Recently, I interviewed Eve Priester, president of the Starkville District United Methodist Women. We talked about the organization, what it does and what it plans to do. Priester is passionate about eliminating hunger in the state of Mississippi, so naturally, we talked a bit about food.
During the discussion, I remembered spending time as a teen in North Carolina. I was active in our church’s youth group. Several times a year, we’d load into a van and head out into the middle of nowhere. We’d unload near a farm and spend a few hours gleaning — gathering leftover food that wasn’t harvested. Most of it was perfectly fine to eat, but not suitable for a grocery store display.
I remember the sweet potato gleanings the most. North Carolina leads the country in sweet potato production, producing 45 percent of the national supply on 46,000 acres of farmland. The state has groups and nonprofits that loudly promote the vegetable at food industry conventions, farmers markets and elsewhere.
Mississippi is second in production, producing 20 percent of the national supply.
I’ll admit, until recently, I disliked sweet potatoes. I associated it with that sugar-laden, marshmallow-covered casserole that is so very popular during the holiday season. I’m a big dessert fan, but adding that dish to my meal was a bit too much sugar.
During my talk with Priester, she noted how the sweet potato was a versatile food. It can be used for all kinds of dishes, sweet potato biscuits, breads, roasted and served as French fries.
My first sweet potato experiment since childhood was a semi-sweet dish that had a hint of honey and cinnamon. My husband, who usually hates sweet dishes and hence sweet potatoes, loved it and asked that it be part of our regular holiday meal planning.
Sweet potatoes last the longest when stored in a cool, dark place, up to six months. The DIY Network suggests storing them in brown paper bags or wrapped in newspaper. The North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission urges people to avoid storing them in the refrigerator, as it will produce a hard center and unpleasant taste.
ROASTED SWEET POTATOES WITH HONEY AND CINNAMON
4 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling potatoes after cooked
1/4 cup honey
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
■ Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
■ In a bowl, coat sweet potatoes with the oil, honey, cinnamon, salt and pepper.
■ Lay sweet potatoes out in a single layer on a roasting tray. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes in the oven or until tender.
■ Take sweet potatoes out of the oven and drizzle with more extra-virgin olive oil.
SWEET POTATO BISCUITS
2 ½ cups Original Bisquick™ mix
1/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 cup mashed cooked sweet potato
½ cup milk
■ Heat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Stir all ingredients until soft dough forms.
■ Place dough on a smooth surface sprinkled with Bisquick mix; roll in Bisquick mix to coat. Shape into a ball and knead 3 or 4 times. Roll until dough is 1/2 inch thick. Cut with 2 1/2-inch round cutter dipped in Bisquick mix. Place with edges touching on an ungreased cookie sheet.
■ Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.
SWEET POTATO SALAD WITH BACON VINAIGRETTE
4 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 small red onion, cut into thin wedges
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ teaspoons salt
4 slices thick-sliced bacon
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
¾ cup pecan pieces, toasted
½ cup golden raisins
■ Heat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly spray two roasting pans with cooking spray. Toss sweet potatoes, onion, 2 tablespoons of the oil and 3/4 teaspoon of the salt in a large bowl. Arrange vegetables in a single layer in pans.
■ Roast for 25 minutes. Remove onion from pans; set aside. Stir sweet potatoes. Roast 10 minutes longer or until browned.
■ Meanwhile, in a 10-inch nonstick skillet, cook bacon over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes or until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Crumble bacon; set aside. Reserve 2 tablespoons of drippings in the skillet. Add remaining 1/4 cup oil, remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt, the vinegar, mustard and pepper to drippings. Stir well.
■ Transfer vinaigrette to a large bowl. Add roasted sweet potatoes, onion, bacon, pecans and raisins. Toss gently to coat.