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50 Christmas side dishes for a very merry holiday spread

Because your holiday ham needs a worthy sidekick.
/ Source: TODAY

Christmas is a time to gather your nearest and dearest and celebrate the season, but we all know there’s so much preparation that goes into making the magic of the holidays come together. From decorating the tree and cookies, singing carols and parties with friends, there’s no shortage of holiday cheer — and planning — on the horizon.

One of the most joyous moments of the holidays is getting together to share a meal. Whether you’ve got family traditions to uphold or are hosting for the first time, planning this dinner can feel daunting. There’s dietary restrictions and preferences to consider, knowing the audience you’re serving, and of course being conscious of time constraints. While Christmas dinner may seem effortless to those on the outside of the kitchen, it takes time and energy to create a menu that works together.

Luckily, we’ve got you covered. The following collection of recipes covers every potential Christmas side you might want that can work with any star protein, whether you have a baked ham, roast turkey or even goose. There’s all the usual crowd-pleasers, like foolproof macaroni and cheese and scalloped potatoes, as well as recipes that highlight different ingredients and preparations such as spiced cauliflower with tahini or apple cider-spiked cranberry sauce. From salads and spuds to roasted vegetables, there’s a dish for everyone at your table.

Pear and Pomegranate Salad

Festive and fruit-forward, this salad celebrates some of the best of winter produce. Spinach gets studded with pomegranate seeds, sliced pears, pecans and feta before getting drizzled with a punchy apple cider vinaigrette. It’s the perfect side when you’re looking to add a little green to the holiday spread.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Tossed in a buttery brown sugar glaze, Brussels sprouts are transformed into a savory, sticky, and slightly sweet side. The best part? You can roast the Brussels sprouts up to two days in advance and toss them in the glaze when you’re ready to serve.

Creamy Mashed Potatoes

There are a few techniques that make these creamy mashed potatoes stand out. First, the potatoes are boiled in stock, which imparts them with even more flavor. Next, in addition to the usual milk and butter, cream cheese gets added to the mix taking the creaminess factor to the max. Make these your own by adding herbs like rosemary or sage, or even garlic, to the milk mixture.

Cacio e Pepe Roasted Potatoes

For something a little different this year, try giving roasted potatoes the cacio e pepe treatment. Start by roasting your potato of choice in the oven until golden brown and crispy, which, let’s be real, is great on its own. Heavy cream, Pecorino and black pepper get cooked into a sauce until slightly creamy and those potatoes get tossed right in the mix. They’re so good you might never go back to the pasta version!

Air Fryer Potatoes

The hardest part about cooking Christmas dinner is trying to find oven and stove space to make it all come together at the same time. Enter our favorite kitchen tool: the air fryer. By utilizing the air fryer, you’ll save precious oven space and have perfectly crispy potatoes in under 30 minutes.

Brussels sprouts are a blank canvas in terms of all the different flavor profile possibilities, but they go particularly well with anything soy-related. Add a bit of honey and this sweet and salty glaze makes for perfect Brussels sprouts, every time. While you could roast them, this recipe utilizes the microwave and air fryer to cut down on time and oven space.

Roasted Carrots, Spiced Yogurt and Pistachios

This dish from New York City hotspot Via Carota takes the best of Italian and Middle Eastern flavors to transform humble carrots. Tossed in Salmoriglio, a southern Italian green sauce made with parsley, lemon, garlic and herbs, spiked with cumin and studded with pistachios, this side is the perfect balance of punchy, creamy and crunchy.

Crispy Sweet Potato Bake

This Christmas side dish recipe only takes a handful of ingredients and a cast iron pan to bring out the best of sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are brushed with olive oil, garlic, and rosemary before getting covered with foil and baked until tender. Then, the temperature is cranked up so that the potatoes become as crispy as possible.

Between endless cookies and candy, it can be challenging to make vegetables a priority during the Christmas season. Here, cauliflower gets sneakily blended into a creamy cheese sauce for a more nutritious take on the classic comfort food. While you could eat the mac and cheese straight from the pot, what makes this dish extra delicious is that it gets baked (with more cheese!) until golden brown and bubbly.

Scalloped potatoes are a classic Christmas side dish, and for good reason. Thinly sliced potatoes are draped in a garlicky, creamy Gruyère sauce before getting baked until browned. They’re easy to execute, but still feel indulgent, making them an ideal holiday side.

