Ten Side Dishes For The Southern Cook

Ten Side Dishes For The Southern Cook

by Angela Garrison Zontek

The Southern side dish is an important part of our culture. Often, our seasons are marked by the sides we choose to serve, for instance, you know it’s summer when potato salad takes the place of mashed potatoes, and it’s definitely fall when the corn pudding makes an appearance on your plate.

We’ve made a list of the most popular Southern sides (along with a few of our personal favorites). Whether you’re serving a fancy dinner or a Sunday supper, these dishes will complement the main components of your meal while adding a touch of tradition.

Macaroni and Cheese

The answer for any cook who is trying to please a picky eater is macaroni and cheese. This hearty, cheesy, tasty side dish is sure to satisfy everyone at your table. While it makes for a marvelous side, macaroni and cheese can stand on its own as the centerpiece of your meal. Have fun with the leftovers by filling a cupcake pan, sprinkle with shredded cheese, add a dot of butter, then bake for ten minutes—perfect portions for lunch.

Potato Salad

Technically, potato salad is a German dish, but we’ve made it our own. After its introduction stateside, potato salad was popularized by Southerners. The potato salad recipe is most often a coveted family heirloom and not to be compromised. We like our potato salad made with generous chunks of boiled eggs and homemade pickle relish. Now, we’ve heard some ugly rumors that folks up North are substituting vinegar for mayonnaise, so we’re going to pray for ya’ll.

Corn Pudding

Corn pudding is a warm, delicious side that compliments most any Southern entrée. Everyone has their own way of eating corn pudding—mixed up with a meat, often times ham, bacon or sausage, or simply by itself. Like most Southern side dishes, it’s as versatile as it is delicious.

Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes are my personal favorite. I love them piled high next to a meat and two veggies, then fried up the next morning for breakfast as potato cakes. We like to debate over using heavy cream or whole milk in our mashed potatoes, and we have more than a few ideas about how to properly whip ‘em up (elbow grease v. appliances). My dad opts for a splash of heavy cream, a few minutes in the mixer, then seasoned to taste—with white pepper instead of black, for an amazing smoky flavor.

Black-Eyed Peas

Nothing makes a house smell like a home more than beans simmering on a stove. Black-eyed peas are special. We love the way stewed black-eyed peas cook down to a gravy, making them perfect for serving with cornbread or rice. We like ours cooked slow in a hearty chicken stock, then served with a crisp, white onion. The options are endless, but one can never go wrong with serving them over white rice.

Red Beans and Ham Hocks

Red beans are perfect for those dishes where you want to add amazing (and delicious) texture. Unlike the other beans we cook all day on the stove, the red bean retains its shape and keeps a solid consistency, making it chewier than the rest. Red beans provide both flavor and heartiness to your stews and soups.

Cook with some fatty ham hocks or smoked turkey, and you have all the makings of one of the South’s most favorite bean dishes.


Rice can be found in the most iconic of Southern dishes. This versatile food staple is an important part of our diet and is highly prized for its affordability and long shelf life. We love to serve rice on its own with butter, salt, and pepper, under a generous helping of pot roast, or in anything that needs a little texture— like chicken soup or stewed tomatoes.

 Fried Potatoes

Want to brighten up a plate of leftovers? Fry up some cubed potatoes and serve with last night’s pork chops.  Fried potatoes add instant excitement to those boring weeknight meals. For breakfast, nothing compliments eggs and bacon like a pile of fried potatoes and onions—or even better, add the eggs and bacon to the skillet for a fried potato scramble. These tasty potatoes can be seasoned in a variety of exciting ways, using creole or Texan flavors, but we think there is beauty in a simple dusting of salt and pepper.

Garden Salad

Crisp, fresh, and preferably from your own garden, we do love a side salad in the South. Typically made with a quartered red tomato and sliced cucumber on a bed of iceberg lettuce, this garden salad is always served on its own plate.  While a simple dish, the garden salad represents the traditional importance of bringing healthy, home-grown produce to the table. There isn’t a meal we make in the South that doesn’t pair well with a cheerful garden salad.

Cold Broccoli Pasta Salad

Cold broccoli pasta salad is a summertime staple down South. It’s the side dish that travels, making appearances at BBQs, picnics, and of course, the ball field. Perfect on its own, or chilling next to a spicy pulled pork sandwich, cold broccoli pasta salad adds balance to any summer meal.

Southern meals represent the bounty of our region. Whatever the main dish, one can expect to see an outstanding assortment of fresh vegetables, slow-cooked beans, a variety of rice dishes, and potatoes-a-plenty. The Southern side dish is a part of our culinary tradition—one that we generously love to share.

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