Call it the romance of cooler temperatures or the allure of eating meals outdoors under large oak trees covered in lights: Whether you’re a fifth-generation Texan or a wide-eyed transplant to Austin’s boom, there ain’t no place like Central Texas for the holidays.
We’ve benefited greatly from the rich confluence of cultures, tribes and immigrant homesteaders who’ve worked this sometimes unforgiving land in a climate that wasn’t always crop-friendly. Through the years, they grew what they could and passed down recipes and techniques to give rise to a uniquely Texan food culture. Autumn and winter celebration meals took advantage of the seasonal bounty that continues to thrive here this time of year—squash, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, greens, alliums, herbs, pecans and more.
Of course, meat-centric main dishes have traditionally graced tables this time of year as well, but the importance of a delicious, seasonal side dish (or three) hasn’t been lost on Texan cooks. It’s all about a thoughtful texture, color or flavor contrast to elevate the palate and complement a protein-rich main dish—from various types of dressings, stuffings, gratins and casseroles, to sautéed, roasted and sauced vegetables—something sweet, something savory, something to satisfy those who say they live only for the holiday sides.
This year, we asked a few Austin chefs to share with us a side dish that might be found on their own celebration tables. You’ll see some familiar seasonal characters, but also some of the unique cultural influences and inspirations of our area, and definitely some Texas flair. This holiday season, let a great side dish make you the sleeper hit of the party.
By Cheryl Couture • Photography by Jenna Northcutt