Sweets for the Holidays

Sweet potatoes are a holiday staple, and with these tips, you can serve them homegrown.

By Matt Ernst

Photography by Brian Tietz

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Cook your sweet potatoes with the skin on and grab all of those healthful antioxidants! Fresh sweet potato sensations
Bob Perry serves a lot of sweet potatoes—not because he makes Thanksgiving dinner for a large family, but rather because he’s the director of food service and executive chef for the Kentucky Department of Parks. Perry’s mission is to offer visitors to the parks’ 21 restaurants an authentic taste of the region by serving food grown on local farms. (He developed his passion for locally grown ingredients while he was training to be a chef in the south of France.)

Roasting is Perry’s favorite way to prepare sweet potatoes. “It concentrates the sugars within the sweet potato,” he says. “I would never boil a mature, cured sweet potato.” His Mad Dog Sweet Potatoes are flavored with Kentucky bourbon and sorghum syrup.  “Sorghum is the country syrup,” he says. “Wherever I have traveled as a professional chef, I have tried to take a little bit of Kentucky with me. Bourbon and sorghum are two easy ways to do this.”

While you’re dreaming of next season’s sweet potato crop, try these simple but delicious ways to prepare and serve them this year:

Bake. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Poke each tuber with a fork and bake until tender (about one hour). Top with butter, margarine, brown sugar, cranberries, salsa, sour cream, or honey, suggests Sue Johnson-Langdon, of the North Carolina Sweetpotato Commission.

Mash. Steam, bake, or roast the sweet potatoes. Meanwhile, sauté chopped onion, garlic, medium-hot peppers, and cilantro. Add the onion mixture to the cooked sweet potatoes and mash. Use as a filling for tacos, burritos, and enchiladas.

Microwave. In a hurry? Poke one sweet potato with a fork and microwave on high for 4 to 6 minutes or until it’s tender, turning it over halfway through cooking. Research at New Zealand’s University of Auckland indicates that microwaving better preserves the skin’s healthful antioxidants. For the best flavor fast, Louisiana State University Agricultural Center dietitian Beth Reames suggests baking sweet potatoes about a half hour in a conventional oven, then finishing to taste in the microwave.

Steam. “When a recipe calls for boiled sweet potatoes, I steam or roast them,” writes Dana Jacobi in the 12 Best Foods Cookbook. “Steamed, they hold their shape, while boiling makes them taste watery and turns them to mush.” Peel and dice the tubers into 1/2-inch chunks. Steam until tender (about 5 or 6 minutes). Serve with melted butter and a dusting of nutmeg.

Roast. Preheat the oven to 500°F. Cut the sweet potatoes into wedges or cubes, toss with olive oil, and spread in a shallow roasting pan. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes. Shake the pan occasionally for even browning.

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