SIDES WAYS: Last-Minute Ideas For a Tastier Thanksgiving

With all due respect to the green bean casserole, it and other traditional holiday sides are fat-and-carb bombs that leave many eager eaters nodding off on the couch after dinner. Here, courtesy of four top Jersey food pros, are some lighter—and, I think, tastier—sides to serve with the holiday gobbler or ham.



The average American Thanksgiving meal is estimated to total 2,000 to 3,500 calories. But as Maplewood resident and prolific cookbook author Rick Rodgers writes on, “In my humble opinion, there is just too much food on the typical Thanksgiving table.”

Rodgers, author of the bestselling Thanksgiving 101, explains, “If I have spent hours in the kitchen, I want my guests to be able to savor the fare, not groan at the sight of food heaped on their plates. With both stuffing and sweet potatoes on the table, I see no need to serve mashed potatoes as well. A sautéed green vegetable…will be a welcome contrast to all the baked carbs.”

I could not agree more, and that’s why my own Thanksgiving table includes Brussels sprouts—which, as any Jersey farmer will tell you, become sweeter after the first frost.

At Christmas, I follow Rodgers’ lead and serve my ham with a sauté of al dente green beans, cherry tomatoes and shallots. As a bonus, this dish features the colors of the season.


To get greens onto his holiday table, Matt Systema of Griggstown Quail Farm recommends kale.

“Kale is a staple in both spring and fall that I consider a must,” he says. Like many chefs, he favors Tuscan kale—also called lacinto or dinosaur kale—because the flavor of its dark blue, almost black leaves is more delicate than that of the common curly variety.

Sytsema suggests offsetting the vegetable’s natural bitterness with golden raisins, a Thanksgiving natural if ever there was one.

Since he started at Griggstown in late 2003 with the mission of creating a line of prepared foods for its market, this graduate of the Culinary Institute of America has also overseen the development of its ten-acre vegetable farm, its popular C.S.A. program, and the recent addition of a new 4,000-square foot kitchen.


Chef Aaron Philipson and his wife, Rory, run the Blue Bottle Café in Hopewell.

As a child, Aaron didn’t like holiday meals. “My grandmother on my mother’s side was Italian," he says. "Christmas Eve was always the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Thank God for things like baked ziti and garlic! Ironically, I now prefer fish.”

These days he and Rory spend Christmas Eve at Rory’s mom’s house, where they round out the filet mignon and dauphinoise potatoes on a lighter note with his colorful orange-ginger carrot purée.

For stuffing, Adele diBiase, the force behind Summit’s popular Bona Vita restaurant and its new sibling, Pizza Vita, favors a super-rich sausage mixture that also includes butter (three sticks worth!), a pound of prosciutto, lots of Parmesan, and bread soaked in heavy cream. But this nimble chef is sure to surround this high-calorie masterpiece with sides of decidedly less heft, including a warm Sicilian-style salad featuring braised fennel.

The fennel’s subtle anise flavor gets a spark of citrus from both lemon and orange, while pistachios add color and crunch. Fennel bulbs, available at farmers’ markets, happen to be low in calories and are a very good source of vitamin C.


One way to make turkey stuffing lighter—not to mention more nutritious—is to replace the bread with quinoa, an ancient, protein-rich grain that originated in the Andes mountains and cooks up light and fluffy, like rice.

Its faintly nutty flavor also makes it a natural for stuffing. I am partial to the recipe at, the website of a young company based in California, which combines the grain with earthy mushrooms and sweet apples. TruRoots’ organic whole grain quinoa is carried by some Whole Foods Markets, but any quinoa will work.


Aaron Philipson, The Blue Bottle Café, Hopewell

Serves 4

1 pound carrots, peeled and sliced
1 medium onion, small dice
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 orange, zested and juiced
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
Salt & white pepper to taste

Sweat onion with canola oil until translucent. Add garlic and heat to aroma. Add ginger and carrots. Add stock, orange juice, orange zest, and bay leaf and simmer until carrots are very tender.

Puree in blender or food processor. Season with salt and pepper. This puree can be served hot or cold. Garnish with sour cream or yogurt and sprinkle with thin sliced chives, if desired.

Griggstown Quail Farm & Market, Princeton

Serves 8

2 lbs Tuscan kale (stems and center removed and leaves coarsely torn)
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup pignoli (pine nuts)
1 shallot, minced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
½ cup golden raisins
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon butter

Bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil. Cook kale in boiling water for 5 to 7 minutes or until tender. Once the kale is tender, drain into a colander and then place colander of kale into an ice bath. Gently stir the kale in the ice bath to speed up cooling. Once kale is cool remove from ice water and drain water. Shake colander to remove as much water as possible but do not squeeze. Set aside.

Warm a large skillet on the stove over medium heat. Add olive oil to the pan and toast pignoli until golden brown. Stir often to brown evenly. Add shallots and garlic to skillet with browned pine nuts. Cook until shallots are translucent. Increase heat to high and add cooked kale to the pan. Add raisins and season with salt and pepper. Gently incorporate the kale with tongs or spatula. Sauté for 4 to 5 minutes until the kale is warmed through and any water has evaporated. Remove from heat, incorporate butter and enjoy.

Carol Byrd-Bredbenner, author of “Fresh Tastes from the Garden State”

Serves 4

2 medium acorn squash, halved lengthwise and seeds removed
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons water
1-1/4 cups cranberries
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dry thyme
3 medium portobello mushrooms, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1/4 cup pecans

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Trim a small slice off the back of each squash half to keep it from rocking. Place squash, cut side down, in a large baking dish. Add enough water to half fill the dish. Bake 30 minutes. Turn squash over and bake 25 minutes more, or ukntil the squash is tender.

Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook over medium heat until the mixture becomes thick and syrupy and has just a hint of brown color (about 3 to 4 minutes). Carefully add the cranberries (they may pop) to the hot syrup. Gently stir the cranberries until they are coated with the syrup, being careful not to rupture the berries. Remove the pan from the heat and cover.

Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and brown sugar. Cook until the onions are soft and fragrant (about 5 minutes). Reduce the heat to low. Add the thyme and mushrooms, cook until the mushrooms are tender (about 2 minutes). Stir in the cranberries and pecans and cook 1 minute more. Set aside.

When the squash is cooked, pour out any water remaining in the baking dish. Spoon cranberry mixture into the hollo0ws of the squash. Serve the filled squash as is, or return the baking dish to the oven and bake until the squash is lightly browned (about 6 to 8 minutes).

Pat Tanner

Makes 2 quarts

For decades now my family insists that it is not Thanksgiving without this dish. Two of its best features are that it’s creamy without using milk or cream, and that it’s assembled a day in advance. I have to admit I never cook it the same way twice. If the potatoes are on the soft side and the turnips a bit hard, I have been known to cook them together for the same length of time.

6 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
3 large turnips, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
Salt & fresh ground pepper to taste
3/4 cup shredded cheddar

In a big pot, cover potatoes with cold water by at least an inch and add a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes. Add turnips and onion and cook for 15 minutes, or until the potatoes and turnips are soft. Drain and mash with the butter, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.
Remove 1 cup of the mixture and place in a pastry bag with a large tip. Transfer the rest of the mixture to a 2-quart casserole and decoratively pipe the contents of the bag around the edge. Cover and chill for several hours or overnight. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. Sprinkle the top with the cheddar

PAT TANNER reviews restaurants and writes about food for New Jersey Monthly. Follow her personal blog at Dine With Pat


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