Like those of so many adults looking back over the years, most of my holiday memories are vague, happy ones revolving around close family members and food prepared with love. However, I do have one clear memory of the holiday when Dad decided that I would "at least taste" one of the few foods I'd been avoiding for all my 5 or 6 years. That particular dish was sweet potatoes. As it turns out, our wise father was right (as usual); they weren't quite so bad after all.
Back then, I had an aversion to orange-colored foods, no matter whether they were vegetables or desserts. Pumpkin pie wasn't my favorite, but the whipped cream was out of this world. So as a special treat, Mom would give me, the youngest of her five children, one small bowl of the fluffy stuff -- sans the pie -- following holiday dinners. (And knowing our mother, I'm pretty sure that tradition started the year of the sweet potatoes.)
So many holidays have come and gone since those early days. Dad has been gone for 10 years now. Mom is still as sweet as the whipped cream she used to make. And now I'm the one with five children and doing the cooking. These days, I actually enjoy both sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie -- and so do my husband and kids. Moreover, health experts now have more knowledge about the various benefits of the orange foods that dominate holiday dinners.
"Orange vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, are rich in beta carotene. Your body converts beta carotene into vitamin A, which is important for healthy eyesight and a properly functioning immune system," says Nicci Micco, deputy editor of features and nutrition at EatingWell magazine. "Beta carotene also acts as an antioxidant, mopping up the free radicals that can damage tissues and contribute to heart disease and cancer."
For years, family cooks have been sweetening up sweet potatoes by simply making them "candied," with melted marshmallows or by baking them whole and adding butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. But lately, we have been searching for ways to serve them up in a healthier fashion. Here are a few recipes that my family -- and yours -- should enjoy to stay healthy and happy this holiday season and beyond:
If you plan on serving ham for Christmas dinner, Kraft offers this side dish to add to an impressive holiday meal:
TWICE-BAKED SWEET POTATOES
2 large sweet potatoes (1 1/2 pounds)
2 ounces Philadelphia Neufchtel cheese
2 tablespoons fat-free milk
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup Planters pecan pieces
Heat oven to 425 F. Cut potatoes lengthwise in half; place, cut sides down, in foil-lined 15-by-10-inch baking pan. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until tender.
Scoop out centers of potatoes into bowl, leaving 1/4 inch-thick shells. Add Neufch?tel cheese, milk, sugar and cinnamon to potatoes; mash until blended.
Spoon potato mixture into shells; top with nuts. Bake 8 minutes, or until potatoes are heated through and nuts are toasted.
(Recipe from Kraft Foods Inc.)
Here's a dish from EatingWell that goes great with poultry or beef; the addition of delicious sweet potatoes gives a nutrient boost to mashed potatoes:
YUKON GOLD AND SWEET POTATO MASH
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
1/2 cup low-fat milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Place potatoes and sweet potatoes in a large saucepan. Add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until very tender when pierced with a fork, 20 to 25 minutes.
Drain the potatoes. Mash them in the pot to the desired consistency. Place milk and butter in a small bowl. Microwave on high until the butter is mostly melted and the milk is warm, 30 to 40 seconds. (Or place in a small saucepan and heat over medium until the milk is warm.) Stir the milk mixture, sugar, salt and pepper into the mashed potatoes until combined.
(Recipe from EatingWell magazine.)
"This is the perfect recipe for the holidays; it's healthy and easy to make yet has the creamy richness of mashed potatoes," concludes Lisa Gosselin, editorial director of EatingWell. "Our readers love it, though some prefer to make it healthier by skipping the sugar."