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The Observer families' recipes for a popular Thanksgiving side dish. Photo by Loren Mayo.
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012 7 years ago

THE SWEET SPOT: Unique takes on a traditional side


In many families, it is nothing short of heresy to fix anything “different” for Thanksgiving dinner — especially when it comes to the basics, such as stuffing for the turkey or, perhaps, sweet potatoes. Either a recipe is tried, true, trustworthy and, most of all, expected … or it is not. Said another way, either the sweet potatoes have marshmallows “because that’s how my mother made them” or …

The other side of the story is to experiment just a bit, even on an occasion as sacred as Thanksgiving. And there is always the opportunity to try something new when you are “bringing a side dish” as a guest to somebody else’s holiday table. In that spirit, The Observer family is happy to share three of our sweet-potato favorites with not a marshmallow in sight. They range from a puree redolent of bourbon to a tempting coalition with coconut.

If you are inclined to reciprocate, by all means send us your favorite recipe for this toothsome tuber, and we will publish on our website.

Email to [email protected].

Candied Sweet Potatoes with Walnuts
Yield: 6 servings
Start to finish: 1 hour, 45 minutes (includes potato baking time)

4 large sweet potatoes (3 1/2 to 4 pounds), baked,
peeled and cut into 1/3-inch thick slices
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup Curacao or other orange-flavored liqueur
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons water

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Scrub potatoes well and prick all over with a fork. Line a jelly roll pan or other baking tray with foil. (Sweet potatoes weep when cooked; this saves clean-up and does not alter the taste or texture.)

Bake at 375 degrees until tender. Time will vary from 45 to 60 minutes or more, depending on size of potato.
Butter a shallow baking dish (one shown is 7 inches in diameter by 2.5 inches high). Arrange sweet potato slices in layers and scatter walnut pieces over each layer.

Combine brown sugar, orange juice, liqueur and butter in a small saucepan over moderate heat. Bring to a gentle simmer. Cook briefly to dissolve sugar then thicken with the cornstarch-and-water mixture, cooking until the sauce is thick and shiny.

Pour sauce over potatoes and walnuts and bake 30 minutes or longer if desired.

Cook’s notes: This recipe is delicious without nuts, as well. To save time, you can make this dish with canned sweet potatoes, if desired. For whatever reason, the canned product is typically labeled “yams” (with “sweet potatoes” underneath).

(Recipe from Lois Scheyer, Longboat Observer Energetic Traveler) 

Savory Sweet Potato Puree with Buttered Pecans
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
Start to finish: About two hours (includes potato baking time)

6 pounds sweet potatoes (about six large)
3 tablespoons bourbon
1/2 cup (eight tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups pecan halves
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons packed dark-brown sugar

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Bake potatoes as listed in Candied Sweet Potatoes with Walnuts recipe.

As soon as you can handle them, peel, cut into large chunks and transfer half the potatoes to a food processor. Add bourbon and six tablespoons butter and puree until smooth. Transfer puree to a large bowl, puree remaining potatoes and add to bowl, stirring to combine completely. Season with pepper and salt it desired. Purée may be made two days ahead and chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature before proceeding.

Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Spread pecans in a single layer in a shallow baking pan and bake about 10 minutes until fragrant. Toss hot pecans with remaining two tablespoons butter and salt. Nuts can be prepped a couple of days ahead and held at room temperature.

Butter a two-quart gratin dish or other casserole large enough to hold the puree (one shown is 8.5-inch diameter by 3.5 inches deep).

Arrange pecans on top of purée and sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake purée in upper third of 325-degree oven until heated through and pecans are slightly browned, about 30 minutes.

Cook’s notes: It is a good idea to prepare a few extra pecans, so you can select the prettiest ones to decorate the casserole — and have a few to eat. They are irresistible. This dish travels and reheats well.

(Recipe from Molly Schechter, Observer food editor, adapted from Gourmet, November 1997)

Sweet Potato Casserole for a Crowd
Yield: 12 to 16 servings
Start to finish: About one hour

3 large (28 ounce) cans of yams, drained
4 eggs
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/3 cups shredded coconut, sweetened
2 15-ounce cans Mandarin oranges

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Combine first six ingredients in bowl of electric mixer and beat until light and fluffy. Put in greased 9-inch-by-13-inch-by-2-inch baking dish and bake 35 minutes.

Remove from oven, sprinkle coconut and oranges around edges of top. Bake for 15 minutes longer.

Cook’s notes: Can be prepared in advance. You may not need to use all three cans of yams; start with two and see what the texture is like after whipping with the other ingredients. Then add more if needed. Mixture should be light and fluffy.

(Recipe by Lisa Walsh, Observer publisher/executive editor)

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