Whether you have a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) membership, find produce at your local farmer’s market, or opt for what’s most in-season at the grocery store, you’re probably encountering more unfamiliar root vegetables and darker, leafier greens. Although these veggies may not immediately spring to mind when planning your Thanksgiving dinner menu, they might just make for an unexpected-yet-perfect veggie side dish to accompany your traditional main courses.
And just because they’re side dishes doesn’t mean they are less important. Make them stand out by serving them in a beautiful wooden serving bowl.
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I’ll start with my favorite of the unusual fall vegetables: kohlrabi! Part of the cabbage family, kohlrabi is crunchy like a radish with just a hint of sweetness; it might remind you of an apple. For this reason, it complements Honeycrisp apples perfectly in a crisp, refreshing salad. When you’ve got the turkey and the mashed potatoes but realize you’re missing the ‘crunch,’ kohlrabi might be your answer. Get this Crispy Apple and Kohlrabi Salad recipe.
Fennel & Fennel Fronds
Sweet, anise-scented fennel has a flavor not everyone will love, but braising it helps mellow the licorice notes and makes the bulbous veggie silky in texture too. Nutty brown butter, fresh orange juice, and orange zest balance deep earthy flavor with bright acidity. And always save your feathery fennel fronds for garnishing your dish, as we do here. Get our Braised Fennel recipe.
Related Reading: The Ultimate Guide to Fennel
Loaded with vitamins but less bitter than kale, Swiss chard can provide the base for that sautéed greens dish you’re trying to figure out. Since it’s as versatile as spinach, you can experiment with a more creative side involving salty capers and sweet golden raisins, as in our Mediterranean Braised Chard recipe above. Or, you can make a simpler version using only olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Either way, Swiss chard can be added seamlessly to this year’s Thanksgiving meal.
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Akin to chard but but with way less street cred, you might be surprised to find that beet greens are similarly mild and, indeed, edible! You’ll have more success encountering beet greens if you belong to a CSA or if you frequent a farmer’s market, and if you do, then you know one more leafy green available for use in your holiday side dishes. This simple recipe perks them up with garlic and lemon juice with a bit of butter to smooth the sharp edges, but try a touch of honey too. If you haven’t come across beet greens yet, you can easily substitute chard or spinach. Get this Sauteed Beet Greens recipe.
Thanksgiving sides often involve sweet or roasted flavors. For the best of both worlds, give roasted Japanese turnips a shot. A little sweeter than regular turnips, try enhancing this difference with the addition of maple syrup. And bonus: If your guests are picky, you can double, triple, or quadruple the syrup—heck let’s just have candy for dinner, it’s not like we’re grown-ups or anything! Get this Miso Turnips recipe.
Radishes & Radish Tops
Spicy radishes are equally great with umami-rich miso, and here they’re pan-seared along with their green tops before getting a miso-rice vinegar glaze with an added sprinkle of togarashi (a Japanese seasoning blend with nori, tangerine peel, pepper, sesame, and other spices). This is a great way to add a little international Thanksgiving flair to your table. Get our Pan-Seared Radishes with Miso Butter recipe.
If your guests are adult people who occasionally eat a vegetable, they might be pleasantly surprised to find that leeks can be a side dish all on their own. Try serving a braised leeks dish and see how well this vegetable, often relegated to the role of ‘extra’ or ‘supporting actor,’ actually shines on its own. Get our Braised Leeks recipe.
Shifting gears back to the theme of ‘you can eat that vegetable top,’ it turns out carrot tops are edible too—and even more unexpected, make for an excellent pesto. Though you can go full ‘grilled cheese’ as this Grilled Cheese with Roasted Carrots and Carrot Green Pesto recipe dictates, I recommend you try serving just the carrots-with-pesto part as an elevated version of your typical roasted-carrots side dish (like Antoni Porowski does, with the addition of Greek yogurt and pine nuts). Having bites of carrot accompanied with a little carrot-top pesto is an interesting and nice way to use the whole carrot, avoiding unnecessary food waste.
You can also try a carrot top pipián (made with pumpkin seeds), à la the lovely roasted carrots from Il Fiorista shown above. Chef Garrison Price recommends using baby carrots, as their tops are less bitter than full-grown carrot greens. Get the Baby Carrots with Carrot-Top Pipián, Pistachio, and Coriander recipe.
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Brussels Sprout Tops
Finally, if you’re looking for something truly different, give Brussels sprout tops a shot. These, like the beet greens, are more likely to make an appearance in a CSA box than at the grocery store. A spicy dish using Brussels sprout greens, with the addition of chili and ginger, is anything but traditional—and if your guests haven’t yet declared you a Thanksgiving heretic for eschewing the green bean casserole, you might realize you’ve found delicious harmony in blending tradition with inventive use of these seasonal veggies. Get this Spicy Stir-fried Sprout Tops recipe.
For more tips, tricks, hacks, and recipes, see our Ultimate Guide to Thanksgiving.