Just before leaving Upstate New York for Charleston, I did a very satisfying thing: I gave away my snow blower — because I knew I’d never need it again. Years later, I still savor that moment.
Growing up in the city, snow was a fact of life. Winter was a messy slog, you dealt with it, and that was that. But moving to Ithaca, NY taught me what snow really is: a lovely, delicate form of precipitation that will, if left unchecked, bury you, your car, and your house under a soft and very quiet mountain of white until spring thaw, when the mailman might look in the window and see you sitting at the kitchen table, still partly frozen in the act of trying to warm your hands over a torn-out magazine photo of a fireplace.
Hence the snow blower. The shovels were already out and in use by mid-November and it became kind of a pre-Thanksgiving Day ritual to tune up the old snow blower and get it ready for the real winter siege soon to come.
But here in South Carolina, Thanksgiving Day is usually sunny and in the low 70’s. People do their last-minute supermarket runs in t-shirts and shorts. And when folks down here ask me what I’m thankful for, I just smile and tell them I’m thankful that I don’t own a snow blower anymore.
Inspired by the warm weather, I decided to do a somewhat non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner with a tropical Cuban accent. The turkey was marinated for 24 hours in a mojo marinade containing lemon, bitter orange, oregano, and other good stuff and was incredibly flavorful and juicy. There was a side dish of fried plantains made ‘tostone’ style and served with a mango-green chile salsa, and dessert was a mango horchata flan that was ethereally delicious.
But the surprise of the day was this very easy yam dish that breaks away from the traditional sugar-and-spice treatment that yams and sweet potatoes receive during the holidays. This recipe treats them like real vegetables, not like a pre-dessert. It was a big hit and I plan to make it often while yams are available.
I used country ham in this dish, but you can use any dry ham like prosciutto or Serrano, or even unsmoked bacon or ‘streak o’ lean’ style salt pork. You want something with a good salty pork flavor to stand up to the lime and garlic. You can peel the yams if you want to, but the skin adds additional flavor and texture to the dish.
Here’s how to make the Cuban Style Yams With Garlic and Lime:
3 pounds yams (or sweet potatoes), washed or peeled
1 tsp salt
1/4 lb country ham (or other dry, unsmoked pork) cut into small pieces
2-4 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 Tbsp butter, softened
1 1/2 Tbsp lime juice (or more to taste)
1/4 tsp salt (or more to taste)
Fresh black pepper
Cut the yams in quarters lengthwise, then slice into 1/2 inch pieces. Cover with water in a large saucepan, add the salt, and bring to a boil. Simmer until yams are just cooked through but still hold together.
While the yams are simmering, cook the ham chunks in a skillet over medium heat until lightly colored and crisp on the outside, adding a little olive oil if necessary.
Drain the yams and return them to the pot. Add the ham pieces, garlic, butter, lime juice, salt and pepper. Stir gently to incorporate. If you prefer a “smashed potatoes” texture, you can stir more aggressively with a wooden spoon. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serves 4-6.
Variation: you can make this a bit spicier by adding a big pinch of cumin and a small pinch of cayenne.
Please join us tomorrow to read our newest food and cooking article, November Adventures in Food Blogging: The Most Popular Recipes and Cooking Articles on Hugging the Coast.
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