Cranberry relish isn’t just for Thanksgiving — this punchy side is a great way to add acidity in a sea of decadent dishes. There’s no cooking required in this version. Start by combining cranberries, apple, orange, celery and walnuts in a food processor until finely chopped. Then, let the relish sit in the refrigerator with sugar and orange liqueur until ready to serve.

If you’re looking for a vegetarian side that’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser, we’ve got you covered. Roasting carrots is a guaranteed way to coax out their natural sweetness without needing to get fussy with too many ingredients. In the spirit of keeping things simple, roast the carrots with a mixture of balsamic vinegar and honey, which perfectly balances their sweetness with a little bit of acidity.

Orange-Rosemary Marinated Olives

There’s rarely a time I entertain without putting out a bowl of olives. To take it one step further, marinating olives is an easy way to add some festive flair. Infuse olive oil with aromatics like orange peels, bay leaf, garlic and rosemary before pouring it over the olives. This quick side can be put together a few hours, or even a few days, before serving, which will only enhance the flavor. Just make sure to let them sit out at room temperature for an hour before serving.

Citrusy Candied Carrots with Yogurt Sauce

Carrots are an exceptionally versatile vegetable that can wear so many different flavor profiles. Here, carrots are candied in a mixture of butter, sugar, ginger and orange. To balance the sweetness, carrots are served on a bed of spiced yogurt, which adds a welcome tanginess to every bite.

Holiday Brussels Sprout Salad

This Brussels sprout salad goes big on holiday flavors. Rather than keeping it raw, the Brussels sprouts are quickly cooked with warming spices like nutmeg and pepper until just wilted. Coated in a glaze of rosemary, sugar and cranberry sauce jelly, the pecans are the real star of this salad. They’re good enough to eat as a snack all on their own.

Cacio e Pepe Roasted Cauliflower

Cacio e pepe, which is Italian for cheese and pepper, makes pretty much every ingredient it touches even better. In this simple side, cauliflower gets coated in grated Pecorino, freshly ground black pepper and melted butter before it’s roasted until golden brown.

Long gone are the days when Brussels sprouts carried a bad reputation for being tasteless and mushy. Today, we know the secret to perfect sprouts is making sure the outside gets caramelized and charred, while the inside stays tender. This recipe follows this principle by utilizing both the stovetop and oven, all the while playing up Brussels sprouts with the perfect flavor companions: balsamic vinegar and bacon.

From a retro jello mold to raw relish, there are so many methods to make cranberry sauce. Alex Guarnaschelli opts for a cooked version, where cranberries are simmered just until some are burst and some stay whole. While the usual spices make an appearance, what makes this sauce standout is the apple cider that gets stirred in at the end.

Perfect Roasted Sweet Potatoes

In the midst of creating a holiday spread, sometimes it’s best to lean on the tried-and-true standbys. A perfectly roasted sweet potato is always a crowd-pleaser. Better yet, you can make them ahead of time.

This recipe goes the homemade route with a few easy upgrades to transform green bean casserole into the star of the spread. Green beans are blanched, which keeps them bright and crunchy (a far cry from the mushy beans of our youth). The cream sauce starts by sauteing onions and mushrooms before a roux gets added in. After baking, top the casserole with a shower of crispy shallots.

Hot Cross Buns

While traditionally eaten on Good Friday to mark the end of Lent, hot cross buns are a welcome addition to a Christmas meal. These yeasted sweet rolls are studded with dried cranberries and apples and perfumed with nutmeg, which are all flavors fitting for the holidays. Finish the buns off by brushing them with honey butter to create a shiny glaze and provide added sweetness.

Mashed potatoes are a given around the holidays, but sometimes you might want something a little lighter. Instead of going for an all-potato mash, mix it up with cauliflower. This recipe also swaps the usual milk or cream for yogurt, which keeps the mash light and creamy.

Ina Garten's Kale Salad with Pancetta and Pecorino

This kale salad takes inspiration from Caesar — salad that is. Made in a food processor, the dressing combines all the ingredients of the classic dressing like anchovies, garlic and Dijon until smooth and creamy. Rather than croutons, the salad calls for toasted breadcrumbs, which get cooked in pancetta fat until golden brown.

