Let’s talk about making perfect sweet potatoes. Not yams — sweet potatoes.
I would never publicly introduce myself as a “foodie,” mainly because I can’t say it with a straight face. The term foodie, or the phrase, “Well, you know I am a foodie,” always makes me laugh. When I was coming up, there was no such thing. If you loved food and liked to eat, you were just called “greedy.”
I’ve always been fine with being greedy, so the fact that Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays should surprise no one. Obviously, we never lined up to celebrate the colonizing Pilgrims. Like my greedy cousins, I lined up to celebrate the meats, the macaroni and cheese, the spicy collard greens, and most importantly, the yams.
Though the yam is an actual vegetable, it became a slang term in my house. Yam might mean money, but also so many different things. “His yam a**” was the phrase thrown out at a dude who was afraid to fight, while “She got them yams” referenced an attractive woman. The sweet potatoes were always yams, as in “Who in the hell is making the yams? Please don’t say Gloria!” Forgive me, but I would eat all of the jean jackets for sale at Old Navy before trying a teaspoon of Aunt Gloria’s yams.
“They swear by the act of chopping up the sweet potatoes into a pan and covering every single last one up with sugar until the dish looks like the cocaine buffet at a Wall Street banker holiday party.”
My family never made actual yams, though — and maybe yours didn’t, either. The difference between sweet potatoes and yams is relatively simple: Sweet potatoes are sweet and tend to be smooth with orange, red or white skin and orange, red or white flesh. Yams have brown or black skin with white or purple flesh and aren’t available as widely in the U.S. as sweet potatoes. Also, if nurtured right, yams can surpass 100 pounds, whereas a healthy sweet potato would be lucky to weigh in at 6 ounces (unless it’s shot up with hormones).
The folks in my family all have similar recipes for their sweet potato dishes: They never call for marshmallows, crumbled pecans or anything of the like. They swear by the act of chopping up the sweet potatoes into a pan, covering every single last one up with sugar until the dish looks like the cocaine buffet at a Wall Street banker holiday party, then drowning all the contents with sticky, thick King syrup.
Before you assume, the answer is yes, most of the people in my family have diabetes. Honestly, how would we not? Beyond genetics, sweet Kool-Aid, cakes, pies, collard greens and string beans, there are potatoes that live and die in pools of sugar.
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The end result makes it to your plate as a side dish that is quite soupy, almost like a sticky sweet sauce you can use on your turkey if it’s too dry. I truly loved these sweet potatoes as a kid, but the thought of eating them today makes me cringe, leaving me with a mind-numbing headache and a sore jaw.
Luckily, I didn’t give up on sweet potatoes, but I did do my homework — and I found out they can be just as delicious without ridiculous amounts of sugar and syrup.
If you don’t like your sweet potatoes mashed, you may want to stop here . . .
- 3 pounds sweet potatoes
- 1/2 cup melted butter
- 1/4 cup oat milk
- 1/2 cup cinnamon
- 1/2 cup raw agave
- 1/4 cup nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into 1-inch pieces. Place in a large pot and add just enough water to cover.
- Over high heat, bring water to a boil. Cook sweet potatoes for about 30 minutes. Drain.
- Place potatoes in a mixing bowl and mash.
- Mix in butter, oat milk, cinnamon, agave, nutmeg and extract. Serve immediately.
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