Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fiery Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes were one of those foods of which I was woefully unappreciative as a child. My mother was forever trying to pack as much nutrition onto our plates as possible, and for the most part I was a pretty agreeable eater at the dinner table, but I drew the line when it came to sweet potatoes. I might not have experienced such a sense of disappointment if these golden-orange tubers had simply been presented to me as yams, but the word POTATO was misleading. It set up totally different expectations that were never met by this vegetable whose sticky consistency always reminded me of pureed bananas, which were not my favorite thing as they always got stuck in my throat.

For a kid who dearly loved a bowl of mashed russet potatoes—fluffy and dotted with butter—a substitution of sweet potatoes was not an acceptable swap, especially not at the Thanksgiving table. I felt totally gypped the year our traditional mashed russets were replaced by a sweet potato puree casserole, complete with toasted marshmallows on top. Marshmallows had a welcome place bobbing in a cup of hot chocolate, and I had no objection to them being toasted and smushed between two graham crackers and a piece of chocolate, but they really had no business trying to gussy up a vat of sweet potato puree.

Thankfully I have outgrown this childhood aversion, and years later I find myself trying to incorporate sweet potatoes into my late autumn/winter cooking repertoire on a regular basis. I love making gratins with a combination of Yukon golds, sweet potatoes, and caramelized onions. I’ll happily devour a pan of roasted sweet potatoes and other root vegetables, crisp on the outside while tender on the inside, and my Sweet Potato and Peanut Soup is a major staple in my kitchen when the weather is cold.

As of this month, I have a new favorite way to enjoy them: roasted and mashed, then blended with creamy coconut milk and fragrant Thai red curry paste which provides some welcome heat. This fiery mash is thanks to a recent New York Times article featuring several updated versions of traditional vegetable side dishes that would be happy additions to any Thanksgiving table. I didn’t want to wait until the holiday to try the recipe, and I’m pleased to report that it’s an inspired combination, one that I’ve been happily devouring all week long. I think 8-year-old Louise might have even liked it.


The original recipe makes enough for 12 servings, so I’ve adjusted the quantities for a more modest amount. I’ve also skipped the final step of topping the mash with brown sugar and butter before running it under the broiler to get a caramelized crust. (I think this is to appease those who were missing the marshmallows from a traditional sweet potato casserole!) Instead, I prefer to top my sweet potato mash with a squeeze of fresh lime juice and a scattering of chopped cilantro leaves.

3 pounds sweet potatoes, scrubbed clean
1 cup coconut milk
1 heaping tablespoon Thai red curry paste
¼ cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ teaspoon salt
A handful of cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
Lime wedges, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the whole unpeeled sweet potatoes on the prepared baking sheet and bake until soft when pierced with the tip of a knife, about 1 hour. When they have cooled enough to handle, cut them in half lengthwise and scoop out the flesh into a large mixing bowl. Mash well.

Combine the coconut milk, red curry paste and brown sugar in a small saucepan. Heat over low heat just until warmed, stirring to dissolve the curry paste and sugar into the coconut milk. Add this mixture along with the butter and salt to the potatoes. Mix in thoroughly. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro leaves and a few squeezes of lime juice, and serve warm. Serves 6 generously as a side dish.

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