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39 Christmas side dishes for a very merry holiday spread

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

For Christmas dinner this year, we're cozying up to the side dishes.

Everyone celebrates the holidays differently. And if your family celebrates Christmas, a hearty and seasonally-inspired feast is usually incorporated into the festivities. My family and I love hosting a big Christmas Eve dinner (who doesn't love a gorgeous Feast of the Seven Fishes, even if you’re not Italian American?). The next morning, the adults sustain themselves on coffee to help fuel the early morning rush of excitement from the kids until it's time for a big Christmas breakfast and/or brunch (a casserole, perhaps?). By dinner, we either have an early meal of comfort foods like roast, hearty veggies and mac and cheese or order takeout from our favorite Chinese restaurant.

For those who adore a show stopping Christmas dinner, the side dishes can truly set the tone. It's easy to roast a beautiful bird, ham or prime rib in the oven during the day's activities and prepare some make-ahead sides to pull it all together. Whether you prefer an elegant sit-down with winter vegetables and Parmesan-flecked mashes, a big buffet or hearty casseroles and pastas served family-style, sides are key. Wondering how to tackle it all during the busiest time of the year? Wash and peel vegetables in advance and store them in the refrigerator in water until it’s time to cook them; it saves time on Christmas Day so you can get back to opening presents.

Grab your menu planner (and maybe a Christmas cocktail) and choose your favorites and steer the fam towards their perfect Christmas dinner.

Pastas, grains and breads

Buttermilk Biscuits

No Christmas dinner party is complete without a basket of warm rolls or biscuits. Plus, they’re the perfect vessel for a next-day leftovers sandwich.

Using rice instead of bread — and adding savory sausage and melty cheeses — gives this stuffing a distinctly Italian flavor.

Skillet Cornbread

New York Times editor Sam Sifton shared his recipe for one-skillet cornbread and we can’t get enough. It’s cornier than ever, thanks to corn kernels, which are folded into the cornmeal-based better.

Cooking pasta in the slow cooker can be tricky — you can end up with mushy noodles or a dried-out mess. But this recipe works wonderfully; start with uncooked regular lasagna noodles, which will hold their shape well, and cook on low for less than four hours to prevent overcooking. Adding a little water to the marinara helps prevent the sauce from drying out, and plenty of spinach and fresh basil cut through the rich cheese. Plus, it's simple (and fun) to assemble, too.

We love this dish because it is fun, exciting and incorporates the best flavors of cooler temps. The toasty almonds, sweet cranberries, nutty wild rice and savory aromatics go so well with any range of roasts and meats.

The seasonal Brussels sprouts, nutty wild rice, sweet maple syrup, dried cranberries and toasty nuts make this a perfect dish to accompany a special dinner.

Sweet Potato Mac and Cheese

This combines two of our favorite Southern staples into one dish, making for one unforgettable holiday side.

Antoni Porowski's skillet mac and cheese is crispy along the edges and has a wonderful, crunchy breadcrumb topping. Broccoli and cheese make a great pair, especially in a baked pasta. You could substitute broccolini or broccoli rabe: Broccolini is slightly sweeter than broccoli, while broccoli rabe is pleasingly bitter.

Stouffer's-Style Macaroni and Cheese

This recipe is inspired by Stouffer's macaroni and cheese and delivers the best of all worlds: creamy, saucy, comfort, with a consistency that's slightly more set than a stovetop version, thanks to a final bake in the oven.

"Quinoa salads are one of my favorite things to serve when entertaining large groups for a number of reasons. The quinoa can be prepared up to two days in advance which saves a lot of time on the day of the party (and it even tastes better after the dressing has had time to soak in)," says Alejandra Ramos.

Spinach Noodle Casserole

This dish has the same crispy edges as lasagna (the best part!), but is lighter, which leaves room for you to enjoy the rest of the feast.

Toss all the seasonal root veggies into this one-pot wonder. Packed with fresh herbs, cheese, a little garlic and heavy cream, it's a real crowd-pleaser.

Potatoes

Cacio e Pepe Roasted Potatoes

This recipe is so easy but restaurant-quality in terms of flavor and presentation. Whether you're making these for a holiday party or an Italian Christmas dinner, these cacio e pepe potatoes are easy to throw together with just a few ingredients. All you're doing is roasting the potatoes on a sheet pan and making an easy, three-ingredient cream sauce, but your guests will think it took a lot more effort.

Slow-Cooker Scalloped Potatoes

Slow-cookers are the ultimate prep tool for the holidays, since they allow you to cook almost entirely hands-off dishes, and they don’t take up precious room on the stovetop or in the oven. And while it’s hard to go toe-to-toe with mashed potatoes, the cheesy and creamy layers of taters in this dish are sure give the holiday standby a run for their money!

Candied Sweet Potatoes with Maple Syrup

Here's a simple way prepare a favorite holiday side. Just bake the potatoes, peel and slice, then drench them in a butter-cider-maple syrup mixture that's been seasoned with cinnamon, cloves and orange zest. Bake until bubbly and the edges brown. If you want to top these with marshmallows, you can add some mini ones to the top, then broil until they brown.

In a creative spin, Carson Daly dresses up mashed potatoes with crumbled bacon — and booze! — a move he learned from his late mother, Pattie.

