Last spring, shortly after visiting ASW Distillery's head whiskey-maker Justin Manglitz at his Franklin County farm, an email popped into my in-box.
“I planted most of my garden in sweet potato slips the other day,” Justin wrote. By fall, he predicted he’d have 800 pounds of bodacious Beauregards on hand. Perhaps, he suggested, we could develop a recipe for sweet-potato fries, “which are notoriously tricky to do well.”
All summer and into the fall, I checked in with Justin to see how his sweet potatoes were coming along.
Been a bit rainy, he said.
Quite a cool fall. Vines still green. Not there yet.
The more Justin hemmed and hawed, the more I nudged. Meanwhile, I was starting to dream about what I would do with this forthcoming bounty of sweet potatoes.
At a Global Growers benefit in September, several Decatur restaurants concocted sweet-potato dishes, none better than Rising Son's Southern sweet-potato souffle with pulled pork and Nepalese pepper-pecan crunch.
Rising Son chef Hudson Rouse told me he wanted to use produce from Global Growers, a nonprofit that empowers community farmers. When he saw the farm's weekly offerings, he noticed 60 pounds of sweet potatoes on the list. He immediately ordered 40 pounds.
Inspired by his South Georgia grandmother’s sweet-potato casserole, he concocted a layered affair of mashed sweet potatoes, topped by juicy pulled pork and a buttery pecan crumble with a hint of cinnamon. Rouse not only shared the recipe but also provided instructions on how to eat it.
“This dish is meant to be consumed with some of each ingredient in every bite,” he said. “It is also accompanied very well with collard greens or green beans.”
If you are looking for a holiday crowd-pleaser, you’ve hit the jackpot. Don’t feel like smoking a Boston butt? Order some pulled pork from your favorite barbecue joint.
When Justin gave me a sign that his taters were ripe for digging, I made haste to his farm, taking with me a batch of ready-to-fry Sweet Potato Tots, a side that had caught my eye when I read Chris Kronner's "A Burger to Believe In" (Ten Speed Press, $29.99).
Part of the joy was witnessing Justin shovel sweet potatoes fresh out of the ground (he wouldn’t let me help!), then get in the kitchen to develop his recipe. I already knew he was an excellent fry cook, having sampled his chicken tenders and French fries on my spring visit.
Understand, Justin makes ASW Distillery’s award-winning portfolio of whiskeys. Naturally, he’s got a keen eye (and mouth and sniffer) for the science of food and drink. If he can seduce caramel notes from grain mash, imagine what he can do with sweet potatoes. After a couple of french-fry runs, he decided they were best pre-baked, then crisped in hot peanut oil. Try his recipe; you’ll agree.
Of course sweet potatoes play a starring role in fall desserts, from pies and pound cakes to cookies and doughnuts.
A number of sweet treats in Jenne Claiborne's "Sweet Potato Soul" (Harmony Books, $19.99) caught my eye. Nana's Sweet Potato Pie, Sweet Potato-Tahini Cookies, Sweet Potato Sugar Cookies, No-Bake Sweet Potato Gingerbread Bars: This vegan chef knows from sweet potatoes. She even whips up a Sweet Potato Pie Smoothie.
In the end, the dessert that captured my fancy was Nik Sharma’s Sweet Potato Bebinca, which he attributes to his Indian grandmother. (What is it about grannnies and sweet potatoes?)
“Bebinca is the ultimate Goan dessert, an egg and coconut milk pudding, which can be made several different ways,” Sharma writes in his rapturously received cookbook, “Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food” (Chronicle Books, $35). Scented with nutmeg and a bit of turmeric for color, his grandmother’s “mock bebinca” strikes me as the happy marriage of flan and Southern sweet potato pie.
It’s also super-easy to assemble. You don’t even have to take out the mixer; just stir everything together in a one big bowl.
You can probably see where this is going: On my Thanksgiving table, that’s where. If I’m lucky, maybe Justin will spot me a few of his sweet potatoes.
Sweet potatoes three ways
From fries to a casserole with pulled pork and pecans to a sweet treat from India, here are three terrific recipes for fall sweet potatoes
Justin Manglitz’s Sweet Potato French Fries
As with all fried foods, temperature is everything, so use a thermometer. Make as many batches as you want, using about one large sweet potato per person.
Hudson Rouse’s Pulled Pork with Smashed Sweet Potatoes and Pecans
Rising Son chef Hudson Rouse served this dish at the Global Growers benefit at Decatur Cemetery in September. A riff on his South Georgia grandma’s sweet potato souffle, he sometimes features it on the dinner menu of his Avondale Estates restaurant.
Nik Sharma’s Sweet Potato Bebinca
This flanlike sweet is easy to make and keeps well. Jaggery is an unrefined brown sugar frequently used in India; it can be found at international supermarkets online. I used muscovado sugar.
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