and 1 ½ cups vegan cheese of your choice. Mix until the cheese is melted and combined. Taste for seasoning adjustments.
2. Fried Smashed Potatoes with Lemon Vinaigrette
Here is another spin on the traditional mashed potatoes side dish. These fried smashed potatoes are actually a classic French recipe. Red potatoes are smashed and fried until crispy and then topped with a tangy vinaigrette. This dish will wow everyone. To make my Fried Smashed Potatoes with Lemon Vinaigrette: Put 2 lbs. baby red potatoes in a pot, cover them with cold water and bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook until the potatoes are fork-tender, about 20 minutes or so. Drain the potatoes into a colander and dry them. Using a potato masher, a big spoon or your hand, gently press down on each potato until each is lightly smashed and flattened. In a large skillet, heat 3-4 Tbs. vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add 4 minced cloves of garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes. Don’t let the garlic burn. When the garlic is just golden and you can smell it, remove it from the oil. Add the smashed potatoes to the skillet and let cook until the bottoms are browned and crisp, about 5-7 minutes. Carefully flip each potato to let them crisp on the other side, about another 5-7 minutes.
While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the dressing. In a small bowl, combine 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, the zest and juice of one lemon, 2 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley, 1 tsp. dried thyme, ½ tsp. kosher salt and ¼ tsp. black pepper. Mix well and taste for any seasoning adjustments. Transfer the potatoes to a platter. Spoon the lemon dressing over the potatoes. Toss to coat. Season with kosher salt as needed. Garnish with 2 Tbs. fresh chopped parsley.
3. Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin
Everyone loves cauliflower – check. Everyone loves cheese – check. Everyone loves cauliflower covered with cheese and baked – triple check. This dish will not only appeal to everyone’s cheesy desires but it feeds a crowd. If cauliflower is not your thing, that’s fine. Use broccoli, green beans or whatever your favorite veggies are instead. My Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin uses chickpea flour to make the thick, delicious cheese sauce so it’s gluten-free but you can use any flour you like. I also like to use orange or purple cauliflower to make the dish more colorful. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Core a head of cauliflower (about 3 lbs.) and cut the head into large florets. Blanche the cauliflower in a pot of boiling water for just a few minutes. You want to be tender but still have crunch. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. In a medium-size saucepan, melt 2 Tbs. vegan butter over medium heat and whisk in 2 Tbs. chickpea flour until well combined. Let it cook for a minute so you won’t taste the flour. Slowly add 2 cups warm non-dairy milk, whisking, until you have a smooth sauce. This is your béchamel sauce. Add ½ tsp. kosher salt, ¼ tsp. black pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Add ½ cup vegan cheddar cheese and whisk until smooth. Turn off the heat and set aside. Put a few ladles of the béchamel sauce in the bottom of an 8 x 8 baking dish. Add the cauliflower to the baking dish and cover with the remaining cheese sauce. In a small dish, combine 1/3 cup gluten-free bread crumbs, 2 Tbs. vegan grated parmesan and 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil. Mix and sprinkle over the cauliflower. Bake for 30 minutes or until the top begins to brown. Turn the oven on broiler for 2 minutes to really crisp up the top. Let sit for a few minutes to set before serving.
4. Roasted Acorn Squash with Spiced Pumpkin Seeds
Winter squash is plentiful and it tastes so sweet, you might forget it’s a vegetable. Roasting it brings out that sweetness by caramelizing the natural sugars. Adding spice balances all that sweetness for a perfect side dish. Making my Roasted Acorn Squash with Spiced Pumpkin Seeds is easy and delicious. First make the spiced pumpkin seeds: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine 1 cup hulled pumpkin seeds in a bowl with ½ tsp. ground cumin, ½ tsp. chile powder, ½ tsp. kosher salt, ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper, ¼ tsp. black pepper and 1 tsp. lime juice. Toss to cover the seeds in the spices. Spread the pumpkin seeds on a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast them for 5 minutes or until they are lightly browned. To make the squash: Turn the oven up to 425 degrees. Cut 2 acorn squash into 1-inch slices. Toss the squash slices with 2 Tbs. oil, 1 Tbs. brown sugar, 1 tsp. smoked paprika and 1 tsp. kosher salt. Lay the squash on a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast for 30-35 minutes. Toss the spiced pumpkin seeds on the squash and roast for 5 more minutes.
5. Sautéed Brussels Sprouts, Artichoke Hearts and Sundried Tomatoes
Ok, at least one of these side dishes has to have some green vegetables, right? Here are 3 vegetables I would have sworn I didn’t like before I became vegan. Now, they are all favorites of mine. Artichoke hearts get so creamy and luxurious when cooked. They are a perfect balance to the verdant sprouts and the tangy sundried tomatoes. To make my Sauteed Brussels Sprouts, Artichoke Hearts and Sundried Tomatoes: Steam 2 lbs. baby Brussels sprouts over a hot pot of water until they are tender. When they are cooled, cut them into halves. Heat 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Sauté one minced garlic clove and a pinch of red pepper flakes for just a minute. Add 2 Tbs. chopped sundried tomatoes and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the baby Brussels sprouts and cook on both sides until they are browned and crispy, about 6 minutes. Cut 16 oz. artichoke hearts into quarters and add to the pan. Cook until the artichokes are also slightly browned and crispy. Add kosher salt and black pepper to taste.
Other yummy veggie dishes include Pomegranate Balsamic Roasted Vegetables, Tzimmes, Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes with Braised Garlicky Kale and Easy and Delicious Roasted Rosemary String Beans which you can find by downloading the Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to ten new recipes per day. Check it out!
People may be expecting the usual mashed potatoes and green bean casserole but you can make your holiday meal much more exciting by changing up the side dishes. These five recipes are guaranteed crowd pleasers!
All image sources: Rhea Parsons