A Thanksgiving without sweet potatoes is unimaginable. The orange-fleshed tuber ranks right up there with the turkey in most families.
Yet, I no longer have any appetite for sugary casseroles topped with toasted marshmallows. They’re just too much like dessert served in the middle of the main event. I’ll save my sugar for later, thank you.
For years, I simply roasted whole sweet potatoes and served them plain as a counterpoint to all the heavy, rich food on the Thanksgiving table. Plain sweet potatoes don’t feel festive enough for a culinary blowout, however, and an assignment to write about elegant Turkey Day dishes inspired these stuffed mini pumpkins.
Although the presentation is impressive, the combination of sweet and savory Moroccan spices paired with a crunchy topping of pumpkin seeds and raisins is irresistible. The flavors are familiar enough to satisfy traditionalists, yet exotic enough to entrance adventurous eaters.
No one would believe this dish is so simple to prepare. In fact, it can be made ahead and re-warmed in the oven after the turkey is roasted,
The key here is the cute little sugar pie pumpkins now available in the market. Look for the smallest you can find. They’re baked alongside the sweet potatoes, which are sold as garnet yams for some obscure reason even though botanists insist they’re not really yams. Cut the tops off, scoop out the seeds and you have attractive, edible bowls.
The spices are loosely based on ras al hanout, a blend that can contain 40 or more spices. Each Moroccan spice merchant creates his own blend and you can buy variations on this side of the Atlantic at specialty stores such as Williams-Sonoma or Boulette’s Larder in San Francisco’s Ferry Building Marketplace. I offer a simplified version here using spices you probably have in your pantry.
If your family simply must have ooey, gooey sweet potatoes, you can always substitute miniature marshmallows for the pumpkin seeds and raisins before the final bake. That was what one of my readers did after the recipe was published in the Mercury News and she called to report that it was a huge hit.
I’ll stick with the savory.
8 mini pumpkins
3 pounds sweet potatoes (garnet yams)
½ cup pumpkin seeds, hulled (pepitas)
½ cup golden raisins
4 teaspoons Moroccan spice mix (see below)
1 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons butter (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash and dry mini-pumpkins and sweet potatoes, place on foil-lined baking sheet and bake about 25 minutes, or until pumpkins are easily pierced with a sharp knife. Remove pumpkins and let cool. Return sweet potatoes to oven for about 50 minutes more, or until soft to touch. Time will vary with their size and shape.
Toast pumpkin seeds 5-10 minutes on a separate baking sheet while sweet potatoes are roasting, keeping watch so they don’t burn. They’ll start popping when they’re done. Salt lightly and set aside.
Plump raisins by placing them in a small bowl and covering with boiling water. Let stand 10 minutes, drain and reserve.
When pumpkins are cool enough to handle, cut out tops as if carving a jack-o’-lantern, cutting down into pumpkin rather than slicing across. Scrape out seeds with a spoon, removing all stringy material from core, and set aside.
When sweet potatoes are done, cool slightly. Slip off skin, place flesh in a large bowl and mash with a hand-held potato masher until smooth. Stir in 4 teaspoons of spice mix, broth, and butter if desired. Salt and pepper to taste. Spoon puree into pumpkins.
Recipe can be made ahead to this point, covered and refrigerated up to a day until you’re ready to put it all together. On serving day, remove pumpkins from refrigerator and bring to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake about 20 minutes, or until warmed through. Top with a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds and raisins and serve.
Moroccan spice mix
Makes about ¼ cup
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1½ teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1½ teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
½ teaspoon sugar
Place all ingredients in a small jar with lid, seal and shake to mix. Store in a cool, dark place or freeze.