How Sweet It Is! Candied Yams Are a Thanksgiving Requirement


My husband and I won’t be cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year. Instead, we're invited to the home of his brother, sister-in-law and three teen-age nephews, who live in a suburb north of the Twin Cities.

“What could we bring?” we asked. The Hashed Brussels Sprouts with Lemon Zest we served when we had Thanksgiving dinner at our house? Or the Classic Cranberry Sauce made from scratch? Or the heritage turkey we smoked in our Big Green Egg?

“No, thanks,” we were told. This year's host and hostess were looking for more of a sure-thing, a crowd-pleaser that would appeal to every guest, even the ones too young to sit at the grown-up table:  “Could you just bring that yam and marshmallow dish that the kids all love?”

Ah, yes. Candied yams. No Thanksgiving would be complete without them. There are many different versions of this classic, but the majority of them are made with canned yams, which are then mixed with butter or margarine, brown sugar or maybe maple syrup, then pressed into a casserole dish, baked, and then topped with marshmallows.

But ours are different. First, we only buy fresh yams. (I’m going to go out on a limb and say that canned vegetables will never, ever be as delicious or nutritious as fresh, so please don't buy yams in cans!) Most grocery stores carry either jewel or garnet yams; you can’t go wrong with either. (By the way, if you want to know the difference between a yam and a sweet potato – spoiler alert: there is none – read this blog post by Twin Cities’ own Zoe Francois, as in Zoe Bakes.) We just clean them, poke them a few times with a fork, bake them, cool them, peel them, and mash them into a casserole dish that has been rubbed with olive oil, which adds a hint of flavor and prevents sticking.

Then we heat the mashed yams again, pull them out of the oven, and rub a thin layer of olive oil on top of them. This provides a foundation, of sorts, for the next ingredient:, the piece de resistance, the miniature marshmallows! (Can you hear my kids screaming with excitement?) We spread an entire bag of these marshmallows on top of the yams.  (NOTE: This is the only time each year when anything containing corn syrup, modified food starch, pork-skin gelatin, something called tetrasodium pyrophosphate, plus artificial color and artificial flavor, is allowed in my kitchen! Egads!) Then, just before serving, we put the dish under the broiler – briefly, you’ve got to keep your eyes on it – until the marshmallows are toasted a golden-brown. It is now a warm and gooey side dish that can also double as dessert. 

Of course, if this recipe is too pedestrian for you foodies out there, I certainly understand. That’s why I offer these more sophisticated alternatives:

The New York Times’ Mark Bittman writes, “Skip the Marshmallows and Give Heartfelt Thanks,” and highlights several yam/sweet potato recipes, including this one: “Grated sweet potatoes combined with nuts in a dish or pan, drizzled with a mixture of butter, cream, ginger and orange.”

The World’s Healthiest Foods web site has an entire section about yams/sweet potatoes, including this recipe, which I’m sure my kids will love: “Purée cooked sweet potatoes with bananas, maple syrup and cinnamon. Top with chopped walnuts.” offers a version of candied yams that uses only top-quality ingredients, like freshly squeezed orange juice, chopped ginger root, cinnamon sticks and maple syrup.

The Weston A. Price Foundation offers a Sweet Potato Casserole that is intended to “maximize the use of real milk and cream.” The author says it is her one-year-old’s favorite dish.

Finally, The Wedge co-op in Minneapolis combines yams with parsnips and pecans for a chunky, sweet-tasting side dish that doesn’t need marshmallows to make an impression.

Do you have a favorite recipe for yams or sweet potatoes? Or a Thanksgiving memory that includes marshmallows? Share it here, by posting a comment.

This article was proudly submitted to Food Renegade's Fight Back Friday.