Cooks and eaters alike, prepare yourselves accordingly: It’s officially Side Dish Season!!

Well, that’s what the marketeers at Campbell’s Soup Company are calling the last two months of 2022, anyway. They have a vested interest in getting as many cans of cream of mushroom soup into as many side dishes as possible between now and when customers make New Year’s resolutions concerning calorie consumption.

The iconic company published its first ever State of the Sides Report, based on a customer survey and primary research conducted to support this marketing campaign. And while my journalist eyes generally look at these types of reports with healthy skepticism, I must say the findings were fun to read.

The report says 66 percent of Americans prefer the side dishes to their holiday entrée, and 73 percent complain their plates are not big enough to accommodate all the sides they want to eat. The survey ranks mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, stuffing, and mac and cheese as the top five Thanksgiving sides. Even with inflation affecting food prices, 90% of folks surveyed say they plan to serve the same number – or more – sides this season, with 50 percent saying that buying a smaller turkey than last year will be their biggest cost-cutting measure.

It’s official: Americans prefer the sides to the turkey. From top clockwise, Honey-Squash Dinner Roll; Charred Cabbage with Warm Lemon-Pepper Dressing; Gluten-Free Cornbread, Mushroom and Pecan Dressing; and Vegetarian Kale and Wild Rice Casserole. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Going against tradition, more than half of Campbell’s customers surveyed are open to trying new recipes. The report offers up ones like cheddar horseradish mashed potatoes (includes condensed cheddar cheese soup), Streusel-topped Sweet Potato Gratin (includes condensed cream of mushroom soup), and Vegetable Stuffing (includes vegetable stock from Swanson, owned by Campbell’s). According to the company’s research, folks in Maine, Washington and Oregon are both most likely to get creative with their sides and most prone to including leftover sides in day-after turkey sandwiches.

If you’re among the 42% of Americans who will be traveling to consume Thanksgiving dinner, you may be asked (or are just expected to offer) to bring along a side or two to the table. I want to let you in on a few tips I’ve amassed from being part of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Sides.

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This progressive (if somewhat fictitious) sisterhood is certainly a gender neutral one. Brothers and nonbinary folks who like to cook are welcome to join in. As its founding member, though, I must lay out the tenets of membership.

a.) DON’T duplicate or show up the host’s own prized side dishes.

b.) DO bring sides that serve the dual purpose of being delicious and being, in some way, helpful to the host.

c.) DON’T demand much oven or stovetop real estate for your sides; and,

d.) DO bring sides that make it all the way to the table without any effort on the host’s part.

Let me elaborate.

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If your host and her family have strong traditional ties to grandma’s mashed potatoes, don’t offer to bring along your version with crème fraiche and truffle oil. If you want to demonstrate your French culinary prowess, bring a Stand-Up Butternut Squash. It’s still French, it’s still starchy, but it neither puts down nor shows up the family favorite.

The second point of the Sisterhood lies in being creatively helpful. Your host already has a lot on his plate, so offer to take dietary modifications off it. Bring a protein-heavy veg dish like Vegetarian Kale and Wild Rice Casserole that can both serve as a main dish for those not eating turkey and a creamy side for those who are. Or take away his worry about producing a gluten-free version of stuffing by bringing Cornbread, Mushroom and Pecan Dressing to accommodate the guest with Celiac disease.

As a cook yourself, you understand the kitchen chaos involved with pulling off a holiday meal. The third tenet of the sisterhood nixes traveling side dishes that require a 375-degree oven for an hour and 15 minutes or a stovetop burner for any length of time. Your host will appreciate contributions that require no cooking elements near mealtime or can be finished in the oven once the bird is out and resting.

