The Washington Post

Better than candied yams

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and I’d like to spend a few blog entries suggesting delicious, more life-affirming versions of some of my holiday favorites.  I’d also love to help you veganize your favorite recipes so leave me you Thanksgiving food questions.

I fancy myself a blues musician in the kitchen using what is available to me, improvising on what was passed down, and creating something new and hopefully better in the process. 

Particularly during the holiday season–Thanksgiving, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Years–, I find myself wanting the southern comfort, traditions and love evoked by soul food, but the blues artist in me wants to put her own, more life affirming spin on it.

A vegan version of the classic Thanksgiving side dish, candied yams. (Levita-Diane Mondie/Courtesy of Levita-Diane Mondie)

Candied yams is one of my absolute favorite soul food holiday dishes. I grew up eating it prepared with sweet potatoes that had been baked whole, sliced, covered with a syrupy glaze made with loads of butter and processed white sugar and baked again.

Now I improvise by peeling, slicing, and steaming the sweet potatoes because steaming intensifies the potato’s vibrant orange color and is a faster cooking method than baking whole potatoes. 

My modified version also calls for Sugar in the Raw in place of white sugar and Earth Balance Vegan buttery sticks instead of butter.  Earth Balance is a combination of palm fruit, canola, soybean, flax and olive oils that is vegan, gluten free, and GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) free. Just as important, Earth Balance looks, acts, and tastes like butter.

Together these three things make for a healthier version of traditional candied yams, and I’m willing to guarantee that no one at your dinner table will notice and surely not mind once they savor a mouthful.

For the vegan version below, I took the traditional recipe from Sheila Ferguson’s Soul Food: Classic Cuisine from the Deep South  and veganized it, demonstrating that knowledge of simple vegan substitutions can be practiced with all kinds of cookbooks.

Enjoy and let me know how yours turn out!

Better Than Candied Yams

Ingredients (Note the short list of simple ingredients.)

4 medium-sized sweet potatoes

½ cup Earth Balance vegan butter

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

½ cup sugar in the raw

½ cup water

In a large pot with a tightly fitting lid, add water about an inch high.  Then add a steamer basket. While the water is coming to a boil, peel and slice potatoes 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick. Place sliced potatoes on top of the steamer basket. 

Cover the pot with a tightly fitting lid. While you do not want the water to come above the bottom of the steamer basket, be careful not to boil out all of the water by simply adding more if necessary.

While the potatoes are steaming, prepare the glaze by adding the remaining ingredients to a small sauce pan. I like to melt the Earth Balance vegan butter over low heat first, then add the sugar, then add the water and lemon juice. 

Whisk the ingredients together. Once all of the ingredients are combined, turn the heat up high. Let the glaze heat until it coats a spoon, a process that should take three to five minutes. By the time the glaze forms, the sweet potatoes should be tender enough for the next step.

Coat a two quart baking dish with canola oil cooking spray or with Earth Balance. Layer the potatoes in the baking dish. Pour the hot syrup over the sweet potatoes and bake uncovered for 25 to 35 minutes or until light golden. Baste a couple of times during baking.

Enjoy with greens and other soul food!

Levita is an educator, scholar and self-taught chef who shares recipes & narratives on her blog Vita’s Vegan Ventures about delicious, ethnic cuisine prepared without fish, meat, eggs or diary.

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