A sweet potato casserole is a baked dish that contains sweet potatoes as a primary ingredient. There are many different kinds of sweet potato casserole, ranging from the savory to the sweet. Cooks in many parts of the world have their own variations. Some are intended to be served as side dishes, while others, particularly those containing meats and beans, can be a main course. In most cases, the dish is designed to be served hot, and almost always makes enough to serve a crowd.
The term “casserole,” which is a French word loosely translated as “shallow pan,” has a very broad meaning in the culinary world. It can describe any combination of ingredients that are mixed together in a pan, then baked to create a unified dish. In most cases, the “casserole” designation says much more about how a food is prepared than what it contains. When it comes to sweet potato casseroles, there is an equal amount of breadth: basically any baked dish with sweet potatoes can qualify.
Sweet potatoes are vegetables originally indigenous to Central America and the Caribbean. Commercial cultivation is very much worldwide, however, with the result that the vegetable is available in most markets. Nevertheless, the sweet potato — and with it, sweet potato casserole — is most popular with cooks in North and South America.
The sweet potato is a very dense vegetable that typically takes a long time to cook thoroughly. Casserole cooks usually take this into account when preparing their dishes. One of the most common ways to make a sweet potato casserole is to boil and mash the sweet potatoes first, then blend them with other ingredients in the pan for baking. Raw potatoes are usually sliced thinly or cubed.
Depending on the ingredients, the casserole is either baked open or covered, either with a lid or with aluminum foil. Most of the time, casseroles with toppings, be they breadcrumbs, cheese, or toasted nuts, are prepared in