Christmas Side Dishes Make a Festive Feast
May your table be merry and bright — and it will with these luscious and lively sides for your holiday spread.
Christmas is the time to go all out, to bring out the silver and carve the roast beast! And while a beautifully marbled roast beef, turkey, or holiday ham at the center of the table can be a showstopper, their simplicity opens the door for side dishes to shine with complex flavors and intriguing textures.
This joyous collection of side dish recipes will guide you in making a merry holiday meal for eaters big and small. The options below span the United States, from New England to the Southern states, from Tex-Mex flair to West Coast pops of pomegranate, but it also hops the pond to offer sophisticated Old World holiday cheer.
So join us at the table for this glittering feast: It’s time to embrace our Christmas present, whatever it may be, imperfect though it is. Why do we cook? Because having food on the table and love in our hearts is something to celebrate, and important to share.
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Side dish tips and tricks for a merry Christmas dinner
Making a holiday meal might seem like a daunting task, but with the guidance below and a little Christmas magic stirred in, you’ll be serving a festive feast in no time.
How do I choose which side dishes to make for Christmas dinner?
Planning a holiday meal can feel like an algebra equation, except in this challenge all the variables are delicious. Here are several ways to think about it:
Start with your main dish and its focus and flavor, and let that be the sun your side dishes orbit around. If you’re cooking an Italian pot roast studded with garlic and rosemary, choose side dishes from that cuisine, like the Roasted Radicchio or Swiss Chard Sicilian-Style below. Or, let the spices and herbs guide you, with choices like the Garlic Roasted Broccoli or Three-Cheese Garlic Cauliflower Gratin.
Ascend the food pyramid. Embrace tradition with a protein-packed main dish, a starchy, carb-tastic side redolent with cream or cheese, and then brightly colored veggies to fill about one-third to half the plate. Following the food pyramid also ensures a variety of flavors, textures and nutrients in your meal.
Remember, we eat with our eyes first! A plate of white and beige food is not a thrill; the wider the rainbow of color and more varied the shapes and textures, the more stimulating and enticing the meal becomes. Fresh herbs such as chives add instant appeal to mashed potatoes or rice pilaf.
Finally, don’t forget to consider the timing and temperature of each dish you’ll be serving, as well as your kitchen capacity. Serving four side dishes that all require last minute stovetop attention makes for a harried cook — you’re best off having a few in the oven, which gives you time to focus on stirring a bubbling pot. Conversely, don’t forget to ponder your oven’s parameters; three holiday side dishes that must be baked at the same time also need to fit!
How many side dishes should I serve?
On a normal night, one or two generally suffices, but for a holiday, two or three (or more!) is the way to go. If you like having leftovers, then an additional easy dinner side can feel like a bonus. You’re already cooking, so why not gild the lily — but only if you’ll still be able to sit down and enjoy yourself when it’s time to eat.
Other factors to consider are how many people you’re dining with; for a smaller crowd there’s no need to overwhelm the table (or the cook). Planning an array of appetizers, too? Then no need to overdo it on sides.
And if you’re newer to cooking, it’s best to keep it simple: Pick two sides that feel manageable, do your best and don’t be afraid to ask for advice, or an extra hand in the kitchen. We all were beginners once, and it’s healthy to ask for help.
Graceful gratins and celebratory casseroles
These delicious and intriguing sides boast a host of grains and vegetables, bacon and cheese, cream and stock, pulled from different regions, cultures and cuisines.
With only seven ingredients, this gratin is somehow more delicious than the sum of its parts: spinach, leeks, piquant Roquefort cheese, topped with a quick and crunchy Dijon-horseradish breadcrumb blanket. Don’t count on leftovers.
Simplicity often leads to elegance. This Southern specialty would be equally at home on a Yankee Christmas table or in a West Coast spread. Use small oysters if you can.
A wild rice stuffing full of pecans, cranberries, and squash baked inside nutty acorn squashes makes an elegant side dish from ingredients native to North America — and can be a festive main dish for any vegetarians.
Celery root (aka celeriac) is so misunderstood. But beneath the bumpy, lumpy root of the celery plant is a snow white vegetable that cooks up like a potato but is more complex, and downright delicious when it’s mixed with cream, cheese, butter, and bread crumbs.
This delightful Southern twist on traditional creamed spinach has merry red flecks of pimento pepper, topped with crisp buttery breadcrumbs. It's indulgent, too, with cream cheese, sour cream, mayo, and cheddar cheese. Be sure to squeeze the water out of the spinach before you begin.
Gratin dauphinoise is amazing comfort food that also feels like a celebration. This is a simple classic au gratin dish that makes an excellent Christmas side dish for prime rib, or any other large roast.
This Southern side combines two great dishes: collard greens and cheese grits. The ricotta keeps this hearty casserole light and fluffy.
This creamy, garlicky, cozy casserole is decadently cheesy with Parmesan, Gruyere, and sharp cheddar, and will warm both your belly and your heart.
