Sweet potatoes: an appreciation and recipe

A few sweet potatoes waiting for their aluminum foil coat.
A few sweet potatoes waiting for their aluminum foil coat.

A dish of sweet potatoes was special-occasion food in my family.

Sweet potatoes made regular annual appearances at Thanksgiving. My mother was a working, single mom, so Thanksgiving was an endeavor best tackled in stages. Mommy would buy a big bag of sweet potatoes a week before the holiday to get ahead of the crazy Kroger crowd. A few days later, she or my Uncle Bobby scrubbed the spuds, piled them precariously into the biggest pot we had, covered them with water, and let them boil for hours on the electric stovetop. The pot of potatoes bubbled away beneath the TV and the phone ringing and my family’s normal volume that was always set to “Yell.” As the house settled into the evening, as the phone rang less often and conversations grew a bit softer, Mommy or Uncle Bobby drained the sweet potatoes, peeled off the skin with a butter knife, sliced them length wise, and arranged them like shingles in a baking dish. That night, or the next day depending on how full her schedule was in those scant days before Thanksgiving, Mommy cloaked the naked potato slices in a layer of brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and nestled pats of butter between some lucky slices. The dish baked until it bubbled and the brown sugar formed a crust on the once exposed sweet potato slices. The smell alone was justification for 365 days of waiting.

I’ve since adopted sweet potatoes as a staple in my own kitchen. This inclusion has made any meal with a sweet potato a special occasion, be it a quick lunch in my cubicle or dinner with my husband.

Sweet potatoes are a superfood, a hyped-up way of saying that these root vegetables are good for you. However, this is one superfood that actually tastes damn delicious without much work (I’m looking at you, Kale). It also helps that sweet potatoes are one of the more affordable super-duper foods, especially if you buy a bag of them.

I don’t always have time for the sweet-potato bake my mom and uncle would tag team. Instead, I’ve adopted a pretty simple method from The Kitchn of baking a bunch of sweet potatoes so they’re ready to eat during the work week. It doesn’t get much easier than these few steps.

That's me, desperately taking a picture with one hand and praying that I don't drop my phone in the water.
That’s me, desperately taking a picture with one hand and praying that I don’t drop my phone in the water.
  1. Buy yourself a bag of potatoes and wash off as many as you’d like to prepare. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Poke approximately a million holes in aforementioned potatoes. This is my favorite part.
  3. Rub your wounded potatoes with olive oil. A drizzle will do.
  4. Wrap potatoes in aluminum foil. Make sure the edges are sealed, but you don’t need to press the foil down tightly around the spuds. Give them some room to breathe.
  5. Place potatoes directly on your oven rake.
  6. Let potatoes bake for at least 45 minutes or until they are tender if you gently squeeze them (through an oven mitt, of course). I’ve been known to leave a batch in the oven for an hour and some change.

After the sweet potatoes have cooled down enough for you to handle, unwrap them from the foil. My ideal sweet potato is very soft and fleshy. I’d like to think it’s because of all those holes and the olive oil massage. I like to tear the insides away from the skin with my fork and go to town without any spices or sweeteners. A well-baked sweet potatoes is rich without the butter and sweet without the sugar, a dessert-for-dinner treat from Mother Nature.

I’ve taken to the Twitter to proclaim my love for the sweet potato, and I’ve gotten some good feedback about toppings that can elevate this favorite food of mine. Goat cheese? Balsamic vinegar? I’ll give them all a try. I’ll find an occasion.

2 thoughts on “Sweet potatoes: an appreciation and recipe

  1. Loved it. This one hit home as sweet potatoes are my favorite dish during the Thanksgiving holidays. Keep them coming 🙂

  2. I have recently discovered a new found love for sweet potatoes. The other night I made a damn good Mashed Sweet Potato and I am not ashamed to admit I licked the bowl. Maybe next book club we will have to have some?

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