My childhood nearly ruined my attitude toward sweet potatoes.
Thanksgiving was the one day when sweet potatoes made their annual appearance in our household. They went directly from can to CorningWare casserole, where my well intentioned mother, following her best Betty Crocker tendencies, blanketed them with brown sugar and butter and overbaked them into mushy, syrup-coated oblivion.
They were too much, even for me, a kid ruled by a voracious sweet tooth.
That misguided once-a-year side dish — occasionally worsened by the inexplicable addition of mini-marshmallows — always comes to mind in November when I walk into my local co-op and see a half-dozen beautiful varieties of locally grown sweet potatoes.
What a glorious sight. Just looking at them unleashes all kinds of possibilities, and none of them involves a can opener.
Sure, there are the familiar, copper-tinted Jewel and Beauregard versions. But consider the Molokai and Stokes Purple varieties, with their vivid, almost Concord grape-like color, or the firm, nutty-tasting Japanese sweet potato, with its golden flesh. They make plain-old potatoes pale in comparison.
Remember, just about any approach to potatoes yields equally successful results with sweet potatoes. That easy familiarity earns them a place on the holiday table.
As these recipes from recently released cookbooks will attest, sweet potatoes, which take very well to roasting, can easily play all kinds of roles, both starring and supporting, including in grain-centric dishes. Their natural sweetness also makes them natural dessert fodder. Minus the marshmallows, of course.
Spiced Sweet Potatoes With Mexican Brown Sugar
Note: "In this dish (Camotes en Piloncillo), sweet potato slices are poached in a syrup of Mexican brown sugar, a match made in heaven," writes James Oseland in "Mexico City" (Ten Speed Press, $26). "Eat it as is or with vanilla ice cream." Piloncillo is made of sugarcane juice boiled down into cone-shaped blocks and hardened. Brown sugar is a close cousin to piloncillo but is not a substitute. Piloncillo cones can be found in some supermarkets and most Mexican grocery stores.
• 2 (8-oz.) piloncillo cones
• 1 orange peel strip, 3 in. long by 1/2-in. wide
• 1 star anise pod
• 2 whole cloves
• 3 whole allspice berries
• 1 (2-in.) cinnamon stick, broken into small shards
• 1 1/2 c. water
• 1 lb. sweet potatoes, unpeeled, scrubbed and sliced crosswise 1/2-in. thick
In a large saucepan over high heat, combine the piloncillo, orange peel, star anise, cloves, allspice, cinnamon and water and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook, occasionally stirring and poking the sugar with a spoon to help it dissolve, until the sugar has finally melted and the liquid is slightly syrupy, about 30 minutes. Add the sweet potato slices, re-cover and cook, turning the slices occasionally, until fork-tender, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.
Sweet Potato and Turnip Pommes Anna
Note: From "The Decadent Vegetable Cookbook" from Cider Mill Press ($29.95).
• 3 tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
• 1 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced thin
• 1 lb. purple-topped turnips, peeled and sliced thin
• 1 tsp. finely chopped fresh thyme
• Salt, to taste
In a 10- to 12-inch skillet over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter and remove the pan from heat. Place 1 slice of sweet potato along the edge of the pan, followed by a turnip slice. Continue along the edge, alternating slices of sweet potato and turnip. When the outside edge is complete, make another row in the circle and then in the very center.
Sprinkle with half of the thyme and a pinch of salt. Make another layer (following the same pattern) with remaining sweet potato and turnip slices, then the thyme and salt.
Dot the top with another tablespoon of butter, place the pan on the stove over low heat and cook for 5 minutes. Cover the pan with a lid and continue to cook, removing and replacing lid every 5 minutes to let out steam. After roughly 20 minutes, check on the bottom layer (gently lifting with a spatula). If it isn't browning, remove the lid and continue to cook until browned. If nice and brown, find a plate with flat edges that is the same size as your pan. With 1 hand on the pan's handle and another on the plate, invert the turnips and sweet potatoes onto the plate, then gently slide the vegetables back into the pan, browned-side up.
