Candied Sweet Potatoes

Candied sweet potatoes and macaroni and cheese.

The sweet potato or sweetpotato (Ipomoea batatas) is a dicotyledonous plant that belongs to the bindweed or morning glory familyConvolvulaceae. Its large, starchy, sweet-tasting, tuberous roots are a root vegetable. The young leaves and shoots are sometimes eaten as greens. The sweet potato is not closely related to the common potato (Solanum tuberosum). The sweet potato, especially the orange variety, is often called a “yam” in parts of North America, but it is also entirely unrelated to true yams.

Candied sweet potatoes are a classic southern side dish, sweet potato cooked in a buttery sugar syrup, with some spices. I know the recipe looks like an exceptionally large amount of sugar, but remember that you’re making a syrup to cook the sweet potatoes in and that much of it will remain in the pot when you serve them. If you can’t bring yourself to eat something that sweet with your main meal, they are also sweet enough that they could be served as dessert. Served with my black eyed peas dinner, I felt like they weren’t even the sweetest dish on the plate. I mean they probably were actually sweeter, but the sweet potato flavor is one that naturally pairs with sweet, whereas I don’t usually expect that from tomatoes.

One thing that became clear in researching this recipe is that there is absolutely no agreement in this country about what the word “yam” means. Botanically speaking, yams are the tuber of a plant native to Africa and not related to the sweet potato. They are generally not available in North America. The word yam seems to have traveled around the world, likely with the slave trade, and been applied to whatever native tuber was used locally. In the Americas, that is the sweet potato. But, in the USA, there are two or three common types of sweet potato (orange, yellow, and maybe white), and different groups of people are convinced that one or another of them are yams and that they are different than sweet potatoes. Whatever you call them, they’re all the same species and none of them are true yams.

I personally prefer the darker orange varieties of sweet potatoes. They are certainly the sweetest so they work well for this dish.

There are two common method of cooking this dish. You can either simmer it on the stove top, or bake it. The method is more or less the same, just different heat sources, so I’ve included instructions for both, although I have only tested the stove top recipe so far.

Candied Sweet Potatoes

Serves: 12
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook 1 hour
Total: 1:20

7 large sweet potatoes
1 teaspoon salt

2 cups white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger

¾ cup butter 
1 ½ Tablespoons vanilla extract

½ teaspoon ground cloves
6 Tablespoons orange juice
4 Tablespoons water.

For baked version, preheat oven to 350.

Peel sweet potatoes and slice about ½ inch thick. Sprinkle with salt. 

Mix sugars and spices in a medium sized bowl. 

For stove top: In skillet or pot large enough to hold the sweet potatoes , melt butter over medium heat. Once it has melted add the sweet potatoes and stir to coat with butter. Pour in the sugar mixture and vanilla extract and stir to coat. Cover the pot, reduce heat to low and cook for about 30 minutes. Remove lid and gently stir to make sure all the sweet potatoes are coated with syrup. Replace lid and cook another 20-30 minutes, until tender. Allow to cool for ten minutes before serving. 

To Bake: Place sweet potatoes in a 9×13 glass baking dish. Melt butter in a small saucepan and stir in sugar mixture. Once sugar is dissolved and mixture is bubbling, remove from heat and add vanilla. Pour over sweet potatoes and stir to coat. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and baste sweet potatoes with the syrup in the pan. Return to oven and bake, uncovered, for another 25 minutes or so, until potatoes are soft. Allow to cool for ten minutes before serving. 

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