Cheesy Potato Gratin

Thanks to caramelized onions and two types of cheese, this potato gratin is a standout among Christmas sides. The cream mixture gets a dollop of crème fraîche before getting draped over thinly sliced potatoes. Golden brown and bubbly, the final gratin is so good you’ll be going back for seconds.

Roasted Olives with Orange And Rosemary

Olives are a ridiculously easy snack and don't take much to gussy up. Here, Castelvetrano olives, which are known for their creamy texture, get roasted alongside rosemary, thyme and ground fennel for an aromatic, almost meaty side. Just note that they’re best served hot for the full effect.

Scalloped Potatoes

Chef Geoffrey Zakarian keeps it classic with this scalloped potato recipe. Shingled potatoes are steeped in a cream- and Gruyere-based sauce before getting topped with a shower of breadcrumbs and Parmesan. These creamy, cheesy potatoes absolutely deserve a spot on your Christmas table.

Perfect Roast Vegetables

It doesn’t take much more than olive oil, salt and an oven to make vegetables sing. By roasting vegetables, their natural flavors and sweetness are coaxed out. The joy of this method is that you can use any vegetables you like, from broccolini and sweet potatoes to asparagus and zucchini. The key here is to make sure the pan isn’t too crowded – if the vegetables are too close together, they’ll steam rather than char.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Let’s be real — macaroni and cheese could be a main course and everyone would be thrilled. As a side, it’s an automatic crowd-pleaser. This recipe starts with a mornay sauce, which includes two types of cheddar. Before baking, sprinkle the top with panko which will get browned and crispy in the oven. As a bonus, the mac and cheese can be fully assembled and sit in the refrigerator until you’re ready to bake.

Valerie Bertinelli's Stuffed Mushrooms

These irresistible stuffed mushrooms are an easy-to-execute vegetarian side or snack. Button mushrooms are filled with a colorful mixture of spinach, onions and tomatoes before getting topped with a dusting of Pecorino and panko breadcrumbs. This recipe can be easily doubled if you’re serving a crowd.

This cheesy side sits somewhere between mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese. Rather than using just potatoes, cauliflower is added to the mix to keep this side dish a bit lighter. Add milk and cheddar cheese until smooth and creamy.

Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon Tahini

If you’re looking for a fresh take on a classic vegetable side, this vegan cauliflower dish goes well with just about everything. Start by roasting cauliflower and onions on a baking sheet until charred and tender. Then, pair them with a garlicky tahini sauce that gets spiked with lemon juice.

Braised Cabbage and Carrots

Cabbage is a versatile vegetable that can take on so many different cooking methods. Here, cabbage takes on Jamaican flavors with coconut milk, garlic and ginger before getting tucked into the oven to roast until tender. Finish the dish off with butter to make the sauce smooth and silky along with a good kick of acidity from lemons.

If you’ve never made hasselback potatoes, this is the year to start. By cutting sweet potatoes into an accordion of slices, it allows the maple glaze to penetrate every nook and cranny of the potato, resulting in a flavor bomb in every bite. Bobby Flay likes making a buttery maple and chipotle glaze that gets poured over the potatoes for a sweet and spicy take.

Whatever Ina Garten recommends, we do. In this case, it’s adding buttermilk to biscuits, which helps keep them moist and light, while imparting them with a great subtly tangy flavor. The key here is to work quickly without overmixing the dough to create flaky layers.

Creamy Corn Casserole

This traditionally Southern side doubles down on the texture department in this recipe for corn casserole. Saltine crackers are added to the corn filling mixture, as well as on top, to create a smooth filling and crunchy topping. If you’re looking to cut down on time in the kitchen on the day of hosting, this dish can be assembled and stored in the refrigerator until ready to bake.

Herbaceous Creamed Spinach

Creamed spinach isn’t just a steakhouse dinner side — it’s perfect for holiday hosting, too. This recipe by Chef Jeremy Ford adds in a bevy of tender herbs including tarragon, dill and basil. Serve it hot as a side dish or cold alongside chips for a festive Christmas dip.

Pears and gorgonzola are a classic combination come winter time. Here, they get added to a red cabbage and mesclun greens salad, along with grapes and walnuts, for some serious crunch. Dress everything in homemade balsamic vinaigrette for a touch of acidity to balance the creaminess of the cheese.