Cook until sweet potatoes and turnips are tender all the way through, about 10 minutes (if the pan seems too dry, add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter). To serve, invert onto a serving plate.
Spiced Baked Rice With Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Fennel
Serves 6 to 8.
Note: "Blooming the North African spice blend ras el hanout with the rice is a streamlined way to add complex flavor," write the editors of "The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook" (America's Test Kitchen, $32.99).
• 1 1/2 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-in. pieces
• 1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1 fennel bulb, stalks discarded, bulb halved, cored and finely chopped
• 1 small onion, finely chopped
• 1 1/2 c. long-grain white rice, rinsed
• 4 garlic cloves, minced
• 2 tsp. ras el hanout
• 2 3/4 c. chicken or vegetable broth
• 3/4 c. large pitted brine-cured green olives, halved
• 2 tbsp. freshly chopped cilantro
• Lime wedges
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Toss potatoes with 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Arrange potatoes in a single layer on prepared baking sheet and roast until tender and browned, 25 to 30 minutes, stirring potatoes halfway through roasting. Remove potatoes from oven, set aside, and reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.
In a Dutch oven over medium heat, heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil until shimmering. Add fennel and onions and cook until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in rice, garlic and ras el hanout and cook, stirring frequently, until grain edges begin to turn translucent, about 3 minutes.
Stir in broth and olives and bring to a boil. Cover, transfer Dutch oven to oven and bake until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed, 12 to 15 minutes.
Remove Dutch oven from oven and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes. Add sweet potatoes to rice and fluff gently with a fork to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with lime wedges.
Glazed Sweet Potatoes With Yogurt and Dill
Note: "I usually cook with orange sweet potatoes, which have a big flavor and caramelize easily," writes Dan Kluger in "Chasing Flavor" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35). "But this is one recipe where I prefer white or yellow-fleshed Japanese sweet potatoes, which have a lovely chestnut flavor and a more crumbly texture when cooked. Roughly breaking the potatoes apart makes all sorts of craters and crevices that caramelize under the broiler and catch the sweet-sour glaze."
For maple-lime glaze:
• Finely grated zest of 1 medium orange
• 1/2 c. freshly squeezed orange juice
• 1/4 c. freshly squeezed lime juice
• 1/4 c. champagne vinegar
• 1/4 c. maple syrup
• 1 tsp. kosher salt
For sweet potatoes:
• 1 lb. sweet potatoes (preferably Japanese), roughly 1 to 1 1/2 in. thick
• 1/3 c. Greek yogurt
• Extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 tbsp. freshly chopped dill fronds
• 2 tbsp. thinly sliced fresh mint
• 1 tbsp. finely chopped jalapeño chile, seeds removed
• Flaky sea salt
To prepare maple-lime glaze: In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine orange zest, orange juice, lime juice, vinegar, maple syrup and salt. Bring to a simmer and cook, reducing until the glaze is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. The glaze can be made a day or so ahead of time and refrigerated until ready to use. When ready to use, allow glaze to come to room temperature.
To prepare potatoes: Preheat oven to 500 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Scrub sweet potatoes, pierce them in several places with a sharp knife and place them on prepared baking sheet, spacing them a few inches apart. Roast until just tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven, and when cool enough to handle, break the potatoes into large pieces.
Preheat the broiler. Return the potato pieces to the baking sheet and broil until they start to caramelize and char in spots, 2 to 4 minutes.
Spread the yogurt on a serving platter. Scatter the potatoes on top and drizzle with the maple-lime glaze and olive oil. Scatter the dill, mint and jalapeño over the top, sprinkle with flaky salt, and serve.
Roasted Maple-Chile Brussels Sprouts and Sweet Potatoes
Serves 4 to 6.
Note: "It's warm and nutty, crispy and chewy, sweet and tangy, wonderfully fragrant and quite extraordinary," writes Cara Mangini in "The Vegetable Butcher" (Workman, $29.95). "This recipe will hopefully inspire other variations with other vegetables." To toast walnuts, spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and bake in a 350-degree oven, stirring occasionally, until light brown, about 6 to 10 minutes.
