Monday, November 18, 2013

Sweet Potatoes with Praline Sauce

* Photos coming soon, guys. Bear with me.

Last week, my mother and our friend Debbie talked oyster dressing with the same polite fervor and thoroughness that must have characterized the Lincoln-Douglas debates. My mother tinkled the ice in a glass of ultra-weak Scotch and trumpeted her mother's beef-centric recipe, while Debbie threw garden herbs in a pot of red beans and defended her own mother's meatless version. All the while I listened and thought: conversations like this just didn't happen in Oklahoma.

It's good to be home.

When I was away at grad school, I had some beautiful Thanksgivings with friends and colleagues willing to adopt a lonely Southern orphan too poor to fly home from the Plains. I wouldn't trade those Thanksgivings; they were wonderful. But for me, there's nothing to match the beauty and comfort and deliciousness of an only-in-New-Orleans Thanksgiving, the kind that features oyster dressing, stuffed mirliton, and these sweet potatoes with praline sauce. Once you try this praline sauce, you'll swear off mini-marshmallows forever.

Praline Yams

From Recipes and Reminiscences of New Orleans Volume II


2 (16 or 17 oz.) cans yams, drained
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup pecans
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla


Arrange yams in greased baking dish. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Add cream, sugar, pecans, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Simmer and stir five minutes. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour over yams and bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Serves 6.

Fall Salad with Pear and Pomegranate Seeds

Hold onto your hats. I'm about to get poetic and analytical all over this crazy fruit.

Some religious scholars believe that the fruit in the Garden of Eden was not an apple but a pomegranate.

I have no idea what the basis for this belief is, but if true, the notion has profound theological implications. A person might eat a forbidden apple on impulse. It takes determination and forethought to eat a forbidden pomegranate.

Little wonder that the pomegranate worked its way into myth. Just opening a pomegranate feels a little bit like an epic quest: the nearly impenetrable rind hiding row upon row of brilliant, pellucid arils, each aril in turn housing within its magenta flesh a small, thin seed, deep and quiet as a buried secret. Seeding a pomegranate engages the visual and tactile senses in a way that makes reality seem more real; at the same time, the material world-- not just the fruit in your hands but the plastic cutting board and Formica tile and the football game on television in the next room-- opens up and takes on a strange, even spiritual aura. You stand at the kitchen counter, hands slick with tap water, and coax seeds from a membrane, and suddenly you find the sweet spot where a sense of usefulness and industry intersects with wonder at the world and three or four different kinds of sensory pleasure.

Of course, it helps even more if you have a good salad to throw your pomegranate seeds into when you're done extracting them.

"There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

In addition to the tart, gently crunchy pomegranate arils, this salad features sweetness from pears, creaminess from beans, crunch from pecans, and bite from a maple-Dijon dressing. It's a great way to celebrate fall.

A salad worth three months in the underworld and expulsion from Paradise? I couldn't say. But it is good.


1 tablespoon each olive oil, maple syrup, and balsamic vinegar; feel free to throw in some lemon juice if you like
1/4 tsp Dijon mustard
2 cups greens
1 pear, chopped
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 cup red beans
1/4 cup pecan halves
Salt and pepper to taste


Whisk together olive oil, maple syrup, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, and Dijon. (Hint: if you use the olive oil first, the maple syrup will glide right off the tablespoon, no muss no fuss.)

Toss everything in a bowl. Boom.

Variation: If your pear is a little under-ripe-- or even if it isn't-- try roasting it with a cup of broccoli in a tablespoon of coconut oil, 425 degrees for 20 or 30 minutes, tossing once halfway through.