I grew up with an almost pathological loathing of sweet potatoes. I am not a fan of sweet and savory combinations in general — Jam or chutney with chicken? Cold shivers down my spine. So the way that sweet potatoes get treated, especially at Thanksgiving, with their earthy sweetness egged on by extra sugar and marshmallows just grossed me out. The very thought of sweet potatoes, in any form, induced my gag reflex.
The sudden change in my feelings came in from a totally unexpected source: A retirement community cafeteria. I was visiting my grandparents in their upscale Florida retirement enclave, and they took me to lunch. I braced myself for the oversalted, overcooked mediocrity I usually experienced there; it was all worth it for a pleasant afternoon with my grandparents. (Let's not talk, though, about the Thanksgiving dinner I had there one year. I never knew turkey could get so mushy.)
I was leaning over, talking to one of my grandmother's hard-of-hearing friends, and before I realized it, a server had plopped a sweet potato on my plate. It was roasted in its jacket, butter oozing out from its interior, the skin crisp and brown. I eyed it and suddenly thought it looked good.
Well, I ate that sweet potato right down to the last scrap of roasted skin, scraping the orange flesh off my plate. I don't know if it was the saltiness, or the butter, or the crispness of the skin, but I fell in love with sweet potatoes right then and there, and I didn't look back. Maybe it was a deficiency of some vital nutrient that my body suddenly craved, but I could not get enough sweet potatoes from then on out. I ate them nearly every day, roasted and baked in cream.
My only allowance for my former aversion: I never, never want to see marshmallows on sweet potatoes again. They are sweet enough as it is; I think instead they need some spice, so I heat them up with chipotle, like in this gratin.
What about you? Do you have a vegetable conversion story?
(Image: Leela Cyd Ross)