Sure, the main course is the main event of any holiday meal. But don’t overlook the importance of great side dishes and desserts. They’re the accessories that put the polish on your efforts to outfit your holiday table.
Just as the right shoes and handbag can make a good outfit look great, the right side dishes and dessert can turn a mere meal into a memorable experience. And while the rules of fashion accessorizing may fluctuate with changing seasons and trends, choosing the right side dish or dessert follows some time-honored, trusted guidelines.
1. Choose something that plays nicely with your main course.
Some sides just go better with certain main dishes, like steak and a baked potato or fish and French-cut green beans. When choosing your side dish, keep in mind how its flavors and personality will play with those of the main course. For example, if you’re serving a traditional roasted turkey, your Thanksgiving side dishes will probably include something savory, comforting and familiar, rather than adventurous and edgy.
2. Salute the season.
From spring to fall, you can find vegetables and fruits that uniquely represent the flavors and personality of the season. Choosing seasonal foods for side dishes and desserts is a great way to ensure you make the most of the fresh ingredients available at the time. Seasonal ingredients not only ensure pure, robust flavors, they can underscore the spirit of the season as well. For example, Thanksgiving desserts that feature apples or pumpkin are much-loved favorites because they take advantage of familiar, fresh ingredients that personify the fall harvest.
3. Think well-rounded.
It turns out your grandmother was onto something when she said you needed to have a meat, green veggie and a starch to round out your meal. Nutritionists tell us that a balanced and well-rounded diet is key to good health. So the traditional way of pairing up main courses and side dishes stands the tests of time and science. Your well-rounded holiday meal should incorporate protein (traditionally a meat main course), vitamins (found in veggie side dishes such as carrots, yams or green beans) and carbohydrates (like stuffing and mashed potatoes). The variety will provide nutritional balance as well as a more satisfying experience for your palate.
4. End with an indulgence.
During the year, you might forego an indulgent dessert, but the holidays are no time to miss out on the season’s sweetest flavors. From Christmas cookies to fruitcake, holiday desserts are the perfect ending to an enjoyable meal. Just remember to choose a dessert that will be an appropriate culmination of the meal. If you’ve served a heavy main course and rich side dishes, you may consider serving a lighter dessert such as a fruit parfait.
You can find plenty of holiday side dish and dessert recipes online. Here’s a favorite to include in your menu planning this holiday season:
Green Bean Casserole
1 (10 3/4-ounce) can cream of mushroom soup
3/4 cup milk
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 (9-ounce) packages frozen cut green beans, thawed
1 1/3 cups French fried onions
Mix soup, milk and pepper in a 1 1/2-quart baking dish. Stir in beans and 2/3 cup French fried onions. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes or until hot. Stir. Top with the remaining 2/3 cup of onions and bake an additional five minutes until the onions are golden.