Sweet potatoes are packed with all kinds of healthy vitamins and minerals. Because it’s naturally sweet, for Thanksgiving, sweet potato casserole ends up more like dessert than a side dish, pairing the naturally sweet vegetables with butter, brown sugar and marshmallow.
I don’t always like to mess with tradition, but this lightened-up take on a sweet potato casserole is a slightly healthier — and still delicious — alternative to this popular side dish.
There’s some brown sugar mixed in with the potatoes, for instance, along with a generous dose of fall spices. You’ll primarily taste the natural sweetness of the sweet potatoes in the finished dish, along with hints of molasses and spice.
It feels lighter, yet it is still very flavorful. The best part is that this dish is quite easy to put together, so you can include it at other fall dinners and not just save it for Thanksgiving.
Prepping the Potatoes
Sweet potatoes need to be cooked before you can start to build your casserole, just like regular potatoes need to be cooked before they can be mashed.
The sweet potatoes can be boiled or steamed until tender on the stovetop. They can also be microwaved for a few minutes, until tender. The exact cooking time will depend on the size of your potatoes and I’ve given guidelines for boiling in the recipe. If you prefer to microwave your potatoes, cook them whole and remove the skins after they have cooled.
What about Canned Sweet Potatoes?
The short answer is yes, you can use canned sweet potatoes. It’s a convenient option that will streamline your casserole-making, since canned sweet potatoes are already cooked, cut into chunks and packed in syrup.
To use them, drain the syrup from the potatoes and rinse them thoroughly in water. If possible, try to choose potatoes packed in the lightest syrup you can.
If you really luck out, you may be able to find canned sweet potato puree, which can also be used in this recipe.
Start by mashing the sweet potatoes with a potato masher. I added a small amount of brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg to my potatoes, alone with some milk and an egg. The egg helps the casserole to hold together and gives it a little firmer consistency than mashed sweet potatoes alone.
Then, spread the mixture into a baking dish. I used a lovely 11″ by 7″ dish that gave me a thicker layer of sweet potato. You can use a 9″ square dish or a 9″ by 13″ dish, as well. For a side like this with a short baking time, I generally opt for more decorative dishes, if I can.
Just before putting this into the oven, I added some chopped pecans and a few mini marshmallows. The marshmallows are one of my favorite parts of the casserole and the caramelized sweetness of the toasted marshmallows adds a finishing touch to the dish. You can feel free to eliminate the marshmallows — or double the nuts, if you like more crunch — if you want to keep the sugar to a minimum in your dish.
The dish is ready to serve as soon as it comes out of the oven, though I would give it a few extra minutes to cool before serving to prevent hungry diners from burning their tongues. A large spoon is the only tool you need to serve it, and it can be spooned alongside all kinds of savory main courses.
Lighter Sweet Potato Casserole
- 2 to 2½ lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1″ chunks
- ¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon molasses
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Pinch of pepper
- ¼ cup milk
- 1 large egg
- 1/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans
- ¼ cup mini marshmallows (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 F. Place the sweet potatoes a medium saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat slightly and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until sweet potatoes are tender. Drain and transfer to a large bowl to cool slightly.
Mash sweet potatoes with a potato masher
In a separate small bowl, whisk together sugar, molasses, salt, spices, milk and egg. Add to mashed sweet potato and stir to combine.
Transfer mixture to a casserole dish and spread into an even layer. Sprinkle chopped pecans and mini marshmallows on top of the casserole.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until marshmallows are lightly toasted and outer edges of the casserole are beginning to turn golden brown. Cool slightly before serving.