Holiday Dinner Side Dishes

Recipes by Nathan Fong

Photo by Tracey Kusiewicz


Whether it be the prized roasted turkey or a succulent prime rib roast, the main holiday meal centerpiece is always shared with side dishes that are usually overshadowed. Traditional mashed potatoes, over cooked Brussels sprouts and the ubiquitous carrot and corn medley are the usual typical holiday table fare. Here are some contemporary recipes to help spruce up your festive meals this year!


Wild rice and Cranberry Pilaf


Nothing is more comforting for the winter holiday season than this mixture of wild rice, brown rice, herbs, nuts and cranberries. Use as a side dish or a stuffing.


Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish


¼ cup butter

1 medium onion, finely chopped

¼ cup finely chopped carrot

¼ cup finely chopped celery

1 to 2 cups coarsely chopped wild mushrooms (chanterelles, morels etc)

2 cloves garlic, minced

¼ tsp freshly ground pepper

1 tsp ground sage

1 tsp ground thyme

¾ cup wild rice

2 ¼ cups chicken stock

1 cup brown rice

1 cup dried cranberries

2/3 cup coarsely chopped toasted hazelnuts

¼ cup flat leaf parsley

Salt and freshly ground pepper.


Melt the butter over medium high heat in a heavy saucepan. Add the onion, carrot, celery, mushrooms and garlic and sauté until tender, about 5 to 6 minutes. Meanwhile, bring 1 litre of water to a boil, add wild rice and cook uncovered for 10 minutes, or until rice starts to open. Drain well.


Add the wild rice, stock, brown rice, ground pepper, sage and thyme to the sautéed vegetables. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, tightly cover and cook for 35 to 40 minutes or until cooked. Fluff with fork and stir in cranberries, hazelnuts and chopped parsley. Season to taste.



Creamed Spinach


It’s amazing how this retro dish is popping into chic menus again but instead this recipe is not the overcooked grayish murky green mush we’ve been accustomed to. In this recipe, spinach is lightly sautéed to keep its vibrant green and quickly tossed with heavy cream and a hint of nutmeg.


Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish


2 lbs. fresh spinach, washed and coarse stems removed, coarsely chopped

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

2 shallots, finely chopped

1/2 cup whipping cream

pinch fresh grated nutmeg

salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste


Bring 1 inch of lightly salted water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the spinach and cook until it’s completely wilted. Drain in a colander, pressing it with a spoon to remove as much water as possible.


Melt the butter in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and sauté until it’s translucent. Add the spinach and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the cream and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook until most of the cream is absorbed.


Baked Trio of Squash


Another traditional holiday favourite is usually squash. In this recipe, three varieties are roasted to bring out their natural sugars and then brushed with a spiced honey butter mixture to make them more tantalizing. As a young kid, I detested any squash what so ever. This recipe has made it certainly more appealing. Leaving the skins on the squash give this dish its appeal. Hopefully your kids will love this one!


Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish


1 small turban squash, cut into 1-inch thick slices and seeds discarded

1 small butternut squash, cut into 1-inch thick slices and seeds discarded

1 acorn squash, cut into 1-inch thick slices and seeds discarded

2 Tbsp melted butter

salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1/3 cup butter

1/3 cup honey

½ tsp ground ginger

pinch ground cinnamon

pinch ground nutmeg


Preheat the oven to 350F.


Lightly brush the squash slices with the 2 Tbsp. of melted butter. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper. Bake until the squash is tender, about 35 to 40 minutes, turning once and basting with a little more butter.


Melt the 1/3 cup of butter in a small saucepan over medium heat and add the honey, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. Heat until well combined.


Remove the squash from the oven and brush with the honey-butter mixture. Arrange on a serving platter and serve.


Lemon, Dried Fruit and Pistachio Couscous


This Morrocan staple also makes an interesting side dish to the traditional Holiday table. Fragrant with lemon and mint, delicate grains of couscous are mixed with dried currants and apricots with pistachios. This can be served hot or at room temperature.


Makes about 6 ½  cups, Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish


1 Tbsp. (15ml) butter

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 shallot, minced

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1 lemon, juiced and zested (finely minced)

2 cups instant couscous

3 green onions, finely chopped

½ cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

½ cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped

½ cup dried currants or raisins

½ cup coarsely chopped dried apricots

½ cup coarsely chopped pistachios


In a medium saucepan, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and sauté until translucent. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice, zest and couscous. Cover tightly and allow to sit for 5 to 8 minutes or until the couscous is soft and tender. Fluff with fork and mix in remaining ingredients. Serve immediately or keep warm covered.


Creamy Brussels Sprouts with Pearl Onions and Pancetta


Brussels sprouts are certainly not everyone’s favourite holiday vegetable, probably because they were served overcooked grayish-green ones. I’ve always enjoyed them as my family stir-fried them and kept them brilliant green and crisp, which they should be! In  this simple recipe, the pearl onions and sprouts are steamed until just tender (try and pick sprouts and onions that are similar size so that they cook at the same time), and then tossed with a pancetta cream sauce. Anything with bacon or pancetta always tastes better!


Serves 4 as a side dish


1 lb small to medium Brussels sprouts, trimmed (about 3 cups)

1 ½ cups pearl onions, peeled and trimmed (about ½ lb)

2 Tbsp butter

2 ¼-inch slices pancetta, cut into ½-inch pieces

2 Tbsp all-purpose flour

½ cup milk

½ cup chicken stock

1 tsp kosher salt

pinch cayenne

2 Tbsp chopped Italian parsley


Place Brussels sprouts and onions in a top part of steamer or steamer rack. Fill bottom of steamer with water and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Place vegetables on top and steam for 10 to 11 minutes or until a knife cuts into a sprout easily. Set aside.


In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and when bubbling, add the pancetta and sauté until nearly crisp. Reduce heat and add the flour and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring. Slowly add the milk and stock, stirring briskly to prevent lumps. Add the salt and cayenne. Increase heat to medium and s tir until thickened. Stir in vegetables and parsley. Cook over low heat until well heated and serve.


Dried Cranberry, Ginger and Almond Relish


An alternative to the ubiquitous tinned cranberry sauce and jelly, this recipe uses dried cranberries infused with orange and ginger and finished with chopped apples and almonds.


1 cup sugar

3 Tbsp water

1/3 cup finely chopped orange zest

1 ½ cups orange juice

¼ cup finely chopped fresh ginger

1 lb dried cranberries

3 cups peeled and diced apples

1/3 cup whole grain mustard

½ cup macadamia, walnut or hazelnut oil

1 ½ cups flaked almonds, toasted (optional)


Place the sugar and water in a medium saucepan and place on medium heat until the sugar dissolves and starts to caramelize into a golden brown. Immediately stir in the orange zest, orange juice, ginger and cranberries.


Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes then add the apples. Cook for a further 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, then remove from the heat to cool. It should have a jam-like

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