Okinawan Sweet Potato Pie

Looking for something different for the Thanksgiving table? You'll certainly raise a few eyebrows and pique everyone's interest with this deep purple dessert that will taste familiar….but not: Okinawan sweet potato pie.

It was only last year that I made my first every sweet potato pie, but already I couldn't resist shaking things up a little. Usually we enjoy these vibrant sweeties mashed with butter, salt and a touch of bourbon or even sake, and served on the side with everything from salmon to meatloaf. We've even used them in a potato salad. So a pie couldn't be far behind, right?

Okinawan sweet potatoes can be found in Asian grocery stores, especially those catering to Japanese and Korean communities. Here in the Mid-Atlantic region, the large supermarket chains H-Mart and Lotte are the most reliable sources for this unusual sweet potato variety. In Hawaii, they were readily available at most supermarkets, but since the population on the Islands is largely Asian, that makes sense. Elsewhere in the U.S., I know Uwajimaya in the Pacific Northwest and the Japanese supermarkets in California will carry them too.

Recently I was surprised to see white-skinned sweet potatoes at a nearby Giant supermarket (a regional chain), and for a moment thought that the Okinawan had gone mainstream. Unfortunately,a scratch test on one end of the potato showed that it was white on the inside. So unless you live in Hawaii, you may have to make a special trip to an Asian grocer if you want to try this for Thanksgiving.

Why use the Okinawan sweet potato other than for its stunning color? Well, it does have a more robust texture and a deeper, less sweet flavor than their orange cousins. The texture of the sweet potato pie I made last year was similar to pumpklin — silky, smooth and with a light mouthfeel. Perhaps because it is less sweet, the Okinawan is more potato-like when mashed or whipped — and in this pie, each mouthful feels quite substantial yet is creamy and surprisingly light on the stomach. This recipe is based on how I prepare Okinawans as a mashed side dish — with butter, dairy, salt and bourbon or rum; the eggs, sweetener, spices and additional dairy really make it pie-worthy.

But let's not kid ourselves, the best reason to use this sweet potato is for its knock-out color — definitely a stand-out from all the other root vegetables that normally grace the Thanksgiving feast! (Yeah, I said "root vegetables".)

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

Serves 8

2.5-3lb (800-900g) Okinawan sweet potatoes, scrubbed well

Roast sweet potatoes in a pre-heated 350F/180C oven for 45-60 minutes, or until potatoes are soft when pierced with a fork. If potatoes are of different sizes, remove smaller potatoes as each softens.

Cool until easy to handle. Cut potato in half crosswise and scoop out flesh with a small spoon — you should have 3.5-4 cups (about 850g). You can do this step 2-3 days in advance — throw the potatoes in a pan when you are baking or roasting something else, and keep the scooped-out flesh refrigerated until ready to bake the pie.

To finish the pie:

2 eggs, beaten well
3 TBL unsalted butter, melted
1 cup half and half
¼ cup rum
¾ cup raw sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground allspice
½ tsp ground coriander
1 tsp sea salt
1 prepared pie crust (use your favorite)

Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C. Set rack in the middle of the oven.

Line a 9" pie plate with the prepared crust.

Combine everything from eggs to sea salt and blend well, about 2 minutes on the medium setting on your mixer. There may be some small pieces of potato in the mixture — we like the added texture, but if you prefer a smoother custard, you may need to blend for a bit longer.

Pour purple custard into prepared crust, and bake for 45-55 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely on wire rack.

I have to admit that I never save room for dessert.
For me, the best time to eat sweets like this
is with that second cup of coffee in the morning.
But whatever time of day you indulge,
don't forget the ice cream!

More traditional desserts for Thanksgiving?
How about a Pumpkin Cheesecake or
Bourbon-Kissed Sweet Potato Pie?

A traditional but less common dessert:
Mock Indian Pudding.