How Sweet It Is
Soup, turnovers and pies are easy with this versatile Louisiana staple
It’s hard to imagine Thanksgiving and Christmas without sweet potatoes on the table. They appear in a variety of guises — candied, gussied up with marshmallows, turned into soups, casseroles, breads, puddings and pies. They marry happily with holiday dressings, turkey and ham.
Sweet potatoes are native to Central and South America. Archaeological evidence found in a cave in Peru dates them from 2000 B.C.E., but domestication may have occurred as early as 8000 B.C.E. In 1492, Columbus found them in Haiti and took them to Europe, where they were an instant hit.
In Louisiana, sweet potatoes also have a long history. They were grown by Native Americans, then European settlers. Today, Louisiana is a major producer, behind North Carolina, California and Mississippi, but China is the world’s largest producer, where it’s not unusual to come across street vendors selling baked sweet potatoes.
It’s always interesting to peruse early Louisiana cookbooks for recipes from the period. “The Picayune’s Creole Cook Book,” published in 1900, has recipes for boiled, fried and baked sweet potatoes, preparations that are familiar to today’s cooks. There are also recipes for sweet potato pudding, sweet potato waffles and sweet potato pone. The most interesting one is for sweet potato fritters (Patates Douces en Beignets), a recipe I plan to try.
Worldwide there are about 400 varieties of sweet potatoes, a number that increases, as new ones are developed. The LSU AgCenter has introduced numerous sweet potato varietals, such as Orleans, Bayou Belle and Evangeline, as well as Beauregard, which has become the industry’s staple variety since its release in 1987.
In addition to the culinary appeal of sweet potatoes, they are also very nutritious. They are extremely high in beta carotene, as well as significant amounts of vitamin C and potassium and supply a variety of other vitamins and minerals, as well as soluble fiber.
The recipes this month are for a soup, turnovers, waffles and pie, all made with sweet potatoes and all suitable for the holidays. The soup is a simple and quick recipe that combines the flavor of sweet potatoes and unpeeled apples. An immersion blender that allows you to puree the soup in the pot is a great time saver, but barring that, a regular blender will do the job.
The little turnovers, fragrant with cinnamon and nutmeg, are a breeze to make when you use phyllo dough. The pancakes are perfect for a holiday morning. With syrup and bacon, they make a delicious breakfast. The sweet potato pie is unusual since the ingredients don’t include spices, but cane syrup provides both sweetness and spice, so the flavor of the sweet potato and the flavor of the cane syrup are highlighted.
Sweet Potato And Apple Soup
4 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups chicken stock or broth
2 cups water
4 small or 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced
2 unpeeled apples, cored and sliced
Cook onion in butter over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add stock, water, sweet potato and apple. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook until sweet potato is softened, about 10-15 minutes.
Puree soup, in batches, in a blender or use an immersion blender to puree soup in the cooking pot. Season to taste with salt. Makes 4-6 servings.
Sweet potatoes and apples are available year round, but this is really their time of year. Use any variety of apple you prefer, but don’t peel them. The peel adds additional flavor and contains many nutrients. If desired, you can finish the soup with a bit of cream or sour cream.
Sweet Potato Turnovers
2 medium sweet potatoes
1 large egg, beaten
½ cup light brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¹/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
20 sheets phyllo dough
½ cup melted butter
Preheat oven to 350 F and butter a baking sheet.
Peel and cube sweet potatoes. Cover with water in a small pot and boil until a knife easily pierces them, about 10 minutes. Drain in colander and rinse under cold water. Cool before proceeding.
Transfer potatoes to a mixing bowl and use an electric mixer to mash them. Measure 1½ cups of mashed sweet potatoes. Set aside remainder. Return sweet potatoes to bowl, add egg, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and lemon zest. Mix until smooth.
Brush a sheet of phyllo dough with butter and place 2 tablespoons of sweet potato filling about 2 inches from one short end of the dough. Fold the short end over the filling, then fold the long sides over filling. Roll dough and filling toward the other short until you have a cylinder. Place the turnover on the buttered baking sheet. Repeat with remainder of phyllo and filling. Brush tops of the turnovers with butter and bake in preheated oven until browned and crispy, about 15 minutes. Remove turnovers to a rack to cool. Makes 20 turnovers.
Sweet Potato Pie
2 cups baked, peeled, and mashed sweet potatoes
¹/3 cup heavy cream
½ cup cane syrup
2 pinches salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 unbaked pie crust (recipe follows)
whipped cream (recipe follows)
Place an inverted, heavy-duty baking sheet on a shelf in the middle of oven and preheat oven to 450 F. (The baking sheet and high temperature help produce a brown crust.)
In a mixing bowl, place mashed sweet potatoes, eggs and cream. Mix until light and fluffy. Add syrup, salt, vanilla and lemon zest and mix until thoroughly combined. Turn mixture into unbaked pie shell and smooth surface with a rubber spatula.
Place pie on inverted baking sheet and bake at 450 F for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 F and bake until pie is set in the middle, about 30 minutes. Serve with whipped cream. Serves 8.
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ pound very cold unsalted butter
3 tablespoons ice-cold water
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine flours and salt. Pulse 3 times to mix. Cut butter into 8 tablespoon-size pieces, then quarter each one. Add to bowl of food processor and pulse 2 or 3 times until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Add water and pulse just to combine. Turn dough out onto a lightly-floured surface and form into a ball. Place ball between 2 sheets of waxed paper and press into a disc about 5 inches in diameter. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour or more. Roll out dough, position in pie plate, trim and crimp edges as desired. Makes 1 pie crust.
½ pint very cold heavy cream
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Whip cream until it begins to thicken. Add sugar and extract and whip until soft peaks form. Makes about 2½ cups whipped cream.
Sweet Potato Pancakes
1½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1½ cups boiled and mashed sweet potatoes
1 cup buttermilk
4 tablespoons melted butter
4 eggs, lightly beaten
In a mixing bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix together sweet potatoes, buttermilk, butter, and eggs. Add sweet potato mixture to dry ingredients and whisk to combine. Cook on a hot, lightly greased griddle until small bubbles form on top. Turn and cook until browned. Serves 4.