Turkey is the centerpiece of most families' tables, but there's a lot more to Thanksgiving than this tasty fowl. You need side dishes and plenty of them. Stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn and rolls are as much a part of Turkey Day as the bird itself. However, there are some sides that are memorable in a not-so-good way. They're the dishes no one touches and the leftovers no guest wants to take home.
Read the next page to find out what sweet, orange dish we think your Thanksgiving feast could do without.
Candied Sweet Potatoes
Candied sweet potatoes are a perfect example of an unhealthy Thanksgiving dish. Sweet potatoes on their own are good for you. They're full of vitamin A and beta-carotene, as well as some vitamin C. But when you mash them up, add butter, brown sugar and marshmallows, you might as well kiss any health benefits goodbye.
Plus, some people find them unappetizing, which we blame on the marshmallow layer. Melted, gooey, gluey marshmallows cover the dish like cement, and not in a good, s'mores-type of way. The converging layers of sweetness between marshmallow and sweet potato can be nauseating, especially after downing ample amounts of turkey and other, better sides (like anything that's not on this list).
If you want the offerings on your Thanksgiving table to be heavenly, lay off the ambrosia salad. Known as the "food of the gods," this fruit salad started appearing in cookbooks in the late 1800s. Originally, ambrosia was made from oranges, sugar and coconut; however, as time passed, the recipe devolved into a dish that isn't fit for any of your Thanksgiving guests, much less a deity.
Today's version of ambrosia still contains oranges and coconut, but it also usually includes marshmallows and mayonnaise or sour cream, and sometimes even whipped topping or gelatin. That's right. Fruit and mayonnaise. Together. This combination isn't nearly as successful as turkey and stuffing or mashed potatoes and gravy and should just be forgotten.
In the 17th century, turnips were part of both colonists and Native Americans' regular diet, and it's likely this root vegetable held an important place at the first Thanksgiving table. But that doesn't mean you need to reserve a space for it at yours.
The Pilgrims may have eaten turnips, but why should we? Let's face it; the turnip can be a tricky vegetable. If they're even a day or two past their prime, you'll wind up dining on a veggie that tastes more like a piece of wood than an appetizing holiday side. Unless you're going for an authentic Colonial Thanksgiving -- and if you are, remember that dinner didn't include sugar -- leave this one off the table.
One other thing to consider about turnips: Thanksgiving isn't just about the actual meal, it's about the leftovers. Have you ever heard of anyone getting excited about the prospect of leftover turnips? Neither have we.
Green Bean Casserole
We'll give the dish its due: Green bean casserole is easy to make. Just take canned green beans and mix with cream of mushroom soup, black pepper and French fried onions, then bake.
It's a food that's hard to mess up, which is one reason this recipe has been a staple since its creation in the Campbell's Soup corporate kitchen in 1955. Made for an Associated Press feature, green bean casserole quickly became Campbell's most popular recipe, and it's probably the only reason some people ever purchase cream of mushroom soup today.
Still, many of us would rather not have it on our Thanksgiving tables. After all, not everyone appreciates the combination of green beans and cream of mushroom soup, especially if the cook uses canned beans, which gives the entire casserole a distinctly not-so-fresh flavor. Add to that some grey soup, and all the French fried onions in the world can't make up for this dish's unappetizing appearance.
Besides turkeys, nothing may signify Thanksgiving more than cranberries. We tend to consume these little fruits in everything from breads to sauces on Turkey Day, but how many of us look forward to eating them? We grew up enduring cranberries on Thanksgiving, as did our parents, so many of us feel obligated to bring them out each November.
However, being guilted into serving a food isn't the best reason to include it on your menu. Cranberries are tart, and they don't always correlate well with the sweet and savory flavors featured in a typical Thanksgiving spread. It doesn't matter what type of cranberry concoction you've decided to make, whether it's cranberry orange salad, cranberry horseradish relish or simply opening up a can of jellied cranberry sauce and dumping it onto a plate, don't be surprised if you have most of it left over after dinner has ended. So save yourself some time, trouble and much-needed space in the refrigerator by nixing this side dish from your holiday table.
