To brine or not to brine? Canned cranberry sauce or fresh? Should stuffing cook in the turkey or on the stovetop? The classic debates you’ll hear year after year at Thanksgiving time are part of what gives the holiday its flavor. So when chef and TV host Vivian Howard stopped by Milk Street Radio to share her Thanksgiving menu and explained that she always makes at least two sweet potato dishes, Christopher Kimball didn’t hold back:
“So when you say sweet potatoes, are you in the mini marshmallow camp?” he asked.
“I am most definitely not in the mini marshmallow camp,” Howard responded squarely. Where she lives in eastern North Carolina, they grow more sweet potatoes than anywhere in the world. Howard calls the area “the home of sweet potatoes” and firmly believes the root vegetable is sweet enough on its own—that it’s best balanced with savory flavors.
Here at Milk Street, we have to agree. We favor savory sweet potato preparations, too, as in our Sweet Potato and Shallot Casserole with Fennel Seed or Savory Sweet Potato Gratin.
“Lots of times, I'll cut the sweet potatoes into wedges and roast them and then make a little dressing with tahini and lemon juice and honey,” Howard said. “And then sprinkle sesame seeds on top of the sweet potatoes.”
Or, she’ll make sweet potato skins: “I’ll roast a sweet potato whole and then cut it in half, cut it into quarters and scoop most of the flesh out. And then I'll pan fry those skins and serve them kind of like croutons on an arugula salad with the tahini dressing that I mentioned.”
Still another (marshmallow-free) preparation? This year, Howard plans to repeat one of last year’s hits: sweet potato and Gouda spoon bread, or what she describes as “really more like a fallen grit soufflé.”
Here’s how she does it: “I make grits and then I fold in whatever flavorings I'm using—in this case it will be roasted sweet potato and grated Gouda cheese. So you've got that sweet and then that smoky that comes from the cheese. And then I separate eggs and whisk in the yolks, and then whip the whites and fold that into the grits, and then bake it all in a soufflé dish. It puffs up and then it falls, but it remains completely ethereal and light. It’s a great way have sweet potatoes without the marshmallows.”
Of course, Howard doesn’t stop at sweet potatoes. For more inventive Thanksgiving ideas, like creative turkey seasoning, check out her interview on Milk Street Radio.