'Tis the season for celebrating with food! Shorter days draw us in earlier, family time brings us together around the table, traditions remind us where we came from. Depending on your family and the depth of their attachment to your particular traditions, you may have the menu set in stone already for the upcoming holidays. But if you haven't yet, I've got some ideas for you. Over the next nine days leading up to Thanksgiving, I want to share with you some tasty recipes from the past and present that dress up the delicious harvest available here in our region of the country. See the sidebar for location and operating times of our wonderful local farmers markets, or check out the Local Harvest website for a source for local food near you. If you get a chance, you might stop and give thanks to the folks who feed us so well from their family farms.
THE MIGHTY SWEET POTATO:
Where to begin? I've written before about the virtues of these humble tubers which will grow like crazy here in North Central Florida without even planting them. Just drop a piece of sweet potato in or near fertile soil and you will have the lovely vine (related to a morning glory) springing up each spring and the goodness of its subterrannean tubers all summer and fall. And they are, by the way, not yams - regardless of color (some people call the orange fleshed ones sweet potatoes, and the pinker fleshed ones yams) For that matter, the canned "candied yams" found on grocery store shelves and your grandmother's table are actually sweet potatoes too. The true yam has brown to black bark-like skin, and can grow up to seven feet long. Now there's a Thanksgiving feast for you. Unless you bought it in a Caribbean food market, chances are what you've got on hand is a sweet potato.
I thought I didn't like them when I was a child. One side of my family's recipe of choice - served only at Thanksgiving and Christmas - involved opening a can of "candied yams" into a casserole dish, covering it with marshmallows and baking till the potatoes were hot and the marshmallows were melted and brown. I did like the marshmallows. The other side of the family uses an older southern recipe that, according to most of them, is to die for - and could literally kill you it is so full of fat and sugar. Everyone in my family LOVES this - except me. I do appreciate its use of fresh sweet potatoes and our local nut, the pecan, though. The recipe below for the stout of heart (literally) traditionalist among you. Indulge at your own risk.
Me, I like savory sweet potatoes, preferably cut in wedges, roasted in olive oil on a baking sheet at 450 and served with aioli. For something a little fancier, I like this recipe for warm sweet potato salad a lot. Served on a bed of local lettuce leaves, it is quite festive. And delicious.
Sweet Potato Salad - 8 servings
8 large sweet potatoes, cut into 1/4 inch cubes.
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup Dijon mustard
¼ cup honey
1 cups vegetable oil
1 cup diced celery (optional)
2 cups diced red or green bell pepper
Salt and black pepper to taste
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
4 scallions thinly sliced or a bunch of garlic chives, cut
½ cup ricotta cheese
Steam sweet potato cubes for 6-8 minutes until just tender. Take care not to overcook them. While the potatoes steam, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, and honey in small bowl. Slowly add oil in thin stream, whisking till dressing emulsifies. Place diced celery and red pepper in serving bowl. Add steamed potatoes and dressing. Stir gently, add salt and pepper to taste, set aside for a few minutes. When the salad has cooled a little, toss with parsley and scallions (or chives). Serve on salad greens, topped with dollop of ricotta if you like.
Great Aunt Foy Mae's Sweet Potato Casserole
3 cups mashed sweet potatoes
1 cup sugar
½ tsp. salt
2 eggs, beaten
½ stick butter
½ cup milk
½ tsp. vanilla
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup white flour
1 cup chopped pecans
½ cup butter
Combine first seven ingredients in large casserole dish. Combine topping ingredients and put on top of casserole. Bake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees.
Inspiration: "One of the powerful things about the food issue is that people feel empowered by it. There are so many areas of our life where we feel powerless to change things, but your eating issues are really primal. You decide every day what you're going to put in your body -- and what you refuse to put in your body. That's politics at its most basic." - Michael Pollan