How to make sweet potatoes look as good as they taste

November 15, 1998|By ROB KASPER

SWEET POTATOES are not easy on the eye. Their long, dark shapes and odd bumps make it difficult for them to win friends easily and influence palates.

But like a lot of things in life, once you get beyond first

impressions, sweet potatoes have a lot to offer. They may be bug-ugly on the outside, but in the right hands they can deliver sweet satisfaction.

They are a difficult sell, especially to kids. The other night, for instance, when my wife served up a plate of sweet-potato french fries to our two kids, they turned up their Yankee noses. I say "Yankee" noses because even though my kids were born in Baltimore, they don't like sweet potatoes, a food that any true Southerner devours. I know most historians seem to regard Baltimore as a city with more Southern than Northern leanings. Overall, I bow to their judgments, but there is the sweet-potato exception.

At the dinner table the other night, for instance, I had my two Baltimore-born sons, guys who eat most anything, especially in the hour before supper. Moreover, they are in their teen-age years, when french-fry consumption peaks.

Nonetheless, the guys wouldn't touch the sweet-potato fries. I took a couple of bites and had to admit that they were not terrifically appealing. But I kept eating, in part, because I was hungry. I also kept eating because I thought that the kids might want to imitate their father and grab a handful of fries. I was quickly reminded by my sons that the last person in the world they wanted to imitate was their father, the fogey. So I started scheming about ways I could win my kids to the legions of sweet-potato lovers.

I thought of an old standby dish, glazed sweet potatoes. These are sweet potatoes that have been sliced into chunks, then doused with butter, maple syrup and apple cider, and baked in a 300-degree oven for about 30 minutes. This dish has a sweet flavor, a little too sugary for some. Moreover, the texture and color of this dish are usually too lumpy for neophytes. The untested sweet-potato types seem to think anything that gnarly and that orange couldn't taste good. They are wrong, of course. But rather than pointing out errors in logic, I wanted to get my kids to spoon down some sweet potatoes. So glazed was not an option.

Then I found a recipe for "sweet potato mash." It came from "Fall Harvest," the first volume in a series of four cookbooks published by Cumberland House in Nashville, Tenn., that embrace seasonal foods of the South.

The dish solved the texture problem by calling for the sweet potatoes to be peeled and diced. To mute the bright orange glow, this one added some diced apples. Everything was covered with maple syrup and butter. But the teeth-tingling sweetness was kept in check by adding chopped onion to the mix.

So I plan to put four diced and peeled sweet potatoes, two diced apples, half of a chopped onion and half a cup of maple syrup into a greased baking dish. Then I will put 4 tablespoons of butter, cut into small pieces, on top of the mixture, cover the dish with foil and bake in a 350-degree oven for 25 minutes. Next, I will peel off the foil and let the mixture cook for another 20 %J minutes or so, uncovered.

When everything is soft, I will pour the mixture in a mixing bowl and start mashing. This mash won't look much like sweet potatoes. It won't be lumpy or too orange. I am betting it will bring two more eaters into the sweet-potato fold.

Pub Date: 11/15/98

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