The Secret Ingredient That Totally Transforms Sweet Potatoes

Here's the tale of a traditional autumn side dish and its deliciously vintage twist. Who knew?

Mashed sweet potatoesPhoto: Elena Veselova/Shutterstock

How to Make the Best Sweet Potatoes

Several years ago, a family friend handed me his recipe for sweet potatoes—handwritten on a giant recipe card with the vaguest instructions I’ve ever seen. I skimmed it and did a double-take. See if you can catch what stopped me in my tracks:

Put about 1/2 stick butter in a large frying pan with plenty of light brown sugar. Add eight to 10 slices of orange. Cook for a few minutes, then add 2 small cans of sweet potatoes, preferably whole. Keep turning the sweet potatoes in the sugar mixture, adding orange juice so they won’t stick. Cook slowly for at least one hour.

Sweet potatoes and orange? I never would’ve thought to combine the two. (Don’t miss these 50 fabulous fall recipes.)

How I Made the Recipe My Own

I decided to fudge my way through the recipe. I jotted a few key notes to clarify as I went:

  • Turns out he wasn’t kidding about needing a large skillet.
  • “Plenty” of brown sugar ends up being enough that you start to get a gooey sauce, but not so much that it burns! (I still haven’t committed to a specific quantity.)
  • Ten slices of orange are tastier than just eight.
  • I couldn’t find two small cans of sweet potatoes, so I went with one 28-ouncer. And I learned the hard way: Drain the syrup from the can before adding the sweet potatoes to your skillet.
  • The ideal amount of orange juice ends up being two to three cups.
  • Be prepared to perch by the stove, stirring often!

The Results

After much guessing, the result was… amazing! The dish tastes kind of like candied yams with a delightfully bright twist, and the texture is similar to mashed potatoes. True to my cooking style, I never wrote down any more detail than what you see here, and I’m sure I’ve never made it the same way twice.

Still, this heirloom side dish has become a must for the fall season. My sister and her kids love it so much, it’s now on their table every year, too.

Next, find out the secret ingredient for the best brownies ever.

Originally Published on Taste of Home

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