New Orleans Ya-Ya Yams!
By Dennis Linden
Here’s a very tasty dessert dish that features this month’s new crop of sweet potatoes, prepared Louisiana style, submitted by Melissa’s own in-house New Orleanian, Sonia Sigur. Actually, Sonia’s recipe comes at a perfect time for anyone looking for an interesting dish to replace that same-old-same-old pumpkin pie on next month’s Thanksgiving holiday table. In fact, Thanksgiving was the occasion when Sonia came up with her recipe by necessity.
“Occasionally, like Thanksgiving, I will join my hubby in the kitchen, though normally he is the family chef. [Jackpot!] My culinary skills are very limited but when it comes to chopping and baking I'm a pro! Last Thanksgiving, we suddenly realized that we had forgotten the pumpkin pie with no time and fewer ingredients. For me, that's like Halloween without candy! So I did the best I could and whipped up this Cajun yam casserole substitute using Melissa's ingredients to sweeten things up. I call it my Ya-Ya Yams recipe and it not only saved the day, but I am thinking about serving it again this Thanksgiving!”
Sonia added that she turned what was originally a recipe for stuffed yams into a much easier-to-prepare family style casserole dish that she dressed up with raisins, an apple, some shredded coconut and pecans, then sweetened the mix with brown sugar and Melissa’s Organic Blue Agave Syrup, as well as a layer of melted marshmallows. Who needs pumpkins? You might not want to wait until turkey day to try this one! Got a sweet tooth…this will satisfy!
Firstly, the elephant in the room should be addressed -- yams or sweet potatoes is always the question. The alliteration of Sonia’s recipe title aside, the word “yam” in this country is a marketing term created to distinguish a variety of sweet potato with an orange interior from a similar looking tuber with white, potato-like coloring inside that retailers label as a “sweet potato”. In truth both varieties are botanically sweet potatoes; an actual yam is a much larger tuber, native to both Western Africa and South America, that looks like a giant sweet potato but belongs to a completely different plant species altogether. For Sonia’s recipe, use the orange variety of sweet potato.
Sweet Potatoes have been cultivated as a major crop throughout the southern states since the 1600s. Actually, the prevalence of sweet potatoes in Southern cuisine is a marriage of African and Native American culinary traditions. The sweet potato is native to the Americas and was a familiar staple to many Native American nations. Posing a similar resemblance to the previously mentioned giant yams of West Africa, enslaved people in the southern states found it easy to apply their traditional cooking techniques for yams to the sweet potato. Sweet potatoes were a flavorful starch with much more nutritional value than a yam that could be easily and quickly cooked. Early slaves roasted sweet potatoes in hot ashes wrapped in leaves. I prefer Sonia’s version!
Sonia Sigur has been a member of the Melissa’s team for two years and is currently the Account Manager for one of the company’s largest hybrid accounts, a company that operates both retail and wholesale operations throughout the western states. The position keeps her busy.
“As an Account Manager I get to wear many hats if I am to do the job right. I’m a merchandiser, a sales representative, a product demonstrator, whatever it takes to get the job done, I'm committed!” said Sonia, adding. “I also provide support to evaluate the customer’s needs and offer product-based solutions in order to build stronger relationships with our clients through problem solving.”
When not wearing those many hats, Sonia has a full and busy home life. She has been married for 14 years to husband Rich; the couple have “an amazing” 13-year-old daughter, Madeline, as well as two four legged fluffy pugs named Chow & Lola. Sonia says the family enjoys short road trips, going to the movies, eating out and entertaining their daughter's favorite pastime of rummaging through antiques stores and estate sales. As a two-time participant in this blog, we hope Sonia’s busy schedule will allow for a few more forays into Rich’s kitchen domain – the results have been deliciously Cajun!
Ya-Ya Yam Casserole
1 stick butter (used unsalted butter)
1/2 cup of Melissa's shredded coconut
1 cup golden raisins
1 apple, peeled, cored, rough chopped (a flavorful red variety like Crimson Gold, Gala, or Braeburn)
3 TBS brown sugar
2 TSP allspice
2 TBS Melissa's Organic Blue Agave Syrup
¼ cup shredded coconut (garnish)
¼ cup slivered pecans (garnish)
Jet-Puffed marshmallows (garnish)
Preheat oven to 350°. Bake yams until tender. Do not over bake. Cool, then separate yams from skins.
Combine the cooked yams with all the other ingredients in a large mixing bowl, except garnishes. When thoroughly mashed and blended, chill in refrigerator for 1 hour. Transfer yam mixture to a casserole baking dish sprayed with nonstick cooking oil and bake for 30 minutes @ 350°.
After baking, immediately spread a layer of Jet-Puffed marshmallows over the top, then sprinkle with the pecans and shredded coconut garnishes, then let stand for 5 minutes to allow marshmallows to melt slightly before serving.