I feel personally obligated to make sweet potatoes every time our family gathers for a major holiday in the fall and winter. When Ed’s Aunt Blanche, with her Phyllis Diller hair-do and signature purple sweat suit, used to dominate our table-talk with her raucous jokes and joyous laughter, no meal between Rosh Hashanah and Passover was complete unless it included her favorite side-dish. Now, Aunt Blanche is still with us at every holiday meal when I serve the sweet potatoes. We all raise a glass in her memory and feel a little closer—to her and to each other.
Most traditional recipes call for such prodigious amounts of butter and sugar (and frequently marshmallows, which are made from gelatin, a substance derived from animals’ skin and bones) that the simple goodness of the vegetable almost disappears in a glazed and gooey mass. This dish however, uses moderate amounts of sweetener and fat, and recruits the natural sweetness of orange juice and tarragon to complement the sweet potato’s delicate flavor rather than overpower it.
Since no cold-weather holiday table seems complete without some rendition of this beautiful, nutritious, vegetable, it’s good to find one that suits your style and stick to it. After countless experiments, this simple preparation, adapted from In A Vegetarian Kitchen with Nava Atlas, is the hands-down winner in my Sweet Potato Sweepstakes. Each season the instructions have been tweaked a little more until they barely resemble the original recipe.
The result is a thick, luscious, syrup that permeates the softened flesh of the tuber and enhances its innate sweetness. It is important to watch carefully as it bakes—do not allow the potatoes to dry out.
- Crushing the dried herb between your palms releases the essential oils stored in the dried leaves
- Pouring the oil in your measuring cup first lubricates the surface so the sticky maple syrup will slide right out
Makes 8 to 10 servings:
4 lbs. sweet potatoes (10 to 12 medium or 3 huge), par-boiled in a large pot of water, peeled and sliced length-wise in quarters (then halved again if very large)
¼ C. maple syrup
¼ C. brown sugar
¼ C. extra virgin olive oil OR non-hydrogenated margarine, melted
¼ C. orange juice
¼ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. fresh nutmeg
salt (½ tsp. or to taste) and cracked black pepper
1 T. dried tarragon
Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Cover potatoes with hot tap water and bring to boil.
- Lower heat and cook 25 to 30 minutes, until soft enough to pierce easily with a fork, but not falling apart. Watch carefully and check often.
- Drain, refill pot with cold water and allow potatoes to sit for a minute or so to help loosen skins. Work quickly to remove peel and any eyes. The peels will slide off easily. Cut into wedges.
- Grease a shallow 2-quart baking dish with olive oil or margarine and arrange sweet potato pieces to fit snugly—if they are soft enough they will squish together to fit.
- Crush the dried tarragon between your palms and sprinkle over the potatoes.
- Combine margarine or olive oil, syrup, juice, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt (if measuring) in a small bowl. Pour evenly over the potatoes. Season with salt and pepper.
- Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the potatoes.
- Cover with foil and bake for about 20 minutes, until bubbling. Uncover and bake an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until slightly glazed. Do not allow to dry out—add additional orange juice and/or water, if necessary, to keep moist.