Considering that Christmas is fast approaching, I think it would be interesting to discuss a couple of essentials included in a classic holiday dinner: cranberries and sweet potatoes.
In North America it is very traditional to serve cranberries with our turkey. It is called sauce but is more like a form of jam or jelly.
Cranberries on their own are very acidic and therefore are not eaten raw, and very welcoming to the addition of sugar. These berries are a very durable fruit and thus their fall harvesting method is very unique. After being mechanically removed from their bushes, the fields are then flooded. The cranberries float to the surface before being collected.
Cranberries are available to us in the supermarkets in a variety of forms. Although they are only available to us fresh in autumn, canned prepared jellies and jams still are the most frequently purchased. When buying fresh, as with most fruit, look for ones that are plump, unblemished and bright in colour. They are also available frozen and in juice varieties
Cranberries are a natural astringent and therefore known to be good for blood circulation, complexion, digestion, and in the treatment of urinary-tract infections.
Try making a cranberry sauce from fresh cranberries this year. There are many recipes available and you will find it a very tasty and satisfying change. It is a perfect item to prepare in advance of the holiday weekend.
Sweet potatoes and yams are also another favorite this time of year.
Many are confused about the two different varieties. Sweet potatoes have orange coloured flesh, while yams are starchier, less flavourful, and have white flesh. The names are usually mismatched with each other in North America. Sweet potatoes (with orange flesh) are the more popular of the two, and therefore will be our focus.
These potatoes are completely different from the standard potato varieties we find in the supermarkets such as russets and Yukon golds. In fact, sweet potatoes are not botanically potatoes at all. They are a root vegetable plant related to a beautiful flowering vine called Morning Glory, which is commonly planted as an annual and produces trumpet like flowers in an array of colours.
Sweet potatoes are a very healthy alternative to potatoes. Despite the fact that they have just as many carbohydrates they have much higher nutritional value. They are loaded with beta carotene (recognizable from their orange colour) and are high in vitamins A and C. They have a moist, sweet texture, are low in sodium, and make an excellent source of fiber when eaten with the skin.
They are very versatile and can be prepared in just as many ways as standard potatoes. They are even excellent in some desserts due to their natural sweetness. Try something new with sweet potatoes this year – your body will thank you!
Dear Chef Dez:
I like the taste of sweet potatoes, but all I ever do is either bake them or boil/mash them. What do you recommend for something different to try?
One of my favorite accompaniments for a turkey dinner is a sweet potato soup starter. It is basically a puree that is thinned out further with milk/cream to make a soup. I flavour it with salt, white pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and a bit of brown sugar.
Other things you can do are endless: candied yams, Sheppard’s pie, grilled slices, roasted cubes, or in any application that you would normally use regular potatoes.
Chef Dez is a Chef, Writer, & Host. Visit him at www.chefdez.com