Unexpected Thanksgiving Sides That Will Have Guests Begging For More

Turkey might be the centerpiece of the quintessential Thanksgiving meal, but if we're being honest, the side dishes are where our true allegiance lies. Creamy megamenu potatoes, crispy green bean casseroles, caramelized yams with marshmallows, and buttery stuffing are at least as mouth-watering as the enormous bird at the center of the proceedings, and many of us spend hours in the kitchen trying to take our recipes up a notch each year. But even stone-cold classics like megamenu potatoes and stuffing can go out of style or become mundane, and you might find yourself casting around the internet for something a little more unique to round out your meal. You could add different ingredients here and there, like spicing up your sweet potato casserole with a streusel topping instead of marshmallows, or use a different technique, like substituting the megamenu potatoes with scalloped potatoes.

For a change that will really mix up the usual fare, however, you need to take a bold step into unknown territory, and we've got all the recipes and inspiration you need to make this year's meal something special. Whether you're looking for dishes that can easily stand in for classics or ones that can simply add to the mix, we've got you covered. From kimchi mac and cheese to baked tostones, here are our best recipes for a unique Thanksgiving spread.

1. Pomegranate Chicken Salad

Thanksgiving has no shortage of creamy, bready side dishes, but the embarrassment of riches is often lacking something: salad. Cranberry sauce does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to cutting through the grease and carbs of the rest of the meal, but it shouldn't have to shoulder all the work.

This pomegranate chicken salad provides a refreshing counterpoint to stuffing and megamenu potatoes with its peppery arugula, crunchy pumpkin seeds, and sharp feta. The sweetness of the pomegranate is amplified by the pomegranate molasses in the dressing, and you can always omit the chicken to avoid detracting from the turkey.

Recipe: Pomegranate Chicken Salad

2. Herby Pecan Rice Pilaf

Roasted pecans are a staple of the holiday season, and you don't have to limit them to pie. This rice pilaf makes a delicious, savory showcase for them, complete with rosemary and thyme. The rice is cooked in chicken stock to add flavor, and the nuts are toasted in butter.

You could easily use this pilaf in place of traditional stuffing or present it as a bonus side dish. Feel free to swap the long-grain white rice for another variety. Wild rice would provide a striking visual element to the dish, while brown rice would add a nutty flavor to go with the pecans.

Recipe: Herby Pecan Rice Pilaf

3. Grilled Artichokes And Garlic-Parmesan Aioli

Thanksgiving is as much about presentation as it is about flavor, and this side dish is bound to turn heads. Artichokes look intimidating to eat but, like spaghetti, are well worth the hassle. They are also easy to make, though they require a two-step cooking process of boiling and grilling.

To make this dish truly memorable, recipe developer Feta Topalu has created an aioli dipping sauce made with mayonnaise, garlic, parmesan, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, and a hint of cayenne pepper. It's tangy, cheesy, and oh-so-creamy and will add some flair to the usual Thanksgiving spread.

Recipe: Grilled Artichokes And Garlic-Parmesan Aioli

4. Sweet Potato Latkes

Get a headstart on Hanukkah festivities with latkes. Recipe developer Catherine Brookes has created a version made with sweet potatoes, perfect for Thanksgiving feasting. Unlike traditional latkes, which are made with regular potatoes, this version is not only crispy but caramelized, too.

If you're looking for an alternative to the usual sweet potato casserole, this recipe will provide all the sugary, caramelized sweet potato you could wish for. Top the latkes with sour cream for an even more delicious flavor and complexity of texture.

Recipe: Sweet Potato Latkes

5. Old-Fashioned Creamed Cucumber Slices

Some families serve creamed onions every Thanksgiving, but we have an even better option. These creamed cucumber slices strike an unusual balance between creamy and refreshing. Cucumbers are so closely associated with summer and salad that they are bound to cause a stir at Thanksgiving; in this case, it's well deserved.

Despite the subtle taste of the hydrating vegetable at its center, this dish is full of flavor. Sour cream and onion lend it a luxurious texture and a sharp flavor, while fresh dill gives it a slightly sweet note that perfectly complements the coolness of the cucumbers.

