Saturday, November 23, 2013


Two kinds of sweet potatoes, orange and white.
In the US, Christmas has to wait, at least, until after the Thanksgiving holiday. In Spain, without that cut-off date, Christmas decorations and foods begin to appear early in November. Already the boxes of special sweets are stacked in shops, hams (serrano and ibérico) are stocked and awaiting the buyers, glittery decorations and lights gleam in shop windows. And, my village neighbors are already making empanadillas—fried turnovers with sweet potato filling, a Christmas treat.

Sweet potatoes, grown in southern Spain (called batata or boniato), appear in the market in time for All Saints’ Day (November 1), when they are roasted and eaten with chestnuts, and last through Christmas. (Sweet potatoes are not yams. Real yams, ñames, a starchy root, somewhat resembling sweet potatoes, are grown and eaten in the Canary Islands, much the same as in West Africa.)

Both orange-fleshed and white sweet potatoes are found in Spanish markets. The orange ones are sweeter and have a more pasty flesh; the white ones are mealy, somewhat like regular potatoes.

My kids, when they were in primary school in the village, ate lunch with a Spanish family (no school lunchroom in those days). This time of year, they often had boiled sweet potato for dessert or snack—no added sugar, just the sweet flesh spooned out of the skin.
Although I’ve lived 40 years outside of the United States, I still like to celebrate Thanksgiving, an occasion for feasting, for getting together with friends and family, for enjoying harvest foods.

Jugs of new olive oil.
This week I am celebrating the bringing home of the new olive oil! I took five sacks of my olives to the mill and came home with 10 liters of extra virgin olive oil. (I picked all those olives, with help from my son Ben, who cut down high branches for me.)

As it happens (once in a thousand years or so), this Thanksgiving (Thursday, November 28) is also the first night of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, when it is customary to eat fried foods. So. Let’s bring this all together now! Sweet potatoes, olive oil, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah! Good times! Celebrate!

Frying caramelizes the sugars in sweet potatoes.

Sweet Potato Fries

Serve these sweet-savory fries alongside a hamburger dolloped with some harissa-ketchup. Or, how about a turkey-burger and cranberry ketchup for a casual take on traditional Thanksgiving foods?

Burger and sweet potato fries.

Peel the sweet potatoes, cut them as for “french” fries. Heat olive oil in a skillet to a depth of 1 ½ inches. Fry the potatoes until they are golden-brown and tender (about 8 minutes). Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and ground cumin.

Fried turnovers are filled with sweet potatoes.

Turnovers with Sweet Potato Jam
Empanadillas Rellenas con Batatas

These small fried pies could definitely fill in for good-ole pumpkin pie. And, take a flavor hint—aniseed, clove and cinnamon are marvelous with sweet potatoes.

Makes about 28 small turnovers.

Spread filling on dough.

1 recipe for dough for fried pastries (below)
1 ½ cups sweet potato jam (recipe follows)
Oil for deep frying (olive or sunflower)
2 tablespoons sugar

Roll out the dough very thinly on a lightly floured board. Prick the dough all over with a fork. Use a 4 ½ -inch cookie cutter or the rim of a glass to cut circles.

Working with one disk at a time, place a spoonful of jam on one half. Moisten the edges of the dough with water, then fold the circle in half, enclosing the filling. With fingers or the tines of a fork, crimp the edges together firmly to seal the turnover. Place on a tray.

Continue filling and shaping the remainder of the dough.

Heat oil in a deep skillet to a depth of at least 1 ½ inches. Fry the turnovers, four or five at a time, until they are golden brown on both sides. Remove and drain on paper toweling. Sprinkle them with the sugar.

Filled turnovers are fried in oil.

Dough for Fried Pastries
Masa Para  Empanadillas

¾ cup olive oil
1 strip lemon peel
1 tablespoon sesame seed
1 tablespoon aniseed
½ tablespoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
½ cup white wine
1 tablespoon brandy or anise brandy
2 tablespoons orange juice
¼ teaspoon salt
3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour plus additional for flouring board

Heat the oil in a small skillet with the lemon peel. Remove from heat, cool for 1 minute. Remove and discard the lemon peel. Then stir in the sesame seed and aniseed. Pour into a mixing bowl and allow to cool.

Add the cinnamon, cloves, wine, brandy, orange juice and salt to the oil. Using a large wooden spoon, stir in the flour to make a soft dough. Turn out on a lightly floured board and knead very briefly, just to combine well.

Let the dough rest, refrigerated, for at least 1 hour or up to 12 hours.

Roll out very thinly (less than 1/8th inch) on a lightly floured board. Shape and fry as in the following recipe.

Fried pies are filled with sweet potatoes and sprinkled with sugar.

Sweet Potato Jam
Polvo de Batatas

This sweet paste, used to fill the turnovers, can also be rolled into balls and served as a “candy.” You will need about 2 ½ pounds of sweet potatoes to obtain 2 cups of cooked pulp. Cook them until tender, drain well, then mash or put through a sieve. Pumpkin or other squash can be used instead of sweet potatoes.

Makes about 2 ¾ cups of jam.

2 cups sweet potato purée
2 ¼ cups sugar
1 teaspoon minced lemon peel
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3-inch cinnamon stick

Place the purée, sugar, lemon peel, cloves and cinnamon in a heavy pan. Place on heat, partially covered to prevent splattering, until mixture is bubbling. Reduce heat and cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until the purée is thickened to jam consistency, 20-25 minutes. (A heat disperser is useful to prevent the purée from scorching.)

Place in clean jars and seal. Cool completely, then refrigerate. Keeps for several weeks.

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