We've learned the hard way that certain combinations make for livelier recipes: rich and bitter, creamy and crunchy, charred and sweet. What is unlikely to work is sweet on sweet which is, of course, the essence of sweet potato casserole.
As a result, we went looking for a flavor that would pair nicely with sweet potatoes, something deep, something savory, and something that would add another dimension.
The answer? Miso. And during a recent visit with Deborah Madison in Santa Fe, we realized that we had not thought this up first. Her new book, In My Kitchen, offers just such a recipe: griddled halved sweet potatoes drizzled with a miso sauce.
We liked the contrast the savory-salty miso—a fermented paste from Japan, often used as a base for soups and sauces—brought to the sweet potatoes and built on that.
Instead of peeling and slicing the potatoes as Madison did, we baked them in their skins. It's simple and prevents any watery mushiness that can come with boiling. Once baked, we scraped out the pulp and processed it with some typical additions—butter, cream, brown sugar.
We had our sweet, creamy base. Now for contrast and balance. We already knew we wanted miso, which has a gentle sweetness with punches of salt and umami. So we stuck with the Japanese theme and also added soy sauce and ginger. The soy helped keep the sugars in check; the spice of the ginger cut through the richness.
The mixture went into a baking dish, which means you can build a little breathing room into your holiday schedule and make this a day ahead. Just let it come to room temperature before baking.
To add texture, we extended the Japanese theme, reaching for panko, a thick and crunchy breadcrumb. We stirred them into melted butter and lightly toasted them. A bit of brown sugar, some savory sesame seeds and white pepper rounded out the flavors.
Finally, the variety of sweet potato matters. We found that beauregard sweet potatoes, the type sold at most grocery stores, worked well. Avoid garnet or ruby varieties, often labeled as yams, which are too dry.