Tuesday, November 4

Thanksgiving Side Dish Recipe: Olive Oil, Caramelized Onion, and Sage Mashed Sweet Potatoes

olive oil, caramelized onion, and sage mashed sweet potatoes

One of the first posts I ever wrote was entitled "Of Yankees and Yams." I recounted a humorous incident I had with a farmer in North Carolina. He had informed me (and I in turn informed you) that yams are really just an orange fleshed sweet potato. Since then, a few people contacted me explaining that they are indeed different. After months of exhaustive research (OK, more like an hour yesterday), I hereby unequivocally, resolutely declare that yams and sweet potatoes are different.

So here's the question:

What is the difference between a sweet potato and a yam?

And here's the answer, according to the Library of Congress:

Although yams and sweet potatoes are both angiosperms (flowering plants), they are not related botanically. Yams are a monocot (a plant having one embryonic seed leaf) and from the Dioscoreaceae or Yam family. Sweet Potatoes, often called ‘yams’, are a dicot (a plant having two embryonic seed leaves) and are from the Convolvulacea or morning glory family.

Food Blogga Translation: Yams and sweet potatoes are different vegetables.

It turns out my local market has gotten it wrong too. What they have been labeling as yams are really red-skinned, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes. Apparently, sweet potatoes' skin and flesh ranges in colors, and they come in "hard" and "soft" varieties. It is the soft varieties, which become moist when cooked, that are typically labeled "yams" here in the United States.

Again, the Library of Congress: when soft sweet potatoes were first grown commercially in the US, there needed to be a way to differentiate them from hard ones. Apparently, African slaves in America had been calling the soft sweet potatoes yams since they looked like yams from Africa. As a result, soft sweet potatoes became known as yams in the States.

Considering that the U.S. produced 1.8 billion pounds of sweet potatoes in 2007, chances are you've bought some even if you didn't know it. And chances are that you're going to buy some for Thanksgiving too.

olive oil, caramelized onion, and sage mashed sweet potatoes

Whether it's sweet potatoes with marshmallows, sweet potato biscuits, or sweet potato pie, most of us will eat sweet potatoes this Thanksgiving. At my house it's going to be Olive Oil, Caramelized Onion, and Sage Mashed Sweet Potatoes. Though I typically drown my sweet potatoes with butter and brown sugar, I decided to go less sweet and more savory this time. Use a high quality extra virgin olive oil and the freshest sage you can find.

And if you find yourself arguing with gathered guests at your dinner table that yams are different from sweet potatoes, then feel free to cite this seminal article: Blogga, Food. "Thanksgiving Side Dish Recipe: Olive Oil, Caramelized Onion, and Sage Mashed Sweet Potatoes." Food Blogga 4 November 2008: Vol. 2.

Olive Oil, Caramelized Onion, and Sage Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Serves 4
Print recipe only here.

2 large sweet potatoes, washed, peeled, and diced (4 cups diced)
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
4-5 large sage leaves, thinly sliced, or to your taste
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
7-8 cranks of freshly ground black pepper
1-2 teaspoons quality extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Place diced potatoes in cold water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until tender when pierced with a fork. Drain immediately.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add sliced onions and brown sugar; stir occasionally, until the onions caramelize and turn a deep golden brown, about 10-12 minutes.

In a small skillet over medium heat, add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add sliced sage leaves and saute until lightly crisp. Remove from heat.

Using a hand-held potato masher or an electric mixer, mash potatoes to desired consistency. Add the caramelized onions and the crisp sage leaves in olive oil to the potatoes. Season with coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir until well blended. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt before serving.

You might also like:

Roasted Acorn Squash with Honey-Lime Glazed Pepitas

Roasted Acorn Squash with Medjool Dates and Toasted Almonds

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Peter G | Souvlaki For The Soul said...

I love what you've done to the sweet potatoes Susan...the ingredients are just gorgeous.

Anonymous said...

I wonder why sage and sweet potatoes (and yams!) go so well together. I love the combination and often use it in roasted sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes, too.