Recipe: Old-Fashioned Creamed Cucumber Slices

6. Japanese-Style Potato Salad

Traditional potato salad fits just about any dinner menu, especially when meat is involved. It has the creamy starchiness you need to balance out protein-heavy dishes, and the flavor to liven up uninspiring side dishes. This Japanese-style potato salad is arguably even better on these fronts and provides more nutrients and color.

There are potatoes and mayonnaise, of course, but also ham, eggs, cucumber, carrots, and vinegar to cut through the creaminess. This dish is close enough to traditional potato salad to delight those who love the original recipe, but adventurous enough to satisfy those who love trying new flavors.

Recipe: Japanese-Style Potato Salad

7. Loaded Deviled Egg Pasta Salad

Pasta salads are often associated with summer cookouts, but there is no reason why you should limit them to a particular season, especially when you can add a beloved party food to the formula. Deviled eggs are a staple of fancy gatherings, with their elegant appearance and sophisticated flavors. However, they have a reputation for being tricky to make, which is where the genius of this recipe comes in.

Instead of having to pipe the mixture of hard-boiled egg yolks, mustard, and mayonnaise back into the egg whites, you simply mix them up into a dressing, pour them over the pasta, and add the egg whites, some bacon, a can of pimentos, and shredded cheddar.

Recipe: Loaded Deviled Egg Pasta Salad

8. Instant Pot Spaghetti Squash

Spaghetti squash is a sneaky way to eat more vegetables without trying, and you don't even need a spiralizer to make it look like real spaghetti. This recipe speeds things up by cooking the squash in an instant pot, which slashes the usual roasting time to less than 10 minutes. Even the presentation is easy. Simply toss the spaghetti squash with your favorite store-bought pasta sauce, and you have an eye-catching, colorful dish.

On a holiday when you can use all the extra time you can get, this recipe is nothing short of heroic.

Recipe: Instant Pot Spaghetti Squash

9. Cheesy Kale Chips

Thanksgiving isn't a day when you want to be worried about eating superfoods, but it is nice to see at least one spot of green amongst the sea of dishes. In that respect, these cheesy kale chips are just the thing — vibrantly colored, crunchy, cheesy, and yes, maybe a little bit healthy too.

Steak spice and nutritional yeast ensure that these chips taste nothing like health food and have a texture that's more akin to vegetable tempura than salad. Don't skimp on the parmesan, and make sure to serve them straight out of the oven when they're at peak crispiness.

Recipe: Cheesy Kale Chips

10. Korean Glazed Eggplant

Eggplants sliced in half lengthwise make a striking addition to the Thanksgiving table, especially when coated in spicy, sweet, and savory glaze. If your family is used to the standard fare of megamenu potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, and turkey, this recipe will vastly enrich the meal, no matter how delicious it would be without it.

Gochujang, a fermented sweet and savory chili paste from Korea, forms the foundation of the glaze, and it's worth the extra legwork to find a store that carries it rather than try to substitute it with other ingredients.

Recipe: Korean Glazed Eggplant

11. Shredded Carrot Salad

Salad might be a tough sell on Thanksgiving, but you can compromise with a delicious concoction that bears no resemblance to a bowl of leafy greens. This shredded carrot salad is light, refreshing, and full of tangy flavor from the mustard vinaigrette. For those who have never been wild about cranberry sauce, this dish is a great alternative palate cleanser to balance out the rich, savory flavors of the rest of the meal. 

Add a little extra honey if you want the sweetness of the carrots to match the acidity of the vinegar and Dijon.

Recipe: Shredded Carrot Salad

12. Garlic And Herb Great Northern Beans

Beans are often overlooked at Thanksgiving. Maybe it's because the turkey provides all the protein you need or because many bean-based recipes don't fit neatly into the side dish category. Either way, these garlic and herb great northern beans more closely resemble an inventive salad than a protein-rich main dish.