Beets are another root vegetable that's a popular side dish on many Thanksgiving tables, but not much loved on Thanksgiving plates. They can be prepared many ways: plain, cooked, pickled or sugar-glazed, but no matter how you slice them, most of us can't get past their smell to actually eat them. Plus, beets' red pigment also stains anything it comes in contact with, including dish towels, cutting boards, sinks and skin. Unless you enjoy scrubbing small children to get stubborn crimson marks off their hands and faces, you might want to rethink serving this stinky red veggie at your Thanksgiving dinner.
No Thanksgiving table is complete without dressing. It's basically the same as stuffing, as it's a casserole of bread cubes, celery and herbs. In different regions of the country, however, it also contains other ingredients such as sausage, mushrooms or oysters. That's right -- oysters.
This may sound sacrilegious to some, but the concept of a seafood-based bread dish that's meant to accompany poultry just doesn't work in terms of flavor. Oyster dressing also relies on using fresh seafood, and if you use canned oysters, you'll just end up creating a dish that's a foul accompaniment to your fowl.
Corn was another Native American staple during the Pilgrims' time, so it's only appropriate that the food of the New World graces your Thanksgiving table. The key to good Thanksgiving corn is to leave it as natural as possible and enjoy it just like the colonists did.
That means no corn pudding, no corn casserole and above all, no creamed corn, which can have a slop like consistency. These dishes, while they may sound appealing, might disappoint those who are looking for the pure goodness that is one of America's finest native foods. Do them a favor and resist the temptation to serve corn, unless it's on the cob.
Any Green Vegetable
Many of us subconsciously believe that a table loaded with protein and carbohydrates must include something green to balance it all out. But we've got news for you, a salad covered with dressing or a green vegetable drenched in butter isn't going to make your holiday any healthier.
We often add a green vegetable as an afterthought, and they're usually one of the least-liked items on the Turkey Day table. Take lima beans, for example. These green guys are usually not very popular, even when mixed with corn to make succotash (which would then adulterate the corn). Brussels sprouts are another green vegetable that can cause violent reactions from those who are forced to eat them. Although there are some who do, in fact, enjoy Brussels sprouts, those people are few and far between, and they're most likely not your relatives. Save your guests the effort of passing the dish around your dinner table by keeping it off the menu in the first place.
Gelatin is a popular side dish or dessert, but holiday salads just aren't the place for these treats of wobbly goodness, especially on Turkey Day. To make a gelatin into a salad, fruit, vegetables or marshmallows are commonly added. We're thankful lettuce isn't involved, but seriously, who thought adding veggies to a Jell-O-like dish was a good idea? Plus, if you already have candied yams or sweet potatoes on the table, adding a gelatin salad is bit of overkill in the marshmallow department. And no, lime gelatin doesn't count as a green dish.
Without these unloved side dishes loading down your Thanksgiving table -- and later, your refrigerator -- you'll have the space to stick to foods your family will truly enjoy. While Thanksgiving is often a time where tradition is honored, it doesn't have to manifest itself in sides no one cares to eat.
If you're planning on deep-frying your turkey for Thanksgiving, HowStuffWorks Now recommends reading this first.
- Everything You Wanted to Know About the First Thanksgiving
- The Ultimate Thanksgiving Quiz
- Carving the Meaning out of Thanksgiving Traditions
- How Thanksgiving Works
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- National Turkey Federation. "Turkey Statistics." 2010. (Oct. 31, 2011) http://www.eatturkey.com/consumer/stats/stats.html
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- University of Illinois Extension. "Watch Your Garden Grow: Beet." (Oct. 31, 2011) http://urbanext.illinois.edu/veggies/beet.cfm