I never really liked sweet potatoes.
Perhaps it's because they weren't a part of our normal vegetable arsenal, green beans, canned, green peas, canned, corn, canned, black-eyed peas, canned. Occasionally, fresh cauliflower, boiled, fresh squash, boiled, frozen broccoli, boiled. And boiled some more. Oh, we had regular potatoes, sometimes boiled, but no orange stuff, please.
In fact it wasn't until I found them hidden under a heavenly blanket of toasted marshmallows that I'd even tried them. And I really liked them that way. So as a young home cook, 'candied yams' became my oft-requested holiday specialty, and that was that. Canned yams, of course. With apricots and pecans and brown sugar and butter, lots of brown sugar and butter. Who wouldn't like candied anything?
One year, I decided to 'take a walk on the wild side'. I picked up fresh sweet potatoes! And I used them in my 'candied yams'. And I swooned! And none of the family was the wiser. Except they thought the candied yams that year (which were now candied sweet potatoes, but why rock the boat?) were especially good. Something different about them. Couldn't put their fingers on it.
Buoyed by the success of fresh sweet potatoes in my dish, I stepped out and began to really cut loose with the sweet potatoes. I had them all kinds of ways. Despite their famed nutritious value (because my twenty something-self didn't really see the value in nutritious value, yet.), I learned to love them. In fact, I even enjoyed them...naked! The sweet potatoes. Not me.
Well, twenty some odd years later, I still love sweet potatoes. And I've come to appreciate their nutritional value. And nutritional value in general. I'm eating less 'candied', and I haven't seen a blanket of toasted marshmallows in some years. We're finding lower sugar, lower fat versions of our former standbys. (Oh, we still splurge occasionally. We'll visit the rich and wonderful Sweet Potato Gratin one day.) This rendition, healthy AND wonderful, is a particular favorite.
orange maple & five-spice twice-baked sweet potatoes
For 8 servings, wash and scrub 4 medium to large sweet potatoes, roughly of the same shape and size. Lightly coat skins with a smidgen of toasted sesame oil (or herb-infused oil, or even a neutral flavored cooking oil of your choice). Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 30-40 minutes, or until skin begins to pucker and flesh yields under the 'poke' test. Remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle.
Slice potatoes in half lengthwise, scoop softened flesh into a bowl, reserving 1/4" flesh to help potatoes retain the shape of a 'boat'. Return skins to baking dish, lined up for filling. Combine flesh with the zest and juice of two large oranges, 3 tablespoons of maple syrup (or more, to taste), 2 teaspoons five-spice powder (see note, below), 2 tablespoons of butter (or vegan buttery spread, or even a bit of olive oil, for my vegan friends) and a pinch or two of cayenne pepper. Refill potato 'boats', heaping potatoes in a mound, and top with sliced almonds, and a sprinkling of brown sugar. Return to oven to roast until heated through, almonds begin to brown, and sugar caramelizes. If you find that the topping is browning before potatoes seem sufficiently heated, just tent aluminum foil over the dish and continue to heat until warmed through.
Sit back and enjoy watching even the finickiest of eaters dig in. And grab one before they're all gone!
If you're lucky enough to have leftovers, this makes a delicious one-dish lunch when topped with a little goat cheese, and popped under the broiler.
Five-spice powder is a seasoning used in Asian cooking which can be found in most spice aisles, or Ethnic foods aisle in standard grocery stores. You can even make it yourself, my Do-It-Myself friends.
What's the difference between yams and sweet potatoes? This Library of Congress Fun Science Facts site has everything you ever wanted to know about yams and sweet potatoes.
Have a fantastic weekend!