Lighten Up! Easy Easy Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Ritz Velveeta Casserole & Quinoa Harvest Salad: That’s right…two recipes. Bam.  

Two lighter side dishes to add to your Thanksgiving feast that won’t make you feel like you are going to explode and are healthy additions!

Quinoa Harvest Salad
Quinoa Harvest Salad
Ritz-Velveeta Casserole
Ritz-Velveeta Casserole

My family LOVES side dishes. My dad is Polish and Czech and my mom is Syrian and Lebanese, so I suppose you could say it’s really in my blood to enjoy some really tasty side dishes (tabouleh or haluski, anyone?). I’ll definitely be posting some family and heritage-inspired dishes shortly after the holidays. Because, believe it or not, I’ve actually got quite a lot of new recipes and holiday treats that I am dying to try out and share with you all! I’m not gonna lie, I have recipes planned out from right around now until the New Year. Yikes!

Anyyywho, my family typically goes to my aunt Kathy’s home for Thanksgiving and holidays in general. Kathy and her husband Mark always make a delicious turkey and have fantastic staples: Dinner rolls, tabouleh, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc. It’s usually a potluck of sorts, but Kathy and Mark always make the main dishes. One of the new additions that my aunt Frieda started bringing is a Ritz-Velveeta vegetable casserole. This quickly became one of my favorites. It’s ridiculously easy to make and super flavorful. It also adds a nice texture to steamed or boiled veggies. Now, this recipe is actually available online, and you can find it here. (One thing that you will notice if you’re a new follower, or simply didn’t know, was that I like to create all my recipes on my own. Sure, I get inspiration for flavor combinations, but the exact measurements and creations are all my own. That said, I most certainly will ALWAYS give credit where credit is due for recipes that are not my own.)

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Now, with that Ritz recipe in mind, I of course like to tweak it a little bit. I prefer to use fresh vegetables and boil them beforehand. I also add dried herbs to the Ritz-butter crumble to add more of a rich flavor, and then I like to crumble dried Ritz just for added texture at the end.

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Here is my take on the Ritz-Velveeta Casserole:

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  • 2 sleeves of Ritz crackers, original
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 10-ounce bag of broccoli
  • 1 10-ounce bag of cauliflower
  • 3-4 large carrots, diced into cubes
  • 1 block (32 ounces)  Velvet cheese, cubed
  • 1 tbsp dried Italian seasoning: Thyme, rosemary, sage, parsley & oregano
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Boil all vegetables in a large saucepan over high heat until cooked, about 15 minutes.
  3. Strain vegetables and then shock in a large bowl filled with ice. (Essentially blanching & shocking). Next, lay veggies on a paper towel to dry.
  4. Melt the butter and mix in the Italian seasoning and crush 1 sleeve of the Ritz crackers in the mixture to form a crumble/paste.
  5. In a baking dish, first layer the vegetables, then the cheese, and the crumble on top.
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes and finish by crumbling the 2nd sleeve of Ritz on top for added texture.

This recipe serves 6-8 people


So delicious!
So delicious!

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This is such a simple and delicious side dish for Thanksgiving, especially if you’ve got picky eaters or kids. It’s a great way to get them to eat some veggies, and nothing is fried!

The next side dish, which is a Rachael original (see what I did there?) , is inspired by the mediterranean tabouleh salad. I love the fresh vegetables and spices all mixed together with the citrus tang. I thought to myself, hmm, I’m going to add a sweet and festive take on something similar!

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So that’s how I came up with the Quinoa Harvest Salad: Quinoa, cranberries, kale, pomegranate, cucumber, feta cheese, and finished off with a lemon-orange vinaigrette. I really like the nuttiness of the quinoa when toasted beforehand and I really cannot get enough of the cranberry-orange combo. This is a perfect way to utilize some of the fall flavors in a healthy side dish that your family and friends will love for Thanksgiving! And it’s pretty yummy, if I do say so myself. So here it is:

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For the salad:

  • 1 1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 2 cups kale
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 large cucumber, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1/4 cup Feta cheese
  • Walnuts, to garnish

For the Lemon-Orange Vinaigrette: 

  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp orange juice
  • Zest of one lemon and half and orange
  • 2 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • Salt & pepper, to taste

Salad (Serves 4-6 people) 

  1. Cook quinoa according to package (usually 2 parts water to the amount of quinoa, it will definitely expand). Boil for roughly 15 minutes. ** (I prefer to toast the quinoa in the saucepan before adding water to get a nice brown color and get the nutty flavor really prevalent).
  2. When quinoa is done, layer on a dry baking sheet to cool.
  3. Trim kale and boil until cooked, about 10 minutes.
  4. In a large bowl, mix in cooled quinoa, kale, chopped cucumber, cranberries, pomegranates, feta, and walnuts. Toss with the lemon-orange vinaigrette and voila! There you go.

Vinaigrette (Yields 3/4 cup dressing) 

  1. In a small bowl, mix the red wine vinegar with the EVOO. Zest in the lemon and orange.
  2. Stir in lemon juice and orange juice.
  3. Add in sugar, salt & pepper to taste and whisk everything thoroughly.

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I really wanted to emphasize that these are both dishes that will make your tummy happy but not make you explode! Both have lots of flavor and will really add a nice touch to your holiday dishes. And they’re not loaded with carbs or fried! Bonus. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope you enjoy the day with your friends and family and have lots to be thankful for. 🙂


One thought on “Lighten Up! Easy Easy Thanksgiving Side Dishes

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