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Four of my favorite ways to enjoy sweet potatoes

It’s sweet potato season! Literally. Fall (from late October to December) is peak season for the root vegetable that has become a popular substitute for its not-so-sweet potato cousins. Sweet potato fries. Hash. Gnocchi. If someone has made a dish using white, red, or yukon gold potatoes, chances are someone has also developed a recipe for the same dish using sweet potatoes.

What’s all the hype about? Well, sweet potatoes are vitamin-rich (Vitamins, A, C and E) and, as food with a relatively low glycemic index, they help manage diabetes because the sugars are released much more slowly into the bloodstream than with other carbs. They are a powerful anti-inflammatory, help regulate blood pressure, they can boost fertility and help retain memory.

Sweet potatoes catch a lot of heat and people are often underwhelmed by them. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course, but can we all acknowledge that the not-so-sweet potatoes all leave very big shoes to fill. That level starchy potato-ey goodness is a tough act to follow, so let’s cut sweet potatoes a break.

Let’s get into four of my favorite ways to enjoy sweet potatoes. Whether you’re a superfan or a bit skeptical of the wave of sweet potato popularity, I hope at least one of these uses will intrigue you enough to give it a try.

1. Roasted Sweet Potatoes (Whole, with skin)

First up is just a plain sweet potato, roasted of course. You can’t get any simpler than this, and you can switch the flavor by adding any number of seasonings, herbs, toppings, etc.

To roast sweet potatoes, you should rinse and scrub-dry the potatoes then use a fork to prick holes in the skin all around. The clean, dry skin will help it crisp up nicely in the oven. The holes help speed along the cooking process by creating ventilation holes in the potato, allowing steam to escape while it cooks.

sweet potatoes overhead raw with fork holes

Preheat the oven to 400º F. Rub olive oil all over the sweet potatoes and sprinkle with kosher or sea salt. The oil gives flavor and helps the skin crisp even more.

oiled and salted sweet potato

Prepare a baking sheet by lining with parchment paper. Line sweet potatoes up on the baking sheet side-by-side and bake for at least 45 minutes or until the potatoes are tender in the center (when pressing with a butter knife or spoon).

roasted sweet potato

Split the skin down the middle and season with butter, salt, and any other desired toppings.

There are more than a few ways to enjoy sweet potatoes roasted whole. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Add 1 Tbsp butter, 1 Tbsp brown sugar, a dash of cinnamon, and maybe some nutmeg
  • Top with 1 Tbsp butter, pecans, and honey
  • Season with cayenne pepper, brown sugar, salt, ground black pepper, to taste
  • Add ground ginger, red pepper flakes and sliced green onions

2. Sweet Potato Mash/Puree

This interpretation of the sweet potato is just as simple and even more versatile as the last. A sweet potato mash or puree can go with pretty much any protein and vegetable. And because you add a liquid component, there’s the opportunity to pack even more flavor into the mash than if you just served a baked sweet potato.

A basic sweet potato mash

Ingredients (to make about 4 servings):

  • 4-5 medium to large sweet potatoes, cleaned, dried, peeled & diced into large chunks
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup sour cream, heavy cream, whole milk, chicken broth (or some combination of these)

Instructions:

  1. Prepare the sweet potatoes and either boil the chunks in a large pot full of water or roast them on a baking sheet until fork-tender.
  2. If you chose to boil them, drain the excess water from boiled sweet potatoes then mash the potatoes until they have reached your preferred mashed potato consistency. Keep in mind that the potatoes will continue to break down as you stir in the other ingredients.
  3. Add salt, pepper, butter, and sour cream/cream/milk/broth and stir to combine.

To make the mash into a puree, just pop your cooked sweet potatoes into a food processor and add the liquid of your choice – heavy cream, milk, broth, etc. The consistency should be a little looser but be careful to not make it into a soup.

Purees are great to spread underneath the main protein and they create an interesting visual effect when plating.

A few of my favorite ways to jazz up a sweet potato mash:

  • Add ground cinnamon, ginger & nutmeg
  • Add butter, turmeric, paprika & cumin
  • Roast garlic and mash 2 or 3 cloves into your potatoes

3. Sausage, Peppers & Sweet Potato

This is one of my more recent creations. It came from a craving for Italian sausages from the state fair that was canceled this year due to COVID-19. Basically, the bun is replaced by the sweet potato, and sausage is cut into smaller rounds so it can be eaten more easily with a fork. Otherwise, the techniques needed to make this dish are as straight-forward as it gets.

