Every week, we’re unearthing Heirloom Recipes -- dishes that have made their way from one generation's kitchen to the next.
My mom was an early adopter of the organic movement. Long before it was popularized, she fed me bowls of quinoa instead of Easy Mac. Of course, being a kid in suburbia, all I wanted was to wrap every inch of a Fruit by the Foot around my thumb and suck it like a pacifier. I used to go over to my friend’s houses, sit in front of their pantries, and inhale every last ounce of cottonseed oil and high fructose corn syrup I could find before heading back to a house filled with fruit leather and puffed wheat.
But while I lamented my snack options and secretly honed my sweet tooth during play dates, when it came to mealtime, I fully embraced the clean eating habits my mother was trying to instill in me. One of the dishes that’s most indicative of her dinnertime outlook, and the one that’s been a key recurring character on my adult table, is her semi-sweet potato mash.
Though on most days, I would have happily gorged myself on marshmallows any way I could, on Thanksgiving when I heard about the sweet potato casseroles gracing my friend’s tables, they sounded down right nasty. Marshmallows? At the dinner table? On vegetables?! I guess I was my mother’s daughter after all.
The genius of my mother’s sweet potato mash is that it’s not that sweet. She uses a ratio of sweet and russet potatoes that, when combined, create a magically perfect texture that requires very little dairy (just a pat of butter) to be creamy and delicious. To amp up the savory aspects, she adds a hint of heat to the potatoes and then tops them with slowly caramelized onions. Not even a family pack of Gushers could compete with my love of sweet, thin onions cooked low and slow for hours. That’s the only type of candy I want on my dinner table.
This mash still makes its annual appearance at the Thanksgiving table. But I usually can’t wait until then. I’ve used it to woo about every man I’ve ever dated, and sometimes when I’m home alone and in need of comfort, I’ll use it to woo myself. More than a delicious taste of home, this mash reminds me why I fell in love with real, good food in the first place, and just about squashes any craving I could ever have for someone else’s childhood.
Semisweet Potato Mash with Caramelized Onions
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 large sweet vidalia or Spanish onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
Pinch cayenne pepper
Pinch freshly ground nutmeg
Sea salt & pepper