I yam a sweet potato

by Mary Tutwiler

While pumpkin may be the chosen member of the Cucurbitaceae family for pies and other noshes at Thanksgiving, here in south Louisiana we favor a Convolvulaceae member for our dishes. That would be the sweet potato, cousin to the morning glory. Yams, native to Africa and Asia are from another family entirely, the Dioscoreaceae.

While Opelousas celebrates the Yambilee every October (since 1946), what the French settlers, who established the first settlement at Opelousas in 1760 found was the native population of the Attakapas, Alabama, Choctaw, and Opelousas tribes eating sweet potatoes.

Three hundred and fifty years later, another native of Opelousas, Paul Prudhomme, was crowned king of the Yambilee and offers these two sweet potato recipes for some unusual twists on the Thanksgiving spread.

Roasted Sweet Potato Bisque
Makes 10 Cups, enough for 10 appetizer servings or 5 main-course servings.

This rich bisque, brimming with a great variety of colors, textures and flavors, is sure to be good for whatever ails you! If you use vegetable stock, it's totally vegetarian, yet is hearty and completely satisfying.

Seasoning Mix:
2½ teaspoons salt
1½ teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon dried dill weed
1 teaspoon ground dried Anaheim chile peppers
¾ teaspoon onion powder
¾ teaspoon black pepper
¾ teaspoon ground sage (or rubbed sage)
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon white pepper

4 sweet potatoes (about 2 pounds), roasted and peeled
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon finely chopped roasted fresh garlic
6 to 6½ cups chicken stock or vegetable stock, in all
1 cup onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups green cabbage, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups parsnips, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
4 cups Swiss chard (or any leafy green, such as collard greens or spinach), stems removed and torn into 1-inch pieces
6 tablespoons finely chopped jalapeño peppers

Combine the seasoning mix ingredients in a small bowl.
Purée the sweet potatoes in a food processor until smooth.
Place the butter in a 5 quart pot over high heat. As soon as the butter sizzles, about 2 minutes, add the sweet potato purée, the garlic, and 2 tablespoons of the seasoning mix. Cook, stirring frequently, for 8 minutes. The mixture has a very rich sweet potato taste with hints of roasted flavor. As the spices develop, note the pumpkin pie like flavor that finishes the taste.

Add 4 cups of the stock and continue to cook, stirring frequently and scraping the pot bottom to avoid sticking, until the mixture thickens, about 6 minutes. Add 2 cups of stock and continue to cook, stirring and scraping frequently, until the mixture is thick and bubbling like volcanoes, about 8 minutes. Add the onion, cabbage, parsnips, chard, and jalapeños. Stir and scrape the bottom well, then reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer, stirring and scraping every few minutes, until the parsnips are cooked through, about 20 minutes. Add the remaining ½ cup of stock if necessary to obtain the consistency of white chowder. Remove from the heat and serve immediately.

Stilton Cheese and Sweet Potato Pudding
serves 6

It's important to buy a really good quality Stilton cheese, one that's not cloudy. Generally, the more blue there is in it, the better it is. I think the taste of Stilton works great with sweet potatoes. People asked how I came up with the combination, especially for a dessert. It started when I was enjoying some really wonderful Stilton cheese. Out of the blue the taste of sweet potatoes intruded and it occurred to me that they might go together. Sure enough when I tried it, it was wonderful. It's different, but I think one of the great things about cooking is coming up with new taste sensations. By the way, the cheese will crumble easily if it's cold-don't remove it from the refrigerator until you're ready to use it.

8 medium-size to small sweet potatoes, about 3 pounds total, scrubbed
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 (8-ounce) container unflavored low-fat yogurt
3 large eggs
5 ounces Stilton cheese, crumbled

Preheat the oven to 350°.
Bake the potatoes until they are soft inside, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. As soon as they are cool enough to handle, peel the potatoes-you should have about 3 cups-and place them in an electric mixer with a whip attachment, along with the salt and brown sugar. Whip the potatoes at medium speed and when the mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes, add the melted butter. Continue to whip until the butter is incorporated, then add the yogurt and the eggs. Beat at high speed until the color lightens and the mixture becomes light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

Pour the potato mixture to a 9-inch by 13-inch casserole dish or baking pan, or to 6 individual ramekins, then shove bits of the Stilton cheese into the mix at random places. Place the pan or dishes in another pan large enough to hold them. Pour enough water into the larger pan to come about 2/3 the way up the sides of the casserole dish or ramekins, and bake until the cheese bits are melted and the top is just beginning to brown, about 45 minutes. Serve hot or let cool to room temperature, but don't serve it cold. If you refrigerate the pudding, warm it slightly before serving.