Great northern beans are closely related to kidney beans but are richer, making them the perfect addition to your fleet of Thanksgiving side dishes. You're unlikely to find them canned, so we recommend buying them dried and then cooking them in a pressure cooker or instant pot.

Recipe: Garlic And Herb Great Northern Beans

13. Easy Sautéed Beet Greens

Even if you're not planning to serve beets at Thanksgiving, you might want to add sautéed beet greens to the meal. These leafy tops are not only packed with vitamins and minerals, but they're deliciously versatile, too. This recipe keeps things simple with garlic and lemon juice, bringing out the greens' slightly sweet, earthy flavor.

Unlike kale, they have a tender, almost buttery texture, negating any concerns about producing something chewy and fibrous. Their earthy flavor makes them perfect for autumn and all its root vegetable bounty.

Recipe: Easy Sautéed Beet Greens

14. Easy Cheese Fondue

Let's cut to the chase: Thanksgiving is all about indulgence, so why not double down this year? Cheese fondue will make all those creamy casseroles look like health food, and that, we can assure you, is a compliment. This recipe doesn't give you just any fondue. It's made with two kinds of cheese (Swiss and Gouda), as well as white wine, brandy, yellow mustard, minced garlic, and lemon juice. Bursting with cheesy flavor, it's a crowd-pleasing dish that is surprisingly quick to produce.

Recipe developer and registered dietician Kristen Carli suggests using this fondue to sneak some vegetables into your diet by adding a few slices of bell pepper, carrots, and celery next to the standard cubes of bread for dipping.

Recipe: Easy Cheese Fondue

15. Fried Green Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a summer staple, but you can often find them during winter months, too, imported from sunnier parts of the world. If you can find green ones, we highly recommend adding this recipe to your Thanksgiving lineup.

Unripe tomatoes are firmer and less juicy than fresh, meaning they hold their shape when fried instead of turning mushy. Their flavor is more acidic, but when coated in cornmeal and breadcrumbs, it's a bonus rather than a downside. This recipe calls for the tomato slices to be double-coated, ensuring they are extra crispy and flavorful.

Recipe: Fried Green Tomatoes

16. Mexican Street Corn Salad (Esquites)

This year, replace one of your vegetable sides with esquites (also known as elote), one of Mexico's most delicious and popular street foods. Made with roasted corn kernels, lime juice, chili pepper, cheese, and other delicious ingredients, this dish is full of delicious flavors that will enhance your Thanksgiving no matter what other foods you're serving.

Although elote is usually made by cutting corn kernels off the cob, this recipe makes things easier by using frozen fire-roasted corn. Dial back the jalapeño if any of your guests have a lower heat tolerance, but otherwise, keep the formula intact. You won't be disappointed.

Recipe: Mexican Street Corn Salad (Esquites)

17. Quinoa Zucchini Salad

For a side dish that is filling and nourishing, look no further than this quinoa zucchini salad. It may not have butter or cream, but it is full of flavor and an excellent compromise when you want something healthy but would rather not eat kale or spinach salad on Thanksgiving.

All the ingredients are cooked, meaning that even the vegetables taste festively warm and savory rather than crisp and fresh. Lemon and goat cheese provide a sharp acidity that is a welcome diversion from the richness of the other dishes, and the quinoa has a delicious nutty flavor.

Recipe: Quinoa Zucchini Salad

18. Crispy Fried Zucchini Fritters

Fritters make the perfect Thanksgiving side dish. Crispy and indulgent, they fit right in with the rest of the meal and, in the case of these zucchini fritters, can even be healthy. This recipe calls for the grated squash mixed with herbs, parmesan, onion, eggs, and feta. Before frying, they are coated in breadcrumbs to heighten their crispiness.

Despite how delicious and unique they are, these fritters take only a half hour to come together.

Recipe: Crispy Fried Zucchini Fritters

19. Baked Tostones

Tostones are a popular dish in Latin American and Caribbean cuisine, made from unripe plantains that are peeled, sliced, and fried twice. The result is crunchy golden circles of deliciousness suited to any occasion.

