Everyone makes Thanksgiving out to be a time of reunion, joining hands, and putting aside differences. Of course, we know better.
Yes, sometimes the stars align and the Merlot is free-flowing and no one fights over politics or the last piece of pie. But, most of the time, there’s something simmering under the surface—and that something is passive aggressive feelings about sweet potatoes.
Whether you call them sweet potatoes or yams, you won’t find a more divisive holiday side dish. Will they be marshmallow-topped? Baked individually? Eschewed entirely due to a majority of sweet potato-haters?
Look, what I’m saying is this: If Thanksgiving’s just not Thanksgiving to you without a just-so sweet potato casserole, you’d better take the dish into your own hands. Now it’s time to choose the right one.
1. What you need:
Whatever sweet potato casserole you make, you should:
- Plan for about 1/2 pound of potatoes per person (your average medium sweet potato is about 1/2 pound).
- Add some dairy (or a non-dairy substitute)—no need to measure, just enough to wet the mash and give it creaminess, about 1/2 cup per 3 or so pounds of potatoes. You can use whole milk, half-and-half, or cream. For a non-dairy option, use whatever non-dairy milk you like. I recommend coconut milk, the kind from the can. (Give it a good shake, since the coconut cream rises to the top of the can.) Coconut and sweet potatoes get along very well.
- Go really over the top and add a little something rich; the amount will depend on your preference and what kind of liquid you used. (For example, you might not want to add a full stick of butter if your liquid of choice was cream. But, you might! Do you.) Butter is classic—try 4 tablespoons per 3 pounds of potatoes and adjust accordingly per your taste. Both coconut oil or olive oil or bacon fat would be great, too.
- Cook your potatoes. Boiling (peeled and cut into chunks; start checking after 30 minutes to see if they’re tender) or baking (whole, peel on, pricked with a fork, oiled, wrapped in foil; 400° F for 45 minutes to an hour) are both great.
Okay, you’ve got some cooked, cooled sweet potatoes! Go on and mash and add your creamy component, your something rich, and salt to taste.
2. The add-ins:
- Orange zest
- A pour of maple syrup or molasses
- A scoop of brown sugar
- Minced crystallized ginger or grated fresh ginger
- Dashes of cinnamon and/or nutmeg and/or cloves
- A splash of vanilla extract
- Brown butter
- Minced fresh herbs (like rosemary, thyme, or sage) or fresh or dried chile warmed in olive oil or butter. Use a light hand.
- Mashed roasted garlic
- Booze. I mean it! My aunt Carol is famous for her bourbon sweet potatoes, which are so boozy you wonder if it’s your wine or your sweet potatoes responsible for the room’s gentle tilt.
Whatever you choose, stir it into your creamy mashed potato mixture (use more or less depending on your add-in and preference).
3. Top it off and bake:
For a classic marshmallow casserole:
Preheat the oven to 400° F while you maneuver your mashed potatoes into a greased baking or casserole dish. Smooth out the surface; then, go bananas with a bag of mini marshmallows, sprinkling them willy-nilly all over. Or opt for something a little tidier-looking by paving the surface with halved full-sized marshmallows. Or throw tradition to the wind and empty the contents of a jar of marshmallow fluff over the potatoes, using a greased spatula to spread it to the dish in artful swirls.
Bake 15 minutes or so, until very bubbly and lightly browned.
A fun, fancy-looking riff:
Trade the marshmallows for meringue! Whip up a quick meringue—this would be a good use for all the egg whites you saved from your holiday baking ventures—while you bake the potatoes in a greased dish for 10 or so minutes at 400° F. Use a piping bag (or a zip top bag with the corner cut off) to pipe little domes of meringue in rows over the potatoes, or simply dollop it on with a spoon and swirl artfully. Slide the casserole under the broiler, keeping a close eye on it. It should be puffed and golden in about 2 minutes.
For something more crumble than anything else:
Crumble-topped pie lovers, this one’s for you.
Make a simple crumble from butter, brown sugar, and flour. I follow this ratio: 2 parts flour to 1 part brown sugar to 1 part room-temperature butter. Add a shake of cinnamon, if you like. If you wanted to add some toasted pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, or sesame seeds that would be more than okay. Smush it all together gently with your fingers until you’ve got a well-mixed mess of pea- to walnut-sized clumps, then scatter them over the mashed sweet potatoes (in a greased baking dish). Bake 20 or so minutes at 400° F until golden and the crumbs are mostly firm to the touch.
For something more savory:
Don’t add any sugar to the potatoes, but do consider adding roasted garlic, herbs, brown butter, or a little chile. Put the mashed potatoes in a greased casserole dish and bake at 400° F for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, toast breadcrumbs (store-bought are just fine, but go for the unseasoned ones) in a frying pan with olive oil, garlic, and any hardy, fresh herbs (like rosemary, sage, or thyme) you like. Pull the potatoes out of the oven, top with the breadcrumbs, and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes, until fully golden and crisp.
Tell us: What's in your favorite sweet potato casserole?