A cabbage salad – whether it’s a cold, shredded, raw Napa cabbage slaw or a room-temperature, pre-cooked composition like Charred Cabbage Salad with Warm Lemon Pepper Dressing that is assembled off the heat with the dressing warmed last-minute in the microwave – is a good, seasonally appropriate way to go. Par-baked dinner rolls are always a welcome addition at Thanksgiving because they brown in the oven in less than 20 minutes and eaters love warm baked rolls to sop up gravy. Most yeasted roll recipes, like Honey Squash Dinner Rolls, can be adapted to be partially baked ahead of time.

The last rule of the Sisterhood of the Traveling sides is to pack the dishes up at your home so that they don’t require your host to stop what she’s doing and make them presentable once you arrive at your destination. Any ingredients required to finish your dish – even if you consider them pantry staples – should arrive with you. For example, have the egg-wash for your parbaked rolls already prepared in a small mason jar and bring your own pastry brush along so you’re not rummaging through the host’s kitchen to find one. If your side requires a serving platter, bring that (and serving utensils) along, too.

If you consider any of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Sides onerous, you can always bring pie.

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Honey-Squash Dinner Rolls can be par-baked before you travel, then finished in the oven for 20 minutes at your destination. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Honey-Squash Dinner Rolls

Slowly par-baking these yeasty rolls ensures they’ll be sturdy for the journey to wherever you’re celebrating.

Makes 24 rolls

2 (1/4-ounce) packages (4½ teaspoons) active dry yeast

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

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3 cups Maine Grains spelt flour

3½ cups all-purpose flour

1¼ cups whole milk

1/2 cup butter, cubed

1/2 cup honey

11/3 cups winter squash puree

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1 large egg, lightly beaten

Raw pepitas

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attached, combine the yeast, salt, nutmeg and spelt flour. In a small saucepan, combine milk, butter and honey. Place over low heat and stir just until the butter melts. Make sure the temperature is no higher than 110 degrees. Add the warm liquid and the squash to the combined dry ingredients and turn the mixer on low to combine. Add 3 cups of the all-purpose flour and mix on low to form a soft dough. If the dough is sticky, add the remaining half cup of flour.

Turn the mixer speed to medium and knead the dough until it is smooth and soft, 4-5 minutes. Rub a clean bowl with oil. Place the dough into bowl, turning once to grease its top. Cover and let the dough rise in a warm place until it’s doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Rub two (9-inch round) baking pans with oil.

Punch down the dough, turn it onto a lightly floured surface, and divide it into 24 equal pieces, about 3 ounces (85 g) each. Shape each piece into a ball. Place 12 balls in each of the prepared baking pans. Cover and refrigerator the shaped buns overnight.

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Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Bake the rolls for 1 hour and 15 minutes. In the initial phase of baking, they will continue to rise. After about 75 minutes they will be fully cooked but will be very pale. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. Cover tightly when cool. If you are going to finish baking them the same day, hold them at room temperature. If you are planning to bake them later in the week, place them in the freezer.

When you’re ready to finish baking the rolls, brush them with the egg wash and sprinkle with pepitas. Bake the rolls in a 350 degree oven until browned, 15 minutes for room temperature rolls, 20-22 minutes for frozen rolls.

As a final step, shave aged goat cheese over the charred cabbage salad. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Charred Cabbage with Warm Lemon-Pepper Dressing 

Using a mix of cabbages for this dish make it more visually interesting. The cabbage can be roasted a day ahead. Assemble and dress the dish just before serving it.

Serves 6 as a side dish

½ medium head green cabbage, cut into 6 wedges

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Extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 lemons, zested and juiced

2 tablespoons minced shallots

1 tablespoon teaspoon honey

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½ cup picked parsley leaves

1 cup chopped, toasted hazelnuts

2 ounces aged goat cheese, optional

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Rub a baking sheet with 1 tablespoon of oil. Arrange the cabbage wedges on the baking sheet in a single layer. Drizzle oil over each wedge and season all with salt and pepper.

Slide the baking sheet into oven and roast the cabbage until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Flip the wedges and continue roasting until tender and deeply browned, another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature.

