Thanksgiving sides: what’s typical?

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Thanksgiving side dishes are just as important as the turkey. Stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and vegetables like green beans and carrots are popular. Cranberries are also a common side dish.

While the turkey might be considered “the star” of the Thanksgiving meal, side dishes are certainly important and necessary “co-stars.” Many people look forward to enjoying the stuffing or dressing and can’t imagine a Thanksgiving meal without it. Others dream of sweet potatoes made sweeter with marshmallow topping or maple syrup or brown sugar. Cranberries, for many, are another popular Thanksgiving side dish.

While the terms “stuffing” and “seasoning” are often used interchangeably, stuffing refers to what is stuffed into the turkey and seasoning refers to what is cooked in a separate dish. Traditional fillings and toppings are made with bread, or for those in the Southern United States, cornbread. Basic bread fillings or baked seasonings used as a Thanksgiving side dish, usually include melted butter, onion, celery, and herbs such as sage, garlic, parsley, and thyme, as well as salt and pepper.

Variations of standard turkey stuffings and toppings include using rice rather than bread or cornbread. Some people add meat such as bacon, pork, or sausage to a base of bread, cornbread, or rice. Enterprising chefs often use turkey giblets, or gizzards, heart and liver, to add to their stuffing or dressing. Mushrooms can also be added and go particularly well with rice-based fillings or toppings. Fruits such as apples, pears, raisins or prunes are other possible additions to a Thanksgiving side dish of relish or turkey stuffing.

The word “yam” is often used incorrectly to describe sweet potatoes. Yams take their name from the African word “nyami”, which means starch root with white pulp; sweet potatoes have an orange colored flesh. Sweet potatoes are often “candied” with sugar, while yams are often cooked as a side dish with marshmallow topping or Southern pralines.

Regular white potatoes are a common Thanksgiving side dish usually served in addition to sweet potatoes or yams. Mashed potatoes and turkey gravy are a classic accompaniment to roast turkey, but some people may serve roasted or baked potatoes instead. Variations on mashed potatoes include adding an egg and cooking the mashed potatoes with a topping of cooked breadcrumbs and grated cheese until the top is lightly browned.

Other vegetables commonly served as a Thanksgiving side are carrots, Brussels sprouts, or green beans. Collard greens are a popular Thanksgiving side dish in the southern states. Pickles and condiments are also commonly found on many Thanksgiving tables.

Cranberries are also a very common Thanksgiving side dish. They can be homemade or canned and served as a condiment, dip, or in a jellied mold. Native Americans ate cranberries for many years, and early settlers in Massachusetts ate cranberries from the swamps of Cape Cod.

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