Thanksgiving is about nothing if not tradition, so it's common for families to serve the same lineup of dishes year after year...after year. Some of them are beloved standbys that reappear for a reason. Others continue to be served mostly because they've always been served. Case in point: Even though I don't think anyone in the family especially loved them, my childhood Thanksgivings always featured a bowl of greasy creamed pearl onions.
Now, I'm all for making onions a part of Thanksgiving—I love their combination of sweet and pungent flavors—but this year, my plan is to try something besides the same ol', same ol'. If you're also jonesing for a new treatment for onions, a whole world of alliums awaits your exploration, and these eight recipes, from Vidalia onion–studded mashed potatoes to sweet-tart roasted shallots, are a great way to get started.
Easy Roasted Cipollini Onions
The high level of sugar in petite cipollini onions means they caramelize particularly well—but that sugar is also prone to burning, so it's important to cook them slowly. For this easy recipe, we start the onions in a skillet over medium heat, then finish them in a moderate oven. After half an hour at 325°F, they'll be deeply browned, tender, and perfectly sweet.
Sautéed Green Beans With Mushrooms and Caramelized Cipollini Onions
Caramelized cipollinis play more of a supporting role in this simple sauté of crisp-tender green beans and earthy mushrooms. Instead of using the oven, we brown the onions right in the skillet, cooking them low and slow before combining them with the other ingredients. Need a make-ahead option? Blanch the beans, sauté the mushrooms, and caramelize the onions in advance, then refrigerate and reheat the whole mix together when you're ready to serve.
Glazed Pearl Onions
The sweetness of pearl onions is a bit more restrained than that of cipollinis, so they're a good candidate for serving with a light glaze. Here, we simmer them in water or stock with butter, salt, and sugar, letting the mixture reduce slowly into a glossy, sweet coating. Fresh pearl onions are a headache to peel, so we say skip the extra effort and buy frozen peeled ones—you won't taste the difference.
Creamed Pearl Onions
For a mellower, more savory take on pearl onions, try a long, slow cook in a rich blend of stock and cream. To allow true onion flavor to come through, we prefer to go easy on seasonings, adding just a bay leaf to the liquid for depth and finishing with a sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley.
Cheesy Onion, Bacon, and New Potato Gratin
Small new potatoes are ideal for forming the base of a gratin, since you don't have to peel or slice them. They're joined here by tiny pearl onions, meaty bacon lardons, and heavy cream for a rich, soul-satisfying casserole. We top the mixture with Comté cheese and a layer of bread crumbs that turns golden and crunchy in the oven.
Roasted Shallots With Buttery Sweet-Tart Glaze
Sweet, delicately pungent shallots are prized for their unobtrusive flavor in risottos and vinaigrettes, but in our opinion, they deserve to be served whole, too. Here, we roast shallots until they're lightly charred and tender enough to cut with a spoon, then coat them in a sweet-sour glaze of butter and vinegar. We use sherry vinegar, but this is a very forgiving recipe—try balsamic or apple cider vinegar, and feel free to use Demerara sugar instead of regular white granulated.
Braised Leeks With Lemon and Parsley
Like shallots, mild leeks aren't a star in most dishes, an oversight that we feel should be rectified. This recipe uses a two-step process, first caramelizing the leeks in a hot skillet, then allowing them to braise in the oven in a combination of wine and broth. That slow cook lends the leeks a tender, almost meaty texture. Build a quick sauce of pan juices, chopped parsley, lemon, and olive oil, and you're ready to serve.
Caramelized Vidalia Onion Mashed Potatoes
If your garden-variety pale-and-milky mashed potatoes seem a little too blah for this year's Thanksgiving table, spruce them up by stirring in caramelized Vidalia onions, which provide little bits of sweetness and texture throughout the mash. This recipe also goes heavy on the dairy, adding milk, butter, sour cream, and cream cheese—the latter two keep the potatoes moist, allowing you to make them up to two days ahead without risk of their drying out.