I can still remember that moment like it was yesterday. It was Thanksgiving Day, and I was 8 years old, ready to tackle the feast laid out in front of me. I loved everything about Thanksgiving; the smells, the time spent with family, and especially the food.
The women in the family had been busy in the kitchen all afternoon, crafting their signature Thanksgiving dishes. Turkey and gravy, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes -- we had all the makings of a classic holiday dinner. But this year, there was something new on the table, and it was a strange orangish-yellow color that I wanted absolutely nothing to do with. They told me it was just like regular mashed potatoes, but with a slightly different flavor. I passed on this weird-looking dish, despite my family trying to persuade me to try something new. Trust me, trying to get 8-year old Mallory to expand her food horizons was no easy task. I decided to stick with what I knew best: classic delicious, buttery mashed potatoes.
Time went on and I wasn’t paying much attention to my plate, as I was busy socializing with my family. I was seated next to my jokester Uncle Gary. Ask anyone in my family and they will tell you it’s never a dull time when he’s around. I distractedly scooped up some potatoes from my plate, and the foreign flavor hit me -- whatever I had just put in my mouth was definitely not regular mashed potatoes. I heard my uncle snickering beside me, as he exclaimed, “How do you like those sweet potatoes, Mal??” Everyone erupted in laughter as I was forced to finish these weird, orange potatoes that Uncle Gary so inconspicuously placed on my plate. I forgot about it quickly after dinner when he took me outside to play. Despite his sweet potato shenanigans, he’s a pretty great uncle!
My mom and I were just reminiscing about this memory the other day, and about how so much has changed since then. Sweet potatoes are now one of my favorites -- you don’t have to sneak them on my plate anymore! I had recently tested some sweet potato recipes here in the Test Kitchen, so I recommended that we make Sweet Potatoes With Sugared Pecans for our Thanksgiving feast this year.
Based on where you live, you may see darker-skinned, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes labeled as yams. True yams are starchy and white-fleshed, and although similar to sweet potato, the colors are different. Here is a picture of a yam versus a sweet potato so you can see the difference. Whether you call it a sweet potato or yam, I will be using the orange variety in this recipe.
Sweet potatoes have such a vibrant, beautiful color, don’t they? When selecting sweet potatoes, look for small or medium-sized potatoes, which are sweeter and creamier than large, starchy ones. Store them in a cool, dry place just like you would store regular potatoes. They’ll keep for up to 2 weeks, but after that may start to spoil because of their higher sugar content.
Wash the sweet potatoes, and then cut up the potatoes into about 2-inch pieces.
Time to cook the potatoes! Place your chopped potatoes in a pot and add enough water to cover them.
Bring the water to a boil.
After the water comes to a boil, turn it down to medium-high heat and cook the potatoes until they are tender. I like to check them periodically with a table fork to see how close they are to being done. It took about 30 minutes of cooking for these potatoes to become tender.
When the potatoes are done, drain them and peel off the skin. Be careful- they might still be a little warm from cooking. A spoon can help loosen the skin…
…and then you should be able to just peel it! I was surprised at how easily the skin came off.
Heat your oven up 375°F so it can preheat while you’re making the potatoes. Put your potatoes in a large bowl, and add the butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt and pepper.
Beat them at medium speed until they’ve reached a creamy consistency, similar to what you would do for mashed potatoes. Let me tell you, it smells SO good when you get all these ingredients blended together- it smells like Thanksgiving to me!
Next, spoon this mixture into a lightly greased casserole dish and smooth the top slightly. At this point, you could cover the casserole dish and store it in the refrigerator overnight or until you want to serve it. When mealtime rolls around, just follow the directions below! This works perfect if you want to prepare the dish ahead of time to cut down on prep time the day of your holiday celebration.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the potatoes are heated through.
Meanwhile, as your potatoes are cooking and making your kitchen smell delicious, start making the pecan topping. This, in my opinion, is one of the best parts of this recipe. The sugary, crunchy pecans really complement the sweet, creamy potatoes. Melt the butter in a small skillet until it starts to sizzle. Throw in the pecans and sugar.
Cook over medium-low heat, and make sure to stir them constantly so they don’t burn. They’ll turn a pretty, golden color and the sugar will start to caramelize.
Once the pecans are done, set them aside.
Now that the potatoes are done baking, transfer them to a nice serving bowl. Time to make them even prettier than they already are! Sprinkle the delicious sugary pecans and green onions over the top. This combo may seem strange at first, but the crunchiness of the pecans and sharp flavor of the onions complement the sweet, silky potatoes very well.
Now if that isn’t one of the prettiest side dish to serve at a Thanksgiving meal, I don’t know what is. And it’s so simple to make!
Try expanding your side dish horizons this Thanksgiving and make Sweet Potatoes With Sugared Pecans for your holiday get-together. I know Uncle Gary will be excited to see them on our table. Let me know how they turn out for you by leaving a comment here, or rate and review the recipe.
What can you do with all of that left-over Thanksgiving turkey? Come back in a few days and Amanda will show you!
Mallory is a consultant for the Test Kitchens at Land O'Lakes and writes for our Recipe Buzz® Blog.