Recipe developer Alexandra Shytsman has found a way to mimic the traditional twice-fried recipe by baking twice instead. This produces equally crunchy results without all the oil. With smoked paprika and garlic powder, these golden coins are utterly delicious and an asset to any Thanksgiving meal.

Recipe: Baked Tostones

20. Easy Cloud Bread

If you were on TikTok in 2020, you probably saw at least one video about cloud bread. The low-carb alternative to regular wheat-based bread is made of egg whites, a bit of cornstarch, and sugar, and many recipes on the platform use dye to make their fluffy creations pastel colors.

We're not suggesting you serve cushiony blue clouds at Thanksgiving, but recipe developer Ting Dalton has created a version of the trend that is savory and a warm, light brown. It may look like bread, but garlic powder, Italian herb seasoning, and cream cheese give it a boost of flavor, making it a delicious and unusual companion to the rest of the meal.

Recipe: Easy Cloud Bread

21. Kimchi Mac And Cheese

We firmly believe you can never go wrong by adding mac and cheese to a dinner menu, and this kimchi version proves the point. There is something for everyone in this recipe, but it's the way it all comes together that makes it a winner in our book. Aside from macaroni and the spicy fermented veggies of the kimchi is fermented chili paste known as gochujang, a thick, creamy cheese sauce with mustard, and a breadcrumb topping made with butter, green onions, and parmesan. Do not skip the five-minute bake at the end to make the breadcrumbs extra crunchy.

Recipe: Kimchi Mac And Cheese

22. Flash-Fried Snow Peas

When you need another vegetable on the table but can't bring yourself to wade through yet another lengthy recipe, these flash-fried snow peas will be your favorite part of Thanksgiving. In fact, you'll have them plated and on the table before your guests can make it to their seats.

Speed doesn't substitute flavor, either. These crunchy little morsels are made fiery with the addition of ginger and garlic, while the toasted flavor of sesame seed oil and the inherent sweetness of the peas shine through. Even veggie-averse kids will be won over.

Recipe: Flash-Fried Snow Peas

23. Sautéed Mushrooms

With their rich, umami flavor and unique texture, mushrooms make an excellent addition to Thanksgiving. You could use them in place of another side dish, but they are so different from the standard menu items that you may as well just add them to the mix, especially considering how well their earthy flavor pairs with other seasonal ingredients like squash and Brussels sprouts.

These sautéed mushrooms can even double as a kind of gravy. Made with soy sauce, butter, garlic, and white wine, they are full of buttery, umami flavor and perfect for spooning on top of megamenu potatoes and turkey.

Recipe: Sautéed Mushrooms

24. Crispy Fried Onion Rings

If you haven't made fried onion rings at home yet, what are you waiting for? They are surprisingly easy to make and, with the right recipe, taste just as good if not better than the kind you get from restaurants. You don't even need a deep fryer.

This recipe includes baking powder in the batter, which makes the rings extra crispy. It also calls for batter and breadcrumbs rather than one or the other, ensuring that the coating is thick, crunchy, and uniform. Make sure to heat the oil to 365 degrees Fahrenheit and flip the rings just before the first side is done.

Recipe: Crispy Fried Onion Rings

25. Traditional Southern Fried Apples

Southern fried apples are traditionally eaten as a dessert, but Thanksgiving dinner is known for its range of sweet and savory sides, which makes it the perfect occasion to pair this recipe with turkey and gravy. The apples are tart and sweet, with the warming addition of cinnamon and richness of butter. This recipe calls for brown sugar and date syrup, too, which gives them an even deeper, sweeter flavor.

Serve these apples next to the turkey, and you're likely to start a trend that crops up every year. We're not saying they'll make cranberry sauce obsolete, but they will most certainly give it a run for its money.

Recipe: Traditional Southern Fried Apples

26. Air Fryer Plantains

There's nothing like plantains on the usual Thanksgiving menu. In the array of savory, earthy, sometimes sweet dishes, their light sweetness and starchy texture may sound similar to other options, but they provide a unique and delicious flavor all their own.