Mushrooms, green beans, and bacon? Merry Christmas to you, indeed.
This cheerful zucchini gratin gets a decadent lusciousness from Gruyere cheese and heavy cream, and is an easy Christmas side dish recipe if you buy your squash pre-zoodled.
Stovetop side dish stars
These Christmas side dishes make it easier to win at oven Tetris on the big day, are a snap to prepare, and bring merry shades of red, gold, and green to the table.
This sweet and sour German-inspired healthy Christmas side dish cooks quickly on the stovetop and boasts an apple trifecta: cubed Gala, sweet cider, and cider vinegar. And the bright red tangle of spiced cabbage on the plate only adds to the holiday cheer.
Swiss chard, the more delicate, not-so-bitter sister of kale, has been known to grow through winter snow; it shines in this easy Italian Christmas contorni (side dish) recipe that naturally boasts shades of red and green, with notes of sweetness from golden raisins and the crunch of toasted pine nuts.
These mushrooms are everything you hope they’ll be: crisp at the edges, fragrant with thyme and garlic, and buttery all over. This recipe is easily doubled — but don’t plan on leftovers.
Poppin’ in the oven: Savory Christmas breads
So often, savory baked goods are treated as an afterthought, but sometimes they’re the star that tops a festive meal. These three recipes — sweet potato biscuits, white cheddar popovers, and pretzel rolls — will bring tidings of comfort and joy to any Christmas plate.
Popovers (also called Yorkshire Pudding) are a traditional side dish for prime rib, but they’re a delicious addition to any festive meal. And while they look impressive, if you can stir pancake batter then you already have the skills to succeed. Two tips: First, having a popover pan is great, but these also work in a muffin tin or small ramekins. Secondly, these are best eaten right after they’ve popped out of the oven, so time them accordingly.
Everyone loves biscuits, but add some sweet potato mash to the dough and you’ve got a hint of sweetness, a gentle orange hue, and a tender, moist crumb.
Add some surprise and delight to your holiday table with this casual Christmas side dish that celebrates a Philly favorite — best of all, these chewy-outside-yet-soft-inside rolls make great mini sandwiches with leftovers the next day.
Roasted vegetable sides: A Christmas fantasia
Root vegetables are winter staples, and their flavors become concentrated and more satisfying when they bask in a blast of heat from the oven.
The crispiness (and cuteness) of these mini Hassleback potatoes cannot be denied! This Swedish preparation is best executed with a chopstick laid next to the potatoes as you slice to ensure the bottom remains intact. Add garlic, butter, and cheddar cheese, and prepare for holiday cheers.
In Yiddish, the word “tzimmes” can be used casually to mean “a big fuss,” and that’s what will happen when you present this gorgeous mélange of roasted carrot, sweet potato, and parsnip ornamented with dried cherries and cranberries, sweetened with honey and a bright pop of orange juice.
This earthy combination of roasted Brussels sprouts and apple, cranberry, walnuts, and a splash of maple syrup sparkles with winter ingredients, and adds a lovely vegan Christmas side dish to your table. Even kids can be convinced to try a bite once you point out the toasty apples.
Radicchio, a slightly bitter, jewel-toned Italian chicory, becomes crispy and mellow when it’s roasted on a sheet pan. This Italian Christmas side dish cooks quickly but is delicious at any temperature. A final drizzle of balsamic vinegar gives a sweet kiss to the crisp-edged leaves that even keto and paleo diets can enjoy. Any variety of radicchio — the round head di Castelfranco or di Chiogga, or flatter di Treviso — will be delicious.
This intriguingly spiced side takes advantage of the coziest cold weather produce — butternut squash, sweet potatoes, parsnips — and elevates them by adding shallots, then an intriguing blend of smoky and sweet spices for an easy Christmas side dish that truly shines.
This simple, five-ingredient side is flavorful, healthful, and brings out the best broccoli has to offer with its crispy edges and toasty garlic.
‘Tis the season for luscious flourishes to each dish, and the butter, bourbon, maple syrup, and bacon mixture that is mashed into each potato tastes like a celebration.
This colorful mélange offers holiday colors with the red and green bell peppers, balances savory rosemary and garlic with a sweet touch from the balsamic vinegar, and can be vegan if you skip the feta cheese.
Winter citrus, pops of pomegranate — do you need more convincing? Well, a refreshing winter salad might also make it easier to sidestep your tipsy uncle’s after-dinner lecture on the election if you’re still a bit light on your feet.
This modern, healthful take on a traditional collard greens side includes the briny tang of goat cheese, the richness of roasted sweet potatoes, and the crunch of cashews.
This holiday salad, while not the most traditional Christmas side dish, bejewels the table with the bright citrus pop of juicy pink grapefruit, seasonal sparkling ruby red pomegranate seeds, and peppery green dandelion leaves.
Check out these related Yummly stories for more holiday ideas: