I am not a fan of candied sweet potatoes or candied yams. I have been told, in no uncertain terms, that this is un-American. Not so. It’s perfectly reasonable to want my dinner separate from dessert. When my children were young, I could not bring myself to make this gloppy dish that is so beloved and expected by so many people at Thanksgiving. Fortunately, others in the family were glad to prepare plenty for everyone else. This concoction doesn’t even make sense; the way it was always served at our family gatherings was two large cans of ‘Candied Yams’, one whole box of brown sugar, a stick of margarine and as many miniature marshmallows as could be packed on top. It was then thrown in a hot oven and ignored until it was engulfed in flames. Once it was removed from the oven, the flames were extinguished and everyone dug right in. Seriously. Disgusting. The worst part was that the person who usually made this would bring the ingredients along and bake it in my oven. I did not look forward to chiseling the obsidian-like residue that had bubbled over onto the bottom of my oven the next day. I came to refer to it as “Thanksgiving – The Aftermath”.
At least one of my children shares my dislike of this root vegetable tarted up to resemble candy. Because my son was always so good about trying new foods and actually loved most vegetables, I felt it was my duty to find a way to serve sweet potatoes or yams (not totally interchangeable; more on that in a minute) that were palatable, if not tasty, without alienating the sugar lovers. My daughters, on the other hand, had absolutely no problem with that inhumane treatment of those poor, unsuspecting veggies — the girls show their Southern ancestry, whereas their brother does not.
To that end, I first began with the simplest (and my favorite) method of preparing either yams or sweet potatoes: baked, in their jackets, seasoned with butter, salt and pepper. Think baked potato. Then, I upped the ante to a preparation I was pleased to call “Yammy Pudding”; sweet potatoes/yams baked, cooled, peeled and whipped together with beaten eggs, a little whipping cream, melted butter, a little maple syrup, bit of salt and freshly grated nutmeg. Delicious. And not so sweet.
Since the kids are grown and on their own, I no longer have to face candied anything at holidays and because my husband also detests it, (I think that he thought that they always taste like that!) I have found myself wondering if there are any other ways that I can serve these tubers so that they can shine on their own merits. My latest preparation was inspired by a sauté that I found in a special recipe publication. Either yams or sweet potatoes can be used here and this method allows for a much shorter cooking time while retaining taste and texture. The nut and herb topping called ‘gremolata’, really adds interest while allowing us to get our bacon (who doesn’t like bacon?) fix. The results are fairly quick and go well with simple grilled meats. The gremolata makes enough for this dish plus extra and would go equally well with fresh green beans, a creamy casserole, etc.
1 large sweet potato or yam (about 1 pound)
3 tablespoons bacon drippings
1/2 cup bacon-pecan gremolata
Peel sweet potato or yam and cut length-wise into 1/8-inch-thick slices using either a mandolin or sharp knife. Stack four to six slices; cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-wide strips. Repeat with remaining slices.
Heat bacon drippings (you should have about three tablespoons left from the bacon in the gremolata; if not, add butter to equal three tablespoons), add potato strips and sauté six to eight minutes or until al dente. (Don’t overcook strips, as they will fall apart.) Add 1/2 cup (or more, to taste) of bacon-pecan gremolata and toss gently to coat. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.
Stir together in a small bowl 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh sage leaves (no stems); 1/3 cup finely chopped toasted pecans; 2 garlic cloves, minced and 3 strips of bacon, cooked until crisp, cooled, drained well, patted dry on paper towels and crumbled. Freeze or use any leftovers.
Lori Bowles was raised in Southern California. She is currently serving on the board of directors as the advertising and publicity chair for the Lodi Bowmen Inc. She lives in Lodi with her husband Jeff and has three children and five grandchildren. She enjoys cooking, reading about cooking and reading about cooking while eating.