10 Technicolor Side Dishes for a Vibrant Holiday Feast

sliced persimmon fruit and pomegranate seeds on green salad with gold fork

Treehugger / Allison Berler

While artificial colors have no place on a fork, Mother Nature's vibrant colors most certainly do. "Eating the rainbow," as they say, ensures consumption of a wide array of fruits and vegetables – and especially those with exuberant levels of nutrients, many courtesy of the compounds that give them their sassy hues.

And beyond that, brightly colored foods are just happy makers. They look fun and festive and fabulous; they make the table gorgeous. And best of all, their seductive shades lure us into devouring them with abandon. Because who doesn't want to eat a rainbow?

Mashed purple sweet potatoes

mashed purple sweet potatoes in white bowl surrounded by uncooked

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Deep burnt orange sweet potatoes are a thing of beauty; their purple cousins are equally stunning (this writer with a bias for purple may love them even more) and add a splash of surprise amethyst to the table. Use them as you would their orange counterparts; though I particularly love this recipe from Spoon Fork Bacon that is spiked with cardamom, maple syrup and pecans.

Persimmon & pomegranate salad

sliced persimmon and pomegranate seed salad with extra seeds in cup

Treehugger / Allison Berler

Persimmon and pomegranate go together like peanut butter and jelly. Or something like that? Suffice to say, perfume-y and luscious persimmon and crunchy sweet-tart pomegranate are a wonderful combination and a unique bright spot in a big feast.

Green pea puree

green pea puree

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Peas are wonderful, and one of the few vegetables that I actually like to buy frozen. Fresh in season is lovely, but they lose much of their oomph quickly after harvest thanks to quickly fading sugars. Conversely, when frozen fresh, they retain their color and vitality without losing too much in taste and texture. Pea puree can be as simple as blended peas sieved for silkiness, but I love them pureed with a little olive oil, sea salt and mint. They also like shallots, garlic, butter, cream – it's up to you.

Roasted rainbow carrots

purple and orange carrots roasted

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Look at that, carrots grew up! What used to provide for the most humble of side dishes – steamed orange carrots – now comes in a splash of colors. They are widely available in a range of hues and when roasted whole offer a sophisticated dish that will still suit palates of all ages. And they couldn't be easier: Scrub the carrots; slice thickest ones in half lengthwise so that they're roughly the same size as thinner ones; toss with olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper; arrange on a baking sheet, bake at 400F degrees for 35 to 40 minutes until golden and starting to caramelize.

Baked polenta

baked polenta with tomato

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Baked polenta is a great addition not only for its pretty golden color, but it also provides something bread-like for the gluten-averse at the table. Like cornbread, but not so doughy; like stuffing, but different. Plus it goes well with just about everything. Make polenta according to package instructions, then spread in a butter or olive-oiled baking dish and bake at 375F for 30 minutes or until golden on top. Don't be shy with perking it up too; corn, red peppers, garlic, cheese ... polenta plays wonderfully with other flavors.

Beet and ginger hummus

Beet hummus

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Hummus may not land on the most traditional of Thanksgiving menus, but for the modern table, heck yes. Especially if you've got eaters on hand who may not partake in eating things that once roamed the fields. I always think of hummus as kind of a blank canvas that loves additions – pesto, romesco sauce, lime and smoked chiles, avocado, you name it. And for this installation, with beets and ginger. Use your favorite hummus recipe going easy on the chick peas and throw in a roasted beet with a bunch of fresh peeled ginger root.

Butternut hummus

butternut hummus

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See above; but while beet hummus has a smaller proportion of beet added, with butternut squash hummus you can replace even more of the chick peas with butternut (or any winter squash) that has been roasted.

Beet and turnip gratin

sliced roasted beets lay in serving pan with fresh beet leaves

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I love this gratin from Kitchen Konfidence that combines red, golden and candy cane (chioggia) beets with no small amount of butter and stock (swap vegetable for chicken to keep it vegetarian), along with other savory players. A dish this pretty takes a little time, but can be assembled a day in advance and kept in the refrigerator until ready to bake. Recipe: Beet and turnip gratin.

Pomegranate relish

Pomegranate relish with spoon

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Many are partial to cranberry sauce with a feast, though I've never been gaga over it. In a search for something that would serve the same purpose in terms of flavor contrast, texture and color, I turned to sour cherries. I buy them at the greenmarket when they're in season, stem and pit them, and freeze them until Thanksgiving when I make a sour cherry compote. Given that most don't have a secret stash of sour cherries lurking in the freezer, swapping in pomegranate for a seasonal switch (or addition) to cranberries works beautifully as well. You can make a preserves for a sweet and tangy condiment, but I also love to make a spicy raw relish. For that, gently stir together the seeds of two pomegranates, fresh ground ginger to taste, finely chopped jalapeno to taste, a squeeze of orange juice, a grating of orange zest, and a dash of salt and sugar until the flavors are all beautifully balanced.

Roasted purple cauliflower

purple roasted cauliflower with green leaves on wooden cutting board

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Some colorful vegetables lose their vibrancy when cooked, but roasting colorful cauliflower does little to diminish its regal hue. And it's funny; old-school creamy-white cauliflower is tasty but the newer varieties which come in shades of gold and purple taste even more magnificent to me. I know their color imparts different nutrients, but do they actually taste better or does their gorgeous color lure one into believing such through the pleasing aesthetic association? Either way, roasted purple cauliflower on the table is a crowd pleaser.