Be they plain or fancy, don’t forget them. Potatoes are always a must for holiday menus.

That could be due to perfect timing. Potatoes traditionally are harvested in the fall and stored for winter use, which means the potatoes we enjoy now are at their best.

Not all potatoes are created equal. Some, such as familiar brown russets, were made for mashing or baking. Due to their high starch content, their flesh falls apart when cooked (that’s the secret to no lumps). Others, such as those waxy red potatoes, are lower in starch and hold their shape when cooked; that makes them great for salads, but not for mashing.

Mashed potatoes rank among America’s all-time favorite comfort foods. In their most basic form, they’re so simple yet so satisfying. Yet their variations seem endless.

Start with the right potatoes, such as russets or Yukon Gold, a yellow-fleshed potato that has won over many cooks due to its natural buttery look and flavor. It needs less fat to achieve a creamy texture.

 

In mashed potatoes, that fat usually comes in the form of butter, milk and/or cream. The ratio is 1/2 to 1 cup of additions per pound of potatoes; the more, the richer the final mash. Other additions include sour cream, softened cream cheese and yogurt. For a vegan-friendly alternative, substitute almond or soy milk for dairy products.

Or skip the milk and butter altogether. To slim down mashed potatoes, cook Yukon Gold potatoes in vegetable or chicken stock until tender. After mashing, stir in a little olive oil until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

For big feasts, mashed potatoes can be made up to 24 hours ahead and then warmed in the oven before serving. Make your mashed potatoes and spread them in a greased baking dish. Refrigerate covered until ready to cook. Drizzle 2 tablespoons melted butter over the top. Bake uncovered in a preheated 350-degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes and serve.

But this versatile vegetable goes way beyond mashing. Potatoes star in all sorts of celebratory side dishes. See some of the options below.