First up is roasting the sweet potato. We covered that above. I like to season mine with cayenne, parsley flakes, cinnamon and a little butter.

roasted sweet potato

The other ingredients (onions, bell peppers & your choice of smoked sausage are simply sliced and sauteed until there is a nice caramelization. You don’t even really have to add salt because a lot of sausages are seasoned enough to cover the peppers & onions as well.

sweet potatoes with sausage and peppers

Here’s the full recipe (Dropbox PDF): Chicken Sausage, Peppers & Sweet Potato

4. Sweet Potato Bread Pudding

To wrap up everything, I feel like a dessert (?) is appropriate. And I’m questioning this dish’s dessert status because I would absolutely eat this for breakfast every day of my life.

Cook the sweet potatoes

The steps you take to make this bread pudding are pretty much the same as any other bread pudding with a few additional steps for the sweet potatoes. The first step is cooking the sweet potatoes. You can peel and boil them or roast them whole and scoop out the insides. I prefer roasting them. It develops a deeper flavor without introducing any additional liquid to the dish. Either way, your cooked sweet potatoes should be cut into large chunks and set aside.

Drying out the bread

Next, the bread should be torn or cut into chunks.

While we’re on the subject of bread, what kind of bread should you use? It truly doesn’t really matter because you can achieve a bread pudding with a loaf of white bread if you really wanted to.

If possible, buy something that is available by the loaf like challah, brioche, or a Pullman loaf so that you can cut it as thick as you’d like. If I’m not using a whole loaf, I really like Pepperidge Farm’s Brown Sugar Cinnamon Swirl bread. It comes already packed with all of the flavors you’re about to put into the custard.

All the best bread pudding starts from stale or dried-out bread, in my opinion, so either 1) leave the bread slices you intend to use out on the counter for a day or so or 2) bake the cubes of bread in the oven for 10-15 minutes to toast them. Once the cubes of bread are as dry as possible, place them in a casserole dish. Take the chunks of cooked sweet potatoes and spread them across the top of the bread pieces. Gently mash the potato into the bread and set this dish aside.

Whipping up a custard mix

I’m not even going to hold you, bread pudding is just glorified, baked french toast, so this custard’s ingredients are going to look familiar to anyone who has made that before. Whisk together milk and/or cream, eggs, granulated and brown sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and salt. Pour this over the bread and sweet potato mix in the casserole dish.

I’m looking forward to experimenting with more flavors in the very-near future, but if there’s a warming spice you really love – nutmeg, cardamom, cloves – sprinkle some of that in there too!

Now you wait. The bread needs time to soak up all of that goodness that was poured over it. Wait at least 30 minutes but ideally two or three hours to make sure every bite of bread pudding is filled with flavor.

Baking the bread pudding

Baking the bread pudding takes 45 to 55 minutes at 350º F, depending on your oven and preferred doneness. It’s done when the custard is set, meaning the bread is no longer jiggly in the center of the dish. Some people prefer their bread pudding a little more firm, so it is fine to continue baking it for up to an hour. If the top ever begins to brown more than you’d like, cover with aluminum foil and continue baking.

Making the sauce

The final step, making the pecan drizzle, is completely optional, but a good sauce takes any bread pudding to the next level. In a small saucepan, combine butter, heavy cream, light brown sugar, and chopped pecans. After cooking for 5-7 minutes, you’ll have a simple but delicious drizzle that can be poured over the entire bread pudding and/or each serving.

Pecans, butter & brown sugar for sauce – apple juice used for another recipe

Storage & reheating

This dish lasts in the fridge for four or five days, just cover it with foil. If you’d like to re-warm the entire dish or an individual serving, make sure to sprinkle a little water across the top. This will help restore the moisture and get the texture as close to fresh-baked as possible. The preferred method is to warm it in the oven (5-10 minutes at 350º F), but I understand not wanting to wait for all that deliciousness so feel free to microwave individual servings for 15-20 seconds.

Here’s the full recipe (Dropbox PDF): Sweet Potato Bread Pudding


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