Sunday, November 26, 2006

Cranberry-Mashed Sweet Potatoes

My turkey may have been a little dry and overcooked, but the sweet potatoes were a rousing success. After making a test batch Thursday for my own little celebration, I made them again yesterday evening for Beth's Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone seemed to like them, except for the kids. But I don't know many kids who like sweet potatoes in any form, so I wasn't too disturbed by that.

I put aleppo peppers in my test version but wasn't sure about bringing something spicy to Beth's so I left them out of yesterday's batch. They were really good both ways.

I used dried cranberries (an impulse buy on Wednesday night when I stopped at Treasure Island to make sure I had everything I needed for Thursday) and orange juice to flavor the potatoes. A little cumin cuts the sweetness and gives the dish a subtle smoky flavor.

In the past I would just cook the sweet potatoes in the microwave before mashing them up with a little orange juice, salt and pepper. But roasting them really intensifies their deep rich flavor and gives them a soft, velvety texture that the microwave just can't duplicate. Baking them after they're mashed smoothes out their texture even more and allows all of the flavors to combine and fully develop.

Toasted walnuts and cacao nibs are the perfect garnish to make this a festive holiday dish.
Cranberry-Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Serves 8
4-5 medium-sized Red Garnet or Jewel sweet potatoes
2 honey tangerines
1/4 cup brandy
1/2 tsp dried aleppo or any other pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped, for garnish
1/4 cup toasted caco nibs, crushed, for garnish
1 Tbsp chopped dried cranberries, for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste

Scrub the sweet potatoes and place in a 350-degree oven. Cook until tender, 1-1/2 to 2 hours.

At least an hour before the potatoes are done, zest the tangerines then juice them. Combine the zest and the juice in a bowl with the brandy, the chili peppers and the dried cranberries. Leave at room temperature so the cranberries can rehydrate in the liquids.

When the potatoes are done, let them cool until they can be handled. Peel them and place them in a large bowl. Add the olive oil and, with a potato masher or a fork, mash the oil and potatoes together. Add the orange juice mixture, cumin, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix everything well and transfer it to an oven-proof 4-quart casserole dish. Bake 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Sprinkle the toasted walnuts, chopped cranberries, and cacao nibs on top and serve warm, or add them to each individual portion before serving.

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