Side note: Did you know that you can use a scaling tool on just about all of the more than 9,000 recipes in The Washington Post’s Recipe Finder? Find the notation on servings and then use the arrow to scale up or down. Keep in mind, however, that cooking times and temperatures, pan sizes and seasonings may be affected.
Our favored holiday recipes include a lusciously indulgent macaroni and cheese adapted by G. Daniela Galarza from Patti LaBelle’s recipe, a tahini-dressed roasted butternut squash plate from Olga Massov and a ridiculously simple corn pudding recipe from my family table.
These dishes — so varied in flavor and style — have a couple of things common. They are straightforward and easy to prepare, and they are adaptable to your favorite flavors, too.
Patti LaBelle’s Macaroni and Cheese: Since I started cooking Thanksgiving dinners for family or friends exactly 20 years ago, the only constant I had in mind was to try as many new recipes and flavors as possible.
Some years I brined the turkey, other years it was smoked, spatchcocked or slow-roasted. One year there were six kinds of tubers — mashed, smashed red, Hasselback, au gratin, candied yams and browned butter sweet potatoes — because I couldn’t decide on only one or two. But it wasn’t until around a decade ago, when my stepfather mentioned offhand that he loved macaroni and cheese as a Thanksgiving side dish, that I entertained the idea of cheesy pasta as a side along with potatoes, stuffing and cranberry sauce.
I know macaroni and cheese has long been a part of a lot of traditional Thanksgiving tables; I regret not seeing the light sooner. And though I tend to prefer a stove-top style when I’m making it for myself, when I’m serving it for Thanksgiving, I gravitate to this recipe, which I adapted from Patti LaBelle’s 1999 cookbook “LaBelle Cuisine: Recipes to Sing About.”
It’s rich with five different kinds of cheese, including Velveeta, which gives it a creaminess that’s impossible to match. My stepfather always adds a splash of hot sauce, which is a tradition I’ve come to love, too.
Roasted Butternut Squash and Red Onion With Tahini and Za’atar: At the center of Thanksgiving lore is the myth that turkey makes you sleepy. Unfairly maligned, the turkey is not the culprit here. Instead, what makes you drowsy and groggy is the fact that you’ve probably eaten a lot, and the side dishes were pretty heavy.
I don’t want to denigrate any Thanksgiving dish: They are all worthy of being on your table — it is, after all, a holiday, and 2020 has been, as the kids say, “a year.” But, perhaps, if we throw in a few vegetable-forward dishes, such as this roasted squash and onion, dressed with zippy tahini dressing and showered with toasted pine nuts and za’atar, we might feel more alert and energized by the time dessert is served.
When I spied this recipe in the best-selling cookbook “Jerusalem” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, I knew I would love it, but I had no idea just how much until I tasted it.
In addition to incredible flavors, this is a visual stunner: Chunks of jewel-toned orange butternut squash against deep purple roasted onions with a bright ivory drizzle of lemony-garlicky tahini, emerald-green flecks of parsley and the sprinkle of za’atar. The colors will make you swoon; the taste will make you not want to share. Best of all, the dish lends itself to all kinds of tweaks: Swap out pine nuts for pistachios or toasted pepitas, replace tahini with an herby yogurt sauce, use cilantro or dill in place of parsley. Heck, if you don’t have squash, sweet potatoes will do just fine. If I’m feeling fancy, I use pomegranate seeds for their puckery punch and festive color.
The first time I made this for Thanksgiving, eight years ago, my sister-in-law Aviva nearly devoured the whole platter herself. She then proclaimed that if I want her at future Thanksgivings, this side must be present.
Corn Pudding: My sister Maureen always makes the corn pudding for Thanksgiving and Christmas. That’s understood. As a family, we only eat this dish on those two holidays. Why? Who knows. It’s tradition.
So, when I realized I wasn’t coming home for Thanksgiving in 2020, but knew I wanted to maintain this custom, I sent her a text and asked for the recipe.
It’s so simple. Gather milk, eggs, a bit of onion, sugar and flour; open a can of whole kernel corn, pull out the blender and whir together a fluffy savory pudding that requires just 10 to 15 minutes of hands-on time. That alone makes it a keeper for those who are preparing multiple dishes for a holiday dinner.
The three large eggs give the casserole lift. It comes out of the oven puffed like a souffle but quickly deflates before it makes it onto the holiday table. It is smooth, not too sweet or oniony, but so corny in its simplicity. “Wait, I didn’t get any corn pudding,” someone inevitably calls out as the dish quickly empties as it is passed around the table.
As the family grew with grandkids and in-laws, Maureen began whirring together two and sometimes three casseroles for the holiday meal. As kids moved away, she downshifted to a smaller batch. It is something we count on just as it is.
That said, it is so simple that it would be easy to jazz up with crumbled bacon, minced jalapeño pepper or a dash of nutmeg, but I’m betting that would not go over so well in my family.
Yes, folks might bring a side dish made with quinoa, they might add goat cheese to the mashed potatoes or sub in Brussels sprouts for green beans, but this dish is sacrosanct. Everyone knows exactly what it will taste like when they dip the big spoon in for a serving. And that is its point and its place on our holiday table.