If your family always has had ham at Christmas, it probably always will. Or turkey. But it may be time to rethink the side dishes. Here, we take new approaches with snow peas, squash and sweet potatoes, wild rice and pearl onions.

BELL PEPPERS AND SNOW PEAS IN A SPICY GARLIC DRESSING

(6 servings)

The red and green of Christmas find their way to the table in this dish from Nina Simonds.

4 medium-sized red bell peppers, rinsed, cored and seeded

3/4 pound fresh snow peas, ends snapped and veiny strings removed

FOR THE GARLIC DRESSING:

1/4 cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon minced garlic, pounded to a smooth paste

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons water

2 teaspoons sesame oil

1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (optional)START NOTE END NOTE

1 1/2 tablespoons rice wine or sake

TO FINISH:

1 tablespoon safflower or corn oil

1 tablespoon sesame oil

2 tablespoons minced scallion greens

Cut the peppers into matchstick-sized shreds. Rinse the snow peas and drain thoroughly. Combine the ingredients of the Spicy Garlic Dressing and set aside.

Heat a wok or a heavy skillet and add the safflower oil or corn oil and the sesame oil. Heat until nearly smoking and add the peppers and snow peas. Toss lightly over high heat, stirring constantly, and add the rice wine. Continue cooking for about a minute, then add the Spicy Garlic Dressing. Toss lightly over high heat and cook for about 2 minutes, or until the sauce has reduced slightly and the snow peas and peppers are still crisp but cooked. Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle the scallion greens on top. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Per serving: 111 calories, 3 gm protein, 11 gm carbohydrates, 6 gm fat, .8 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 692 mg sodium.

APRICOT WILD RICE PILAF

(10 servings)

Small amounts of brown and white rice are added to this dish by Lynn Foster to add texture and eye appeal to the wild rice.

3 tablespoons clarified butter or olive oil

2 cups wild rice

1/2 cup brown rice

1/2 cup white rice

1/4 cup chopped shallots

1 cup white wine

6 cups chicken stock, heated

3/4 cup dried apricots, softened in warm water and diced

1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

1/3 cup slivered almonds

1 1/2 tablespoons butter

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a casserole, heat the clarified butter or olive oil and saute' the rices and shallots for 3 minutes. Add add the white wine to the rice. Add the heated chicken stock and the apricots, thyme, almonds, butter, salt and pepper. Stir and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover tightly and cook for 35 to 40 minutes, or bake in a 350-degree oven for 45 to 50 minutes. Let rice stand for 10 minutes before stirring and serving.

Per serving: 221 calories, 6 gm protein, 27 gm carbohydrates, 8 gm fat, 4 gm saturated fat, 14 mg cholesterol, 534 mg sodium.

GRATIN OF SQUASH AND SWEET POTATOES

(8 servings)

As this gratin from Steven Raichlen is baking, a crisp, brown crust forms on top; it is the best part, but you have to work to scrape it away from the sides of the pan. Use any sort of orange-fleshed winter squash (butternut, buttercup, hubbard, even pumpkin) and use a fork for mixing the vegetables. Don't mash them too fine; the gratin should have a coarse texture.

1 pound peeled winter squash

1 pound sweet potatoes or yams, peeledSTART NOTE

3 tablespoons butter for greasing the pan, plus 2 tablespoons for the topping

1/2 cup freshly grated gruye`re cheese

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 scallions, finely chopped

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

3/4 cup sour cream

Salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

Cut the squash and sweet potatoes into 1-inch pieces. Cook them in a steamer until tender. Cool. Butter a gratin dish or shallow baking dish.

Combine the vegetables, half the cheeses, scallions, parsley, sour cream, and seasonings in a bowl, and mix with a fork. Don't mash the squash too much -- the mixture should be coarse and chunky. Correct the seasonings. Spoon the mixture into the gratin dish and sprinkle with the remaining cheeses. Dot the top with butter. The recipe can be prepared 24 hours ahead to this stage.

Just before serving, cook the gratin in a 400-degree oven for 15 minutes, or until the mixture is hot and the top is browned and bubbly.

Per serving: 245 calories, 7 gm protein, 20 gm carbohydrates, 16 gm fat, 10 gm saturated fat, 41 mg cholesterol, 229 mg sodium.

DRUNKEN MUSHROOMS AND ONIONS

(6 servings)

The alcohol cooks off, so not even the mushrooms get tipsy, but either rice wine or Scotch adds depth to the flavor of this dish from Nina Simonds.

FOR THE DRUNKEN MARINADE:

1 cup good-quality rice wine, or 1/2 cup Scotch

2 cups chicken broth

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 slices fresh ginger root, unpeeled, and smashed lightly with the flat of a cleaver or a chef's knife

6 cloves garlic, smashed lightly with the flat of a cleaver or a chef's knife

FOR THE MUSHROOMS AND ONIONS:

1 pound fresh button mushrooms, ends trimmed and lightly rinsed

1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 pound pearl onions, boiled about 3 minutes and skins and ends removed

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place the ingredients of the Drunken Marinade, namely the rice wine, chicken broth, salt, ginger root and garlic in a large, nonaluminum pot. Heat until boiling and cook for 10 minutes over medium-high heat to marry the flavors. Toss the mushrooms in the lemon juice and add them to the drunken mixture. Add the pearl onions and pepper, and once the liquid reaches a boil, cook for about 3 to 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let cool to room temperature. Serve at room temperature or serve chilled. The vegetables will keep for several days marinated in the refrigerator.

Per serving: 79 calories, 4 gm protein, 9 gm carbohydrates, .9 gm fat, .2 gm saturated fat, .3 mg cholesterol, 465 mg sodium.