Top 5 Worst Thanksgiving Side Dishes: Please, Please, Do NOT Pass the Ambrosia Salad
Picture it: You're sitting around the Thanksgiving table with your entire extended family, and everyone is dressed nicely, behaving themselves and getting along. It's a Norman Rockwell holiday to the T. The turkey is perfectly browned, the gravy is thick, the biscuits are fluffy, the green beans are crisp and the stuffing is moist and juicy. Everything seems ideal as you pass the serving dishes around the table.
Then suddenly, without warning, you find yourself in possession of the most repugnant bowl of green frothy something you've ever laid eyes upon. There are brown flecks suspended throughout it, and wispy strands that almost resemble ... hair? And what sort of naturally occurring food is that sickly shade of light chartreuse? You move to pass it on, but then...
"Don't forget to take some Jell-O salad," Aunt Edna yells from across the table.
You stop mid-pass, grudgingly lift the serving spoon and scoop a mound of sickeningly sweet goop onto your already full plate, and it splashes ever so slightly onto your turkey and stuffing.
Perfect, you think. This is the worst food ever.
But you're wrong. There are so many Thanksgiving sides more offensive than green Jell-O salad with pecans. You've been warned, friends.
5. Canned cranberry sauce To be perfectly honest, I kind of like canned cranberry sauce. However, I am able to look at this -- the only food I can think of that retains the shape of a tin can even days after it's been slid out of the can -- objectively and determine that it's pretty bad. It's mostly sugar with a little bit of cranberry flavor and then a little more sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup. I get that Thanksgiving is a day to throw caution to the wind and eat whatever you want, cholesterol be damned, but there is absolutely zero nutritional value in jellied cranberry sauce, whereas cranberries themselves are packed with antioxidants. Do yourselves a favor and look up a cranberry sauce recipe that uses actual cranberries. And, if you must, get a can of the gelatinous stuff for the day after Thanksgiving, since we all know nothing spreads better on a leftover sandwich than a slice of cranberry gel.
4. Wild rice stuffing Generally speaking, I enjoy rice. I also enjoy bready stuffing, especially when it's been cooked inside the turkey. Wild rice stuffing, though? I just can't get behind that. I'm all for healthy options even on a gluttonous holiday, but wild rice stuffing takes it too far. Does rice ever need to be mixed with raisins and celery and nuts and sage? Something about these flavors together just doesn't work. If I'm going to eat stuffing (which of course I am), I want it to be buttery and moist and packed together from the juices of the turkey. I want it to pair well with gravy and not be chewy like wild rice. I want it to be super-fattening. You can keep your spa stuffing. I'll take mine with butter, thanks.
3. Green bean casserole I know I'm dumping on your Thanksgiving memories when I say this, but green bean casserole should be banned from all tables, holiday or otherwise. (I happen to think that most casseroles should be banished, but that's another story entirely.) Everything that goes into green bean casserole comes out of a can, and still, it's considered a vegetable dish. Let's consider each element on its own. Canned green beans: Mushy, flavorless, no longer really green, taste like the can they come in. Cream of mushroom soup: Flour, water and dehydrated cream and "flavoring" are not valid substitutes for actual cream and actual mushrooms. French fried onions: Onions are not the first ingredient listed. You know what's easier than green bean casserole? Cooking fresh green beans.
2. Ambrosia salad Can we just make a rule that nothing containing Cool Whip is allowed to be referred to as a salad? Same goes for Jell-O. Much like green bean casserole, every ambrosia salad I've ever encountered comes almost entirely from cans, bags and the freezer section. Syrupy canned fruit, sweetened coconut shreds, mini marshmallows and Cool Whip does not a salad make. In fact, Merriam-Webter's definition of "salad" reads as such: "a mixture of raw green vegetables (such as different types of lettuce) usually combined with other raw vegetables." To be fair, the second definition is all-encompassing enough to include ambrosia, I guess. Still. That stuff doesn't belong anywhere but on a dessert table, and even then I question its presence.
1. Candied sweet potatoes with marshmallows I love sweet potatoes, but there is this one thing I've noticed about them -- they're sweet. Naturally sweet. Hence the name. Someone please explain to me why anyone would think to ravage the delightful flavor that nature bestowed upon this delicately sweet root by tossing them in brown sugar and topping them with marshmallows. Anyone? It's an abomination, an affront to nature. Is it a dessert? Is it a side dish? Does it pair well with anything else on the table? The answer to all of these questions is "no, no, it does not." Nobody wants bites of sugary, artificial-tasting marshmallows and cloying sweet potatoes or yams in between bites of juicy turkey and savory stuffing. Sweet potatoes should be treated with the dignity they deserve and roasted or baked, with little else -- especially not sugar -- marring their smooth, creamy, orange meat.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Houston dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.