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Even though they are different they are equally good and both are excellent with sage.

Meeta K. Wolff said...

I too had to research the difference when I cam here to Germany. In Qatar we often got yams from India but they were very different to the sweet potatoes we got here. I love both and this is a killer recipe Susan! The caramelized onion and sage does it for me!

Vijitha said...

Lovely combo! amazing pics girlie! looks yum yum yummy

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Thanks for the info! Your dish sounds really flavorful and perfect!



Finla said...

Beautiful colours and look so creamy and yummy. Adding onions must have give it a great taste

ChichaJo said...

The combination sounds delicious! Oh I want this even if we don't really celebrate Thanksgiving!

Manggy said...

Ah, thanks for the info :) We do get sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) but I don't know if we get yams other than the purple type (Dioscorea alata, or ube). That looks like a delicious, healthy side-dish! (go, complex carbs, heh :)

Johanna GGG said...

Thanks for some helpful information - I find sweet potatoes a little - um - sweet, so I like the sound of a more savoury dish with them (sweet potatoes and marshmallows sounds weird - but then I am not au fait with thanksgiving traditions!)

Núria said...

Hola Susan! A fantastic recipe! I always buy sweet potatoes for All saints day but never get to do anything with them... This recipe sounds super and I wonder if a red or normal onion would be ok. Also what about dry sage?

I would love to cook it your way!!! Thanks :D

Anonymous said...

I taste-tested 'real yams' -- ones from Africa -- a year ago. They are VERY starchy, not at all like sweet potatoes. I took a few pictures here, here. I do really recommend the variety of sweet potato called 'Red Garnett'.

PS Your sweet potatoes look mucho yummo.

Anonymous said...

This looks delicious, Susan! :)

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

I'm not a huge fan of the whole marshmallow thing with yams so this is an excellent option Susan. Thanks for setting us straight on the differences between the two:D

indosungod said...

Thanks Susan, that was thing that had me perplexed as well. Yams which we knew in India were harder and bigger.
Recipe looks fantastic as well. I want to try them with the purple sweet potatoes for the burst of color, but they are not as creamy as the orange ones.

Anonymous said...

I came to the same ignorant conclusion that yams and sweet potatoes are the same, but thanks to you I've learnt something new today. Very interesting and informative post!

Mike of Mike's Table said...

I'd given up on sweet potatoes vs yams a while back. Whichever I'm eating, this side dish looks really delicious!

Anonymous said...

That looks SO much better than the usual marshmallow-laden way in which sweet potatoes are usually served at the Thanksgiving table.

Culinary Wannabe said...

I always wondered if there was a difference between the two, thanks for the explanation. I usually love the whole sweet potato casserole that is nearly dessert-like with all the brown sugar yumminess. It makes the best topping on a leftover turkey sandwich! Yes, we pile all leftovers on our sandwiches, including the corn casserole. :)

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I have read in the past that actual "yams" aren't sold in the US and that anything called a yam in this country is a sweet potato of another type. I get confused.

I love combining sweet potatoes wtih things that are savory, spicy or salty. I like the combination far more than adding more sugar and mashmallows on top. I love the caramelized onions in this.

redmenace said...

What a fabulous combo. I love sage. It's one of the few spices that is still abundant in my northwest garden! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I think my mother not-so-secretly hated sweet potatoes, which is why she smothered them with dark brown sugar and marshmallows -- and only at Thanksgiving. I consequently learned to hate sweet potatoes, UNTIL I ate a simple baked one, in the skin, and fell in love. They are delish sliced and cooked in a heavy closed skillet with thin slices of apple or boiled and mashed (just the potato) and used to top a turkey/sprouts/bechamel shepherd's pie. THIS sounds like a holiday side dish guaranteed to draw compliments. Thanks for it, Susan. You always inspire.

Deborah said...

Yams or sweet potatoes - I love them both, and this looks fantastic!

Stacey Snacks said...

I just woke up and saw your post, and thought "did I miss Thanksgiving? it was just election night?".
You scared me for a minute.
I make a sweet potato dish every turkey day, and it's tradition.
Sweet Potato gratin w/ orange zest.
SOOOO good!

