Recently I attended the Chef’s Pecan Culinary Summit in Atlanta along with other chefs from around the country. Pecans were discovered in central and eastern North America in the 1600’s and have flourished ever since. They have been an important commodity for trade. We learned why pecans are a versatile nut that is not only delicious but also nutritious.
Pecans are heart healthy and are packed with 19 vitamins and minerals along with fiber, protein and are sodium-free. I learned how versatile the creamy, toasty pecan could be as we cooked dishes that added the chopped pecans to meatballs, pizza crust, and filling for tacos. We also stuffed them in pitted dates, wrapped in bacon and roasted til crisp. All of these unusual applications were happily surprising and plenty tasty.
I selected this sweet potato dish to cook for our lunch and the result was so good that I will be making it for my Thanksgiving side dish this year. It’s also a conversation starter when you can explain it includes pecan milk. No need to buy whole pecans that are costlier than chopped since you want chopped pecans for the topping. Also you could substitute part or all of the peach preserves with frozen and defrosted coarsely chopped peaches for a lighter, less sweet version.
I like the added spicy hit of cayenne pepper but be sparing with it.
One day we traveled to Sunnyland Farms, a 1,760 acre farm nestled in the heart of Pecan Country (Albany, Georgia). Our group learned how the pecan is picked, cleaned, dried and packaged. We also tasted some delicious savory and sweet dishes, all accented with fresh pecans. This time of year is pecan season, which might explain why pecan pie is a favorite on the Thanksgiving dessert table. And by the way their pecan pie that they served us for dessert was out of this world. If you like you can order lots of items from them for your holiday gift giving. https://www.sunnylandfarms.com
Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Peach Preserves and Toasted Pecans
(This can be easily doubled or tripled)
Makes 4 to 6 servings
2 ½ pounds sweet potatoes, ends cut off
3 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup peach preserves
3/4-cup pecan milk or half-and-half
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1/2 cup chopped pecans
- Toast the pecans by putting them in a nonstick skillet over medium-heat heat and toasting them by shaking the pan to evenly toast them. They should be fragrant and lightly browned. Reserve.
- Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Put the sweet potatoes on the baking sheet with a little space between each one. Roast until the skin collapses slightly and you can slide a knife through the thickest part of the flesh with no resistance, 45 minutes to 1¼ hours, depending on their size. When cool remove the sweet potato pulp and transfer into a medium bowl.
- Mash in 3 tablespoons butter and the peach preserves until melted and well blended. Drizzle in the pecan milk to desired consistency. The pecan milk will absorb into the potatoes so add enough for a mashed potato consistency. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne, if using. Taste for seasoning. Transfer to a serving bowl. Sprinkle the toasted pecans over the potatoes and serve immediately.
This super creamy pecan milk is so easy to make and has lots of uses like adding it to your coffee or using it as a non-dairy milk replacement in any recipe.
Makes about 1 1/4 cups
1/2 cup raw or freshly toasted pecans (see step 1 above for toasting pecans)
1 cup water
1 tablespoon maple syrup, to taste
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of Salt
- Place the pecans in your blender and add 2 cups of water. Blend until the mixture is creamy and smooth, about 1 minute. (If using it for savory dishes omit the maple syrup and vanilla.)
- Add the maple syrup, the vanilla and a pinch of salt. Blend again to combine. Taste, add additional maple syrup if you’d like sweeter milk. No need to strain.