I’m all for tradition—Thanksgiving, after all, is my all-time favorite holiday and also happens to be the most traditional meal most Americans enjoy together—but for me, some of the meal traditions are tired. So I’m here to shake things up in the flavor department, starting with these sweet potatoes.
For many years, I made a sweet potato casserole that had brown sugar and eggs and cream and buttery layers of pecan crumble and everyone loved it. But it was so sweet that one year when I took it to a potluck, the organizer peeked under the cover and put it on the dessert table. True story. And no wonder, with 2/3 cup sugar in the sweet potato mixture and 3/4 cup sugar in the topping. In an 8-serving side dish?! Let’s not even discuss the amount of butter because it’s clogging my arteries just thinking about it.
Still, I made this over-the-top dish year after year after year because the people I was feeding at the time expected it. “Tradition,” and all that jazz. After some time, I got bored and started zhuzhing it up with a splash of booze, mainly to amuse myself. I incorporated a shot of Grand Marnier at first, because orange is a natural pairing with sweet potato. And then I tried it with bourbon because, well, bourbon. As you can imagine, neither did much to tamp down the cloying richness of that dish, which has since been banished to the darkest depths of my recipe box.
Yes, it is tradition to indulge on Thanksgiving, but what did fiber-rich, perfectly nutritious sweet potatoes ever do to deserve being drowned in a sea of saturated fat and then crusted up with so much sugar?
In recent years— and especially since the launch of Comfort du Jour— I have enjoyed twisting up the classics and traditional foods, and I’m thrilled to be married to a man who enjoys the variations as much as I do. For last year’s table, I presented these sticky sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving, and they were a hit! Yes, there is some brown sugar in the recipe, but a far cry from the amount in my old standard. And this one has zero saturated fat from butter, milk, eggs or cream.
These beauties are spiced up with flavors that remind me of Jamaica—bold and balanced with sweet, spicy, savory and herbal notes—a combination I loved when I visited the island many years ago. The flavors play up the natural goodness of sweet potato without overwhelming. I created a blend of brown sugar (only 1/3 cup for this 8-serving batch, but you could use as little as 1/4 cup), kosher salt, sweet Spanish paprika, allspice, cinnamon and freshly ground black pepper. In place of butter, extra virgin olive oil; specifically, I used a specialty oil that is whole-fruit fused with blood orange. You can find this at one of the olive oil and balsamic boutiques that have popped up everywhere.
I arranged them in a single layer and roasted them at 350° for about 30 minutes, then turned them over, sprinkled more of the spice blend and roasted 15 more minutes. By this time, the sweet potatoes were tender and essentially done, but dinner wasn’t. So I left the baking sheet on the countertop, covered loosely with foil. When I was ready to serve them, the sweet potatoes got sprinkled with the last pinches of the spice blend and went under the broiler for about one minute, just enough to heat them through and caramelize that sticky spicy coating.
The timing worked out perfectly, as they only needed a quick blast of high heat at the end, and then a quick transfer to a serving platter where I decorated them with fresh thyme leaves and sent them to the table.
These Jamaican-inspired sweet potatoes are a nice change of pace with a big punch of flavor and no guilt. Yes, I’ll take these any day—Thanksgiving or otherwise!
Jamaican-inspired Sticky Sweet Potatoes
These are no ordinary candied sweet potatoes! The island-inspired seasonings, especially the allspice, lend an unexpected flair to a Thanksgiving day standard.
- 3 pounds fresh sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch thick rounds
- 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (see recipe notes below)
- 1/4 to 1/3 cup brown sugar, depending on your sweet tooth
- 1 tsp. sweet (Spanish) paprika
- 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
- 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- About 20 twists of freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, for garnish
- Preheat oven to 375 F, with rack in center position. Line a large, rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper.
- Combine brown sugar and seasonings in a small bowl and set it aside.
- Put thick slices of sweet potato in a large bowl and drizzle olive oil over them, tossing to coat evenly. Sprinkle half of the seasoning blend over the sweet potatoes and toss again. Arrange the slices in a single layer on the parchment-lined sheet.
- Roast for 30 minutes. Remove pan from oven and carefully turn each sweet potato slice. Sprinkle half of the remaining spice mix over the second side of the sweet potatoes and roast 15 more minutes, or until potatoes are tender enough to pierce with a fork.
- Remove from oven and let the sweet potatoes rest a few minutes; tent loosely with foil and set aside as long as needed while you prepare other dinner items. If you need to refrigerate them overnight, put remaining spice mixture in a bowl and set it aside; pick up with Step 6. If you plan to finish the sweet potatoes now, skip to Step 7.
- Remove chilled sweet potatoes from refrigerator at least one hour before proceeding with the recipe.
- Remove foil and turn sweet potatoes over. Sprinkle with remaining amount of spice mixture and broil on high for 1 to 2 minutes (watch so it doesn’t burn!), to re-heat the potatoes and caramelize the sticky spice coating. Transfer sweet potatoes to a serving platter and sprinkle with thyme leaves. Serve warm.