Heather said...

mmmm looks yummy!! i love the caramelized onions! i have some sweet potatoes that need using. i was going to try a scalloped sweet potato... but this looks tempting, too!!

Peter M said...

LOL...I'm going to print up this post and wave it to guests the next time sweet potatoes/yams are served up.

"But, but, but Susan said they are different, SO THERE"!

Your dish is unconventional in that it's traditional fall flavours but mashed up..luv it.

Kalyn Denny said...

Great citation! I actually got into an argument about this with a produce guy once. I could have used this post for back-up! Sounds like a great recipe too!

Darius T. Williams said...

I love all these flavors - I bet this is great!


Anonymous said...

Hey Susan! Just wanted to thank you again for your delicious article for this week's FoodieView Recipe Roundup. You're awesome!!!!

Terry at Blue Kitchen said...

Another great and gorgeous post, Susan. And when it comes to sweet potatoes [well, or anything other than a campfire], I say hold the marshmallows. The onions and sage sound like beautiful foils for the sweetness of the potatoes. One of my favorite uses of sweet potatoes is spicy roasted potatoes with a cayenne pepper kick.

Unknown said...

wow, havent seen sweet potatoes being done this way here :)

thanks for introducing a different combo other than my usual sweet potatoes and sugar + cinnamon combo :)

Debbie said...

Your sweet potatoes look great. I had always thought that yams and sweet potatoes were one in the same. Now I learned something new!!!

Southern Gal said...

Hi! I just have to comment, b/c this yam/sweet potato thing has me really baffled. I too live in San Diego (hi neighbor!) and when I go to buy sweet potatoes, for sweet potato fries or whatever, I always think in my head that they will have reddish orang-ish flesh. But, Ralph's & Von's always has white ones posted as "sweet potatoes" and pink ones posted as "yams." So then I think, "do I want Yam fries? Or sweet potato fries?" I even recently did an experiement & what was listed as "yams" was more like what I was thinking of as "sweet potato" & I couldn't get over that the white one was like a regular potato - just b/c of the color. Are you suggesting maybe they are labelled incorrectly? That's what I'm thinking now....

Unknown said...

I've known that the two were different, but never bothered with the research - so thanks! I just know that I love them, no matter what they're called. And I gave up on the marshmallows after high school. This recipe looks killer!

Emily said...

Oh YUM! Those sweet potatoes look CrAzY good!

Rosie said...

Beautiful colours of your dish susan and I adore sweet potatoes this looks great.

Rosie x

Elizabeth said...

This looks and sounds fabulous, Susan! What time shall we be at your house for dinner on Thanksgiving?


eatingclubvancouver_js said...

Thanks for sharing the research. I've been very confused: the store sells "sweet potatoes" (yellow flesh) and "yams" (orange flesh) and I never knew what the difference was. I like them both.

This is a great side dish! (I could eat it as a main too.)

Proud Italian Cook said...

I'm in love with this dish! Beautiful Susan, just beautiful!

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Anh said...

Susan, no matter how you call it, sweet potatoes or yam. this is a damn good recipe! Thank you for the beautiful photo, too.

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Well, this would certainly get me to eat more sweet potatoes, beyond my typical serving of pie!

Anonymous said...

How confusing! I think in a magazine I was reading recently, they said yams were just red-skinned sweet potatoes. (Think it was Gourmet but not sure - and wouldn't want to slander them!)

Oh well, I know I've had soft sweet potatoes before, and I think I'll have them again for this mash. :)

Nic said...

Always an interesting read Susan, and the sweet pots are beautiful!

Mansi said...

I can count on you for explaining all the minor details in the food world! great read, and the recipe looks yummy too! btw, I'm hosting the Vegetarian Thanksgiving recipe event this month, and this would be a lovely addition if you could send it in Susan!:)

Cris said...

I don't think I have ever had mashed sweet potatoes... and that color... is so beautiful!

Annie said...