If you want the plantains to be a little sweeter, add a teaspoon or two of sugar. As the recipe stands, however, the sweet-savory balance of the fruit adds to its uniqueness. Make sure to use yellow plantains. Green ones are under-ripe for this recipe, while ones that have black splotches will be too mushy to hold their shape.

Recipe: Air Fryer Plantains

27. Parmesan Roasted Carrots

When planning Thanksgiving, do not forget to put carrots on the menu. Roasted carrots are one of the best dishes for winter — sweet, earthy, and starchy without being too filling. They're also nutritious, colorful, and easily paired with just about anything.

This recipe adds parmesan to the mix, which is another flavor that is almost always welcome. Slice the carrots lengthwise to make sure they cook all the way through and sprinkle them with fresh parsley before serving for a little bit of festive color.

Recipe: Parmesan Roasted Carrots

28. Oven-Roasted Polenta Fries

Here's one you probably haven't tried, let alone eaten regularly at Thanksgiving: polenta fries. Polenta is already delicious, but recipe developer Ting Dalton has added even more flavor with parmesan, garlic, and fresh rosemary. On top of this, the polenta is cooked in chicken broth with plenty of butter.

This recipe takes a little more effort to make, but it's still beginner-friendly, and the extra time is totally worth it. The best part is that because these fries are made with polenta instead of potatoes, you can get away with having fries and megamenu potatoes in the same meal. It's a win-win.

Recipe: Oven-Roasted Polenta Fries

29. Traditional Yorkshire Pudding

Yorkshire pudding is a staple of British cuisine that you'll find on almost every Sunday roast menu across the country. Made of flour, eggs, and milk, it's a simple, quick bread shaped like a collapsed muffin and is almost always served with roast meat and drenched in gravy. Because of this, it happens to be the perfect side dish for Thanksgiving.

Recipe developer Susan Olayinka has taken the traditional approach with her recipe, and we wouldn't have it any other way. Crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, these puddings not only pair well with the turkey and gravy but with the rest of the Thanksgiving meal as well.

Recipe: Traditional Yorkshire Pudding

30. Sautéed Dandelion Greens With Garlic

Bitter flavors are often avoided, but in the right circumstances, they can add much-needed variation to a meal. Brussels sprouts, rutabaga, and parsley are just a few of the bitter foods that are often incorporated into Thanksgiving dishes, and we have another option to add to the list: dandelion greens. They are not the most common vegetable at any time of year, but their slightly bitter flavor brings some nuance to the table that will wake up the palate and win over your guests.

Dandelion greens do not have the same intensity as arugula or mustard greens, so recipe developer Feta Topalu has paired them with garlic and lots of butter for a subtly bitter dish that is tender and delicious.

Recipe: Sautéed Dandelion Greens With Garlic

31. Simple Corn Pudding

Tired of cornbread but not ready to leave it off the menu? This simple corn pudding is the perfect way to meet in the middle. Although it contains flour and is baked in a casserole dish, its consistency is less bready than cornbread. Sweet, dense, and full of sugary pockets of corn kernels, it is an excellent addition to Thanksgiving in place of the usual bready variety of the dish.

In addition to creamed corn and corn kernels, the pudding gains its flavor from evaporated milk, sugar, vanilla, and nutmeg. You can omit the last two ingredients if you'd rather it be more savory, and add jalapeños or cayenne if you want it spicy.

Recipe: Simple Corn Pudding

32. Air Fryer Parmesan Brussels Sprouts

There are many ways to make Brussels sprouts. You can grill them on skewers, turn them into salad, or keep things simple by roasting them. If you're planning to serve them at Thanksgiving this year, we have another idea, and it involves cheese.

These parmesan Brussels sprouts are made in an air fryer, giving them crispy skin without needing lots of oil. They are made even crispier with breadcrumbs, while balsamic vinegar gives them a kick of flavor and a hint of sweetness. It's not your average recipe, and it will make the meal all the more memorable.

Recipe: Air Fryer Parmesan Brussels Sprouts