Simple Art of Cooking: Squashing Those Winter Doldrums

Sweet potato pie.
Sweet potato pie. Photo credit:

Taste memories are as endearing as they are enduring. Over the years I’ve gathered a cornucopia of Thanksgiving recipes in every category and my spiced sweet potato pie is consuming my thoughts. The puréed potatoes incorporate grapes and dates, then are sweetly spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and mace. This will definitely be my go-to sweet potato pie for this Thanksgiving, a dish that has certainly stood the test of time.

When Johanna Halsey of the Green Thumb Organic Farmstand in Water Mill introduced me to red kuru squash, I was smitten. The deep, orange red globe with its topknot appeared whimsical, yet it’s just one of our, “what to do with all that squash” group. Always ready to try something new, I would use the red kuru squash to prepare a soup in place of the butternut. With Thanksgiving just a week away, it’s time to plan ahead. The soup can be prepared completely, and refrigerated for several days or frozen for a week or more; save for the garnish to be added before serving.

With Hanukkah starting the Wednesday at sundown, the night before Thanksgiving, do we prepare a spiced sweet potato pie or sweet potato, carrot latkes? It’s not about the potatoes, it’s about the oil. The oil that was supposed to last one night after the temple was desecrated but lasted eight days following the Maccabee victory over their oppressors. If doing the latkes, just prepare your favorite potato pancake recipe and substitute sweet potatoes adding shredded sweet yellow pepper and carrot. Have a joyous and bountiful Thanksgiving!

The combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and mace with grapes and dates has made this a family holiday favorite for years.

Serves 12–14

4 1/2 to 5 pounds yams or sweet potatoes, scrubbed
Kosher salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup milk, scalded
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
1 cup halved seedless red or green grapes
1 cup pitted dates, thinly sliced

1. Place potatoes in 4 quarts salted boiling water. Cook with cover ajar until potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife, about 35 to 40 minutes. Drain, peel and cut potatoes in 1-inch chunks. Purée in batches in a food mill or potato ricer over a large mixing bowl, adding the butter 1 tablespoon at a time.

2. Gradually add the hot milk, while mixing with a large wooden spoon until mixture is light and fluffy. Season with cinnamon, nutmeg and mace and fold in grapes and dates. Stir to mix until ingredients are evenly distributed.

3. Butter a 2-quart baking-serving dish and spoon in the potato mixture in an even layer. Fluff up the surface with the tines of a fork and dot with extra butter. Can be prepared up to 2 days ahead. Refrigerate covered in the baking dish. Bring to room temperature when ready to serve and bake in a 375°F. preheated oven about 20 to 25 minutes until heated through. Serve immediately

Reprinted from Silvia Lehrer’s Cooking At Cooktique, Doubleday – now The Simple Art of Cooking, an e-book.

The red kuru is a globe, pumpkin-like, but sweet variety of squash with a kind of topknot. Steam then purée the soft flesh to a velvety finish.

Serves 8–10

1 red kuru or butternut squash, about 3 pounds
11/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
3 to 4 carrots, trimmed and cut into small dice
2 leeks, trimmed and washed, white and light part only, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup dry white wine
5 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade, or low-sodium chicken broth
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup light cream
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped parsley leaves for garnish
Coarsely chopped cilantro or parsley leaves for garnish

1. Poke the squash all over with a sharp paring knife then microwave on high for 6 minutes to make it easier to cut through the hard flesh. With a large chef’s knife, halve the red kuru squash crosswise and scoop out the seeds and fiber. Place each half cut side down on steamer rack and steam over simmering water over medium-low heat about 18 to 20 minutes. Alternately if using Butternut squash slice the long neck crosswise and steam as above until flesh is soft enough to scoop from the shell. Set aside

2. In a large saucepan, melt butter with the oil. When butter foam subsides, add carrots and leeks, cover with a square of wax paper, cover pot and simmer for 6 or 7 minutes to sweat the vegetables. Uncover pot; remove wax paper and discard. Add the ginger to the leek and carrots and stir to mix. Add wine and bring to the boil, then add the squash pieces and the stock and stir to mix. Bring to the edge of a boil. Season the soup to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper, adjust heat and let simmer for 30 to 35 minutes.

3. Allow soup to cool slightly then purée with hand held immersion blender directly in the saucepan or transfer to a blender or food processor and purée until smooth. Can be made ahead to this point. Refrigerate in a suitable container for up to two days or freeze.

4. If the soup thickens a great deal when ready to serve, add a half cup of cold water with the cream, stir to mix and gently reheat at a simmer. Taste to adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve with cilantro or parsley leaves.

For Silvia’s blog and more recipes visit

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