Once you try this recipe, it will be a repeat side dish at holidays forever. Don't skip the roasting of the pumpkin puree: This important step removes excess liquid and intensifies the flavor for a beautiful combo of salt and a little sweet.

Mashed potatoes are a cornerstone of so many special feasts, but just what kind to make? Smooth or lumpy, classic or with a twist … the variations are almost endless. Here to help you out with a unique take on the classic dish is the one and only Ina Garten.

Broccoli and Cheese Twice-Baked Potatoes

The potato is one of the humblest foods, but it has the ability to be a superstar — especially when you add cheese and broccoli. This dish is a winner for kids of all ages and is as welcome on a holiday table as it is for a quick mid-week meal.

Siri Daly's Smashed Potatoes

"I love any recipe that's easy to make in bulk, but even easier for your guests to individually grab for their plate, and these potatoes are just that," says Siri. "They are a cross between a baked potato and a french fry, with a ton of flavor and an incredible crunch."

Pommes Chef Anne

Parmigiano and olive oil put an Italian spin on classic French pommes Anna. The cheesy Parm adds flavor to the tender interior of the potato cake while the olive oil ensures and extra crispy exterior. It's a three-ingredient dish that is super simple to make, but the result is really delicious and impressive.

Vegetables and wintry salads

Salads don’t have to be an afterthought. This one — which features butternut squash, toasted hazelnuts, dried cranberries and maple-glazed chickpeas — feels like the star of the show.

Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon Tahini

Cauliflower typically doesn’t get as much attention as its other Brassicaceae relatives like broccoli, but this simple side is a delicious complement to anything else that you’re serving. Give it a try and thank us later.

This salad is one of those sneaky healthy side dishes that is comforting and unique. The crispy quinoa topping tastes like mini croutons that coat each vegetable. The seeds from the squash also provide some extra crunch.

Berbere-Roasted Carrots with Oranges

Holiday meals are hearty and heavy, which is why we look forward to them so much every year, but it's also important to break up those nap-inducing dishes with some fresh citrus flavors, mint and veggies. This recipe incorporates one of my favorite spices, berbere, a staple in any Ethiopian home. And as delicious as it is, it's also extremely simple to make in a pinch when you have a big family to feed!

The winter squash starlet is appropriately named — it has delicate, edible skin with sweet, buttery flesh. You can make this recipe with other winter squash varieties, like butternut or acorn, but we like using delicata because you don't have to peel it to enjoy it — and saving an extra step always makes us happy.

You don’t need to be a vegetarian to swoon over this stuffed squash, which can easily serve as a main course or an especially satisfying side. Carnival squash or other tender, saucer-sized gourds make for perfect individual servings and are a majorly tasty conveyance for fillings like wild mushrooms, chestnuts and lacinato kale.

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts

Turn to chef and restaurant-owner Marcus Samuelsson, who shares his recipe for a new take on an old holiday favorite: caramelized Brussels sprouts. Pops of pomegranate and verdant green sprouts make it perfect for the Christmas table, too.

Roasted Carrots, Spiced Yogurt and Pistachios

This roasted carrot dish has been a favorite since Jody Williams and Rita Sodi opened New York's Via Carota and they don’t dare take it off the menu. They add a crunch of pistachios and cumin, not traditionally Italian — this is Jody’s tweak.

Brussels sprouts actually have a season — fall and winter — so they are perfect for Christmas dinner. This combination of sweet, salty and tart with the textures of the nuts, fried leaves and crunchy pomegranate seeds is wonderful.

This crowd-pleasing side dish utilizes the whole carrot, including the tops, which are made into a chimichurri sauce that would also be wonderful with any type of poultry or grilled meats. A dish in which nothing goes to waste is perfect for the spirit of the holiday season.

Kale Salad with Crispy Breadcrumbs

"Carson and I have a date night at the restaurant Love & Salt whenever we're in Los Angeles, and this is one of our favorite salads on the menu so I love trying to recreate it at home. It's full of unique flavors and textures," says Siri.

Kimchi Creamed Spinach

Perk up this melty, classic dish with something a little tangier. The kimchi adds a gently sour and spicy crunch to provide texture and more flavor to regular creamed spinach.

Fiery cayenne, spicy jalapenos and hot black pepper add serious spice to these tender, slow-cooked collard greens from Sheinelle's dad Darnell.

Serve this simple salad warm, with a vinaigrette that’s bright, acidic and onion-y. Mixed with crispy pancetta, the fat of which is used to cook down the shallot, and a splash of vinegar and Dijon to balance it all out, this hearty fall side won't disappoint.

Your guests will never guess that it only took five minutes to toss together this impressive salad. The shaved sprouts, sweet apricots and crunchy hazelnuts make this starter or side a real crowd-pleaser.

"I love the way it makes the house smell!" says Bobby Flay. "These are some of my favorite fall flavors and the recipe comes together easily and is a crowd-pleaser every time I make it."

Give your homely side dish of green beans an Arab-style makeover. This dish is deep and flavorful and can be served over rice or with bread. Beans are the star of the show; tomato sauce, caramelized in its own natural sugars, makes the beans pop.

Love it or hate it, there will always be someone at the dinner table who wants to dig into a hot crock of green bean casserole. This one should look familiar but with a few delicious additions (think: more vegetables and an even creamier sauce).