For orange vinaigrette:
• 3 tbsp. freshly squeezed orange juice
• 1/2 tsp. freshly grated orange zest
• 1 tbsp. champagne or white wine vinegar
• 2 tsp. maple syrup
• 1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
• 1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
• 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
For sweet potatoes:
• Fine sea salt
• 1 1/2 c. uncooked faro, rinsed and drained
• 1 lb. sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
• 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
• 1 tbsp. maple syrup
• 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
• 1 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed; small sprouts halved, large sprouts quartered
• 1/2 large red onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
• 1/2 tsp. freshly chopped thyme
• 1/3 c. walnuts (or pecans, or hazelnuts), toasted and chopped (see Note)
• Freshly ground black pepper
• Crumbled feta or goat cheese, for topping, optional
To prepare orange vinaigrette: In a small bowl, whisk together the orange juice, orange zest, vinegar, maple syrup, salt and pepper. Gradually stream in the 3 tablespoons olive oil while whisking quickly and constantly until it emulsifies. The vinaigrette will keep in an airtight container, refrigerated, for up to 1 week.
To prepare sweet potatoes: Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat.
Once the water boils, add the farro and cook until the grains are tender, but not too soft, about 18 to 25 minutes. Drain well in a colander.
In a large bowl, toss the sweet potatoes with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Transfer them to one of the prepared baking sheets, spread in single layer and roast (flipping them after 20 minutes) until they are tender and lightly browned, about 30 to 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, in the bowl you used for the potatoes, whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons of the olive oil with the maple syrup, red pepper flakes and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add the sprouts and red onion, and toss to coat evenly. Spread them out on the second prepared baking sheet and arrange so that the sprouts' cut sides are facing down. Roast until the sprouts are browned and tender and the onions are soft, 25 to 30 minutes.
Place the farro in a large bowl and add the warm roasted vegetables. Add some of the vinaigrette, a few tablespoons at a time, until the salad is dressed to your taste. Stir in the thyme and walnuts (or pecans or hazelnuts). Season with salt and pepper if needed and sprinkle on the cheese, if using. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Whipped Sweet Potatoes, Three Ways
Each variation serves 4 to 6.
Note: "Whipping roasted sweet potato flesh in the food processor transforms it from rustic to elegant, incorporating a little air to lighten the texture while playing up its creamy texture," writes Sam Kass in "Eat a Little Better" (Clarkson Potter, $32.50). "These three ideas you'll see here have one thing in common: They include something tangy to balance the sweetness. I like to pick elements that match the tart ingredient." Don't have a food processor? Use a large mixing bowl and a sturdy whisk.
• 2 1/2 lb. sweet potatoes (about 3 to 4 medium potatoes)
For first variation:
• 3/4 c. crème fraîche (or sour cream)
• A few big pinches of thinly sliced fresh sage leaves
• 2 tsp. freshly grated lemon zest
• Kosher salt
For second variation:
• 1/4 c. maple syrup
• 1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
• 1 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
• Kosher salt
For third variation:
• 1/2 c. soft goat cheese
• Handful of coarsely chopped mixed fresh herbs, such as parsley, cilantro, tarragon and marjoram
• 1 tsp. freshly grated lemon zest
• Kosher salt
Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Pierce sweet potatoes in several places with a sharp knife and place them on prepared baking sheet, spacing them a few inches apart. Roast until the taut skin collapses slightly and you can slide a butter knife through the thickest part of the flesh with no resistance, 45 to 75 minutes, depending on their size. Remove from oven and allow sweet potatoes to cool slightly.
Peel the potatoes (discarding peels) and transfer the flesh to the bowl of a food processor or a large mixing bowl.
With each of the variations, add remaining ingredients, including 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt. Process (or whip with a sturdy whisk) until smooth and slightly fluffy. Season with salt to taste.