Looks super yummy. I love savory over sweet when it comes to my sweet potatoes, so this one had me at olive oil :)

Andrea said...

I love your yam/sweet potato info, but alas, I'll probably never keep the difference straight. I'm not cooking t-giving this year, but I really want to try this one anyway. I LOVE yams/sweet potatoes/whatever I happen to find!

Jeanne said...

OH SUSAN! You had me at hello... I never did get sweet potatoes with marshmallows (shudder) but I am indeed a fan of sweet potato oven chips with olive oil and fleur de sel - so the foundations for loving this savoury version are already laid. Sage is a wonderful addition :)

Anonymous said...

This is fabulous. Hubby and I both loved it.
(I have to admit, I did add a touch of butter, but that's only because I am an addict)

Susan from Food Blogga said...

peter-Oh, thank you!

lydia-They're naturals together.

tanna-True. :)

meeta-Glad to hear it's not just in the U.S.!

vij-Many thanks!

rosa-You're welcome!

happycook-The color always captivates me.

joey-I know! :)

mark-Yeah, these are my favorite complex carbs at this time of year.

johanna-Sweet potatoes and marshmallows is really popular here, but my family never liked it.

nuria-Red onion would be fine. As for the dried sage, I don't prefer it, but if it's all you have, then use it sparingly and taste as you go. It can be overpowering sometimes. Good luck, my friend!

alanna-Oh, yes, the garnetts are my favorite-- so sweet and creamy.

maryann-Thank you, dear!

val-You're so welcome!

indosungod-The color would be fabulous with purple potatoes indeed!

michelle-Glad to hear it!

mike-I hear ya.

julie-Wow! Thanks!

cwannabe-Now, that sounds like an awesome post-Thanksgiving sandwich!

sdok-I spoke with farmers and produce managers who tell me there are yams for sale. But who knows? It's all so unnecessarily confusing!

anonymous-Oh, I love them with apples. Add used as a topping for a Sheperd's Pie sounds delicious. Thanks for the idea! And thank you for your kind words.

deborah-Many thanks!

stacey-Sorry for the scare. :)

heather-It really is addictive.

peter-You tell 'em! ;)

kalyn-Oh, yeah. You just show him this. That'll put him in his place, huh? ;)

darius-It really is good.

michele-You're so sweet. Thank you!

terry-I love anything with a little heat too.

rita-You're so welcome. Hope you try it!

debbie-Me too!

southerngal-Yes. Those reddish-oranges ones are usually sweet potatoes though they're often labeled yams. Have you noticed how different markets label them differently too?

toni-Glad you liked it.



ejm-Around 3:00? :)

js-Glad to help!


tennen-Thank you so very much. I appreciate that!

anh-You are so kind.

tw-Glad to hear that!

candc-Why? Why should it be this hard? :)

nic-Thank you so much.

mansi-Thanks for the invite. Will send it along.

cris-Oh, you must, must try them!

annie-They're really fabulous together.

andrea-That's OK. As long as you buy the ones you like, right?

jeanne-I shudder with you. :)

andi-I'm so happy to hear you made it! Thanks for letting me know.

LisaBain said...

This recipe looks fabulous. Do you think it can be made ahead and reheated?
Thanks... I am really excited having just discovered your blog.

Susan from Food Blogga said...

lisa-Welcome to my blog! Yes, it can be made ahead, just not too far in advance or the onions could become too pungent. I ate my leftovers for 2 days and they were still delicious. Good luck!

Unknown said...

hi susan,
this looks gorgeous. i want to share this recipe on my facebook page with my fans, i will love to see you as a page fan for ambrosiags olive oils, too.

Unknown said...

hi susan
i want to publish this recipe on my facebook page.
i will love to see all of you as page fans for my exceptional olive oil facebook page.

Melpy said...

Thanks for the recipe, I made this for my first dinner I cooked my parents (a big turkey dinner with all the trimmings). The only thing I had a little trouble with was the onions sliced were a little cumbersome when we tried to scoop out the potatoes. I liked them (it was more interesting) but my parents wanted them cut up. I recommend them though either way.

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