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~Spicy Southwestern-Style Candied Sweet Potatoes~

IMG_0389April showers bring May flowers, tick-tock, and so starts the prime-time grilling season.  Across the country, home cooks and grill-masters are already concocting their secret recipes for sweet and savory wet sauces and spice-is-nice dry rubs.  Once the chicken and ribs start hitting the grill grids, neighborhoods everywhere will be filled with the ethereal smell of barbecue.  Get out the paper plates and napkins, place the side-dishes on the table, pop a beer and pull up a chair.

Speaking of side-dishes (notice how I snuck that in), while Northeastern Deutsch-Amish potato-salads, macaroni-salads and coleslaws reign undeniably supreme (as far as cold, starchy side-dishes to eat during the Summer season), if you're looking for a hot option, in place of the ever-popular Midwestern baked bean- and/or baked-corn- casserole, allow me to suggest some spicy-and-syrupy Southwestern-style candied sweet potatoes to go with your poultry or porcine.

Times change, people change, &, candied sweet potatoes aren't just for Easter ham & Thanksgiving turkey anymore.

As a kid, I never understood why our family didn't eat sweet potatoes more often.  Mom served them twice a year.  Once in the Spring, with our Easter ham, and, once in the Fall, with our Thanksgiving turkey -- at both holidays, a table full of family and friends ate them enthusiastically. Even though I didn't waste a lot of time pondering this situation as a child, when I got older, I asked my mom.  She served them twice a year because her mother served them twice a year.

0-Yucatan-peninsula-on-the-map'Tis true.  Most of us don't start thinking about sweet potatoes until the leaves turn color in the Fall, and, I was in that rut too, until I attended an outdoor wedding with a pig-roast reception several years ago. While I don't remember if the wedding was in July or August, I can't forget the big platters, heaped with chunks of perfectly-cooked porcine surrounded by creamy sweet-potatoes enrobed in a brown-sugar-, cinnamon-, clove-, cumin- and cayenne-laced sauce.  What's not to love.

The main difference between Mexican-style candied sweet potatoes & all other American-regional candied sweet potatoes is...

The catering team was a Texican-American man and a woman who hailed from the Yucatan Peninsula. The camotes enmielados, or Mexican-style candied sweet potatoes, were remarkable.  My friend and mother-of-the-bride was kind enough request the recipe details on my behalf. Interestingly, the method is not that different from making Southern-style or any type of candied sweet potatoes -- even the spices (sans the earthy cumin and spicy cayenne) are similar.

... Piloncillo (or Panela) -- Mexican brown cane-sugar cones.

IMG_0331I was pleasantly surprised to find them on the shelves of my grocery store. As it turns out, piloncillo is a brown form of Mexican sugar known for its strong molasses flavor (which comes from the sugar being left unrefined, not from adding molasses).  In Mexican cuisine, it's used in recipes that are enhanced by a strong molasses flavor (beverages, gingerbread, flan, etc.). Sometimes sold in bricks, it's mostly packed in 2-, 4- or 8-ounce cones, but, if you can't find piloncillo, dark brown sugar may be substituted. That said, recipes using piloncello are always weight specific, so substitute brown sugar accordingly.

For this Southwestern version of Mexican candied sweet potatoes:

IMG_03422 1/2-3  pounds orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, ends trimmed, cut into 1 1/2"-thick discs

1  8-ounce piloncillo cone

1  cup water

1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8  teaspoon ground cloves

1/2  teaspoon ground cumin

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, more or less, for heat, to taste

IMG_0349 IMG_0349 IMG_0349 IMG_0349 IMG_0349~Step 1.  Rinse the potatoes under cold water to remove any grit.  Trim off the woody ends, then, slice the potatoes into 1 1/2"-thick discs.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, place the water and all spices.  Add the sweet potato discs (it is ok to stack them in two layers) and the whole piloncillo cone, making certain the piloncillo cone makes contact with the water.  

IMG_0363 IMG_0363 IMG_0363 IMG_0363~Step 2.  Cover pan.  Bring water to a rapid simmer over medium- medium-high heat. Adjust (lower) heat to a gentle but steady simmer and continue to cook for 30 minutes. Remove lid. Insert the tines of a fork into the tops of one or two of the potatoes.  If the lid has remained on the pan throughout the entire cooking process, the potatoes will be be steamed-through and tender to their centers, and, the piloncillo cone will be completely dissolved.  Turn the heat off.  Using a slotted spatula, transfer the potatoes from the sugary-liquid to a shallow serving bowl.

IMG_0377 IMG_0377 IMG_0377~Step 3.  Return the sugary-liquid, which is still quite thin, to a steady simmer and cook, uncovered, 5-6 minutes, to thicken to the consistency of maple syrup.  Remove from heat and drizzle the syrup over the sweet potatoes.  Serve ASAP with grilled chicken, pork chops or blade steaks, or, pulled pork.

Serve w/grilled poultry or porcine & watch the crowd to go wild:

IMG_0395Spicy Southwestern-Style Candied Sweet Potatoes:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; 1-cup measuring container; fork; slotted spatula

IMG_0277Cook's Note:  Anything a Russet potato can do, a sweet potato can do better.  Put a baked sweet potato on a plate and I require little else. On occasion, I microwave-bake one for me, to eat in place of dinner -- a pat or three of butter, a grind or two of sea salt and peppercorn blend, tick-tock, I'm fed.  This applies to twice-baked potatoes too, and, for another year-round sweet potato treat, you should try my recipe for ~ Twice-Baked Fully-Loaded Texican Sweet Potatoes ~.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)


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