Sweet potato casserole gets leveled up with not one, but two toppings, in this recipe. In addition to the usual marshmallows, a buttery oat topping flecked with spices is crumbled over the top of the sweet potatoes. The contrast of both toppings ensures that you have crunch and creaminess in every bite.

Padma Laksmi’s kale salad is an ideal holiday side, thanks to the fact the flavors deepen with time. Studded with hunks of mozzarella, bright pomegranate seeds and drizzled with a punchy lime dressing, this salad boasts the perfect combination of crunchy, creamy and acidic flavors.

One of the most classic winter produce pairings is fennel and citrus. While this cold weather staple is good all season long, it’s a great addition to a Christmas spread, thanks to the welcome acidity and crunch it offers. In this salad, thinly sliced fennel is coated with both lemon and orange juice before it’s tossed with oil-cured black olives, thinly sliced red onion, mint and shards of Parmesan.

Most vegetables take well to rosating, and broccolini is at the top of that list. Doused in olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper, broccolini is roasted until charred and tender. Pair it with just about any protein, from roast turkey, duck and even a holiday ham.

Fennel Top Caesar Salad

This crunchy salad turns classic Caesar on its head. Here, greens are swapped for hardy winter vegetables like fennel, kohlrabi and apples. While the dressing stays in line with the classic, what makes this salad stand out is the savory granola that gets sprinkled on top.

Chile-Maple Skillet Cornbread

If you’re in search of a vegan side this Christmas, look no further than this recipe. While less traditional, this vegan cornbread takes a cue from Indian cuisine with the addition of garam masala, cilantro and chile. To push the boundaries of cornbread even further, it gets paired with a chile and maple-infused butter that we’d highly recommend spreading as soon as it comes out of the oven.

Warm Kale Salad with Apples and Pancetta

Diced apples and goji berries do double duty in this warm kale salad. They offer a crunch-factor that’s crucial in any salad, while also matching the colors of Christmas. The vinaigrette starts by cooking pancetta in a pan. From there, add in the shallots, mustard, and vinegar before drizzling it all over the salad. The key to success here is to massage the kale before serving, which helps break down any fibrous leaves.

This vegetarian side just might steal the show this Christmas. Store-bought flatbread is topped with a layer of herby goat cheese and mixed roasted vegetables before getting drizzled with hot honey. The joy of this recipe is that you can use any assortment of vegetables, although we’re partial to red onions, eggplant, carrots and bell peppers.

This simple Brussels sprout side is an umami bomb of flavor that comes together quickly. Cumin and paprika lend warmth to the vegetal flavor of the sprouts, while soy sauce, maple syrup and rice vinegar add a sweet and salty tang. To round out the salad, the Brussels sprouts tossed with pomegranate seeds and walnuts for crunch. It’s the perfect bright side to serve with a heavy holiday meal.

Kansas City Cheesy Corn

Cheesy corn is a Kansas City barbecue staple — and it happens to be a perfect side for Christmas, too. To make it, start by frying bacon in a large pot. Once the bacon is crispy, add the corn and all the dairy until a smooth sauce forms. Finish it off in the oven until golden brown and bubbly. Feel free to experiment by swapping out the corn for other vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower or even potatoes.

Savannah's Mom's Broccoli Casserole

Casseroles are a no-brainer when it comes to deciding your holiday side assortment. They can be easily prepped in advance, the options are endless and they’re incredibly comforting. This cozy casserole leans on store-bought staples like canned soup, instant rice and frozen broccoli for ease.

Skillet Cornbread

If your holiday spread is leaning Southern, cornbread is an absolute must. This easy-to-execute recipe keeps it classic without any add-ins, but doesn’t sacrifice on flavor or texture. The cornbread gets baked in a cast iron skillet, which leaves you with a tender top and crisp sides.

Make use of all the cruciferous vegetables in season with this flavorful side. The trick here is to preheat the sheet pan in the oven until it’s ripping hot before adding the vegetables. This method ensures perfectly tender, charred broccoli and Brussels sprouts, without any risk of getting mushy. The vegetables are tossed in a simple sauce made with pancetta, mustard, shallots and vinegar, which adds a balance of acidity and saltiness. You can also make this side vegetarian by omitting the pancetta altogether.