At this time of year, I find myself looking for inspiration in the comforts of meals past, which is how I came up with the four side dishes shown here. Each one is warm, comforting, and familiar—just the sort of thing I want to eat with my wife and daughter at the end of the day. But they also work well for Thanksgiving and fall entertaining because each dish can be made either partially or entirely in advance (you’ll find make-ahead tips in the recipe headnotes) and they’re all a bit out of the ordinary, which makes them feel special.
The Spicy Braised Carrots, for example, get a kick from jalapeño and roasted red pepper. The Peppery Egg Noodle, Farmer’s Cheese & Cauliflower Gratin is a hybrid of two noodle dishes that I ate while growing up. My potato gratin is made with olive oil instead of the usual butter and cream. And I put my own spin on classic Southern collard greens with the Black Kale with Ham, Garlic & Onions. (Any kind of kale works well, by the way, but the texture and spiciness of black kale make it an excellent substitute for collard greens.) These have become my family’s favorite fall side dishes, and I’m betting that if you choose a couple for your Thanksgiving spread, or even as a change from the usual weeknight fare, your family will embrace them, too.
Tip: Freezing is the secret to tender kale
Stuff washed kale in a heavy-duty zip-top bag and freeze it for a few hours or up to a month. Cook it straight out of the freezer. Freezing breaks down its fibers in a way that no amount of cooking can.