It’s culinary quiz time. Category: Thanksgiving dinner. Question: Which iconic food is not a U.S. native? If you answered sweet potatoes, congratulations—your foodie status is secure. That’s right, that devoted turkey handmaiden, the flaming root you’ve mashed, baked, and, admit it, submitted to marshmallow tyranny, actually hails from Central America and today is most widely produced in—you guessed it—China. And all that yam/sweet potato business? There’s no relation between them. The former are starchy and African; the latter, sweet, smooth, and tropical New World.
Blame some of the yam confusion on color: yams share the umber skin and bright orange flesh of the conventional sweet potato. This time of year, North Carolina and Louisiana are the largest domestic producers of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, though myriad other varieties can be found at farmers’ markets. Visit Lani’s Farm at the Piermont, New York, and Larchmont markets, Alex’s Tomato Farm at the New Rochelle market, Gajeski Produce at the Tarrytown market, and Newgate Farms in Larchmont, Rye, Katonah, Tarrytown, or Ossining. Choose the soft, orange-fleshed Jewel or Beauregard for boiling and mashing, and ivory-fleshed, purple-skinned Japanese variety for roasting.
Across the world, the sweet potato’s leaves are used for vegetables, its starch for noodles, its flesh battered, fried, sautéed, baked, and boiled. Filipino-born chef Luis Caseñas, who ate its boiled leaves and brown-sugar-imbued flesh as a child, features them on his November menu at Soma 107 (107 Mamaroneck Ave, White Plains 914-682-6795). “Their sweetness is so easily combined with other flavors,” he says. In an ode to his youth, he serves sweet potatoes slow-baked, then coarsely mashed with maple syrup and minced chives, as partner to herb-marinated chicken. Then there’s his appetizer of porcini mushroom-sauced sweet-potato dumplings, and his Thanksgiving turkey side of thyme- and roasted-garlic-spiked au gratin. “Of course they’re on my Thanksgiving menu,” he says, “but there’s so much more to them than just one holiday.” Bring their bounty home, and you’ll say amen to that.
Sweet Potato Dumplings with Porcini Mushroom Sauce
Courtesy of Luis Caseñas
(serves 3 to 4 as appetizer)
4 medium sweet potatoes
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 oz maple syrup
2 Tbsp chives, minced, with more for garnish
Salt to taste
12 dumpling wrappers
1 egg, beaten
Preheat oven to 325°F. Wrap sweet potatoes and garlic cloves (see roasted garlic instructions in “For Sauce” ingredient list below) in foil and bake for about 45 minutes, until soft. When cool enough to handle, peel and mash potatoes in bowl, add butter and maple syrup, and combine. Stir in chives. Let cool 10 minutes. Place 1 tsp potato mixture in center of each dumpling wrapper and close, brushing with egg wash to seal. Steam dumplings on rack for 2 minutes.
½ cup dried porcini mushrooms, soaked for 2 minutes in warm water, drained, then finely chopped
½ cup dry white wine
1 tsp shallot, minced
1 tsp roasted garlic (trim off tops of 3 to 4 cloves, drizzle with olive oil, wrap in aluminum foil, and bake for 45 minutes)
½ cup heavy cream
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
In medium saucepan, combine mushrooms, wine, shallots, and roasted garlic (squeezed from skins). Bring to boil and cook 3-5 minutes, until reduced by two-thirds. Add cream and lemon juice, and simmer 2 minutes, or until thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Spoon sauce into bowls, place dumplings over sauce, and garnish with minced chives.