Combine the lemon juice, 1 teaspoon zest, shallots, honey, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper in a metal bowl. Let sit for 20 minutes. Slowly whisk ¼ cup olive oil into the dressing. Pour the dressing into a glass jar with a cover.

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When you’re ready to assemble the salad, warm the dressing in a microwave. Toss the cooled charred cabbage, parsley leaves and ¾ of the hazelnuts with the dressing. Spread the cabbage on a large platter and garnish with the remaining 1/4 cup of hazelnuts. Use a potato peeler to shave cheese over the top of the slaw. Serve.

Guests with gluten sensitivity at your Thanksgiving feast? This cornbread dressing has you covered. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Gluten-Free Cornbread, Mushroom and Pecan Dressing

Bake an 8- by 8-inch pan of cornbread the day before you plan to make this stuffing; you’ll need it for the recipe. Cornmeal has no gluten.

Serve 8-10

8 cups day-old, gluten-free cornbread cubes (about 1 inch in diameter)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more to grease the pan

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1 large leek, light green and white parts sliced

3 medium ribs celery, sliced

1 pound mixed fresh mushrooms, coarsely chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves

1 teaspoon chopped sage leaves

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1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons shiro (white) miso

1 cup chopped toasted pecans

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2 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Divide the cubed cornbread onto 2 baking sheets and spread in an even layer. Toast in the oven until the cornbread is completely dry, 12-15 minutes. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and let the cubes cool.

Grease a 9- by 13-inch baking dish with butter.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks and celery and cook to soften, 4-5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until softened, 5-6 minutes. Stir in the garlic, rosemary, sage, thyme, salt, and pepper, and cook for 1 minute. Add the wine and cook until it is mostly reduced. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the miso.

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Combine the bread, mushroom mixture and nuts in a large bowl and stir to combine. Stir in the eggs. Slowly pour the broth over the stuffing mixture, stirring as you go, so that the bread is well-coated and moistened.

Transfer the stuffing to the prepared baking dish. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until the center is just set and the top is golden-brown, about 20 minutes. Since this recipe has eggs, you need to cook it through. But the casserole can easily be reheated, covered, for 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

Transfer the Vegetarian Kale and Wild Rice mixture into a baking dish. Bring side dishes to your host that are all set to go. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Vegetarian Kale and Wild Rice Casserole

You can use 100% wild rice for this recipe, but I prefer a blend because it gives the dish a range of textures.

Serves 8-10

8 cups chopped Lacinato kale (from 2 large bunches)

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Kosher salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more to grease the casserole

1½ cups whole milk

3/4 cup vegetable broth

2 sprigs of sage

1 tablespoon olive oil

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1 medium onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

2 teaspoons chopped rosemary

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

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1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

4 cups cooked wild rice blend

2 cups shredded Alpine-style cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Coat a 9- by 13-inch baking dish with butter.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. When the water boils, drop the kale into it and cook it until the leaves are just soft, about 2 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside.

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Combine the milk, broth and sage sprigs in a small saucepan and warm over low heat.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, 4-5 minutes. Stir in ½ teaspoon salt, the garlic, thyme, rosemary, nutmeg and pepper, and cook for 1 minute. Reduce the heat to low, stir in the flour, and cook for 2 minutes more.

Remove and the sage leaves from the warmed milk and compost them. Gradually whisk the liquid into the roux in the skillet until smooth. Stir in the apple cider vinegar and continue cooking until the sauce (known as bechamel) thickens, 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Combine the wild rice, blanched kale, 1 cup of cheese and the bechamel sauce in a large bowl. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish, spreading it into an even layer.  Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. If you are taking this on the road, this is where you would stop and cover the dish for travel.

Bake uncovered until the casserole is heated through and the cheese is melted, 20-22 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Local foods advocate Christine Burns Rudalevige is the editor of Edible Maine magazine and the author of “Green Plate Special,” both a column about eating sustainably in the Portland Press Herald and the name of her 2017 cookbook. She can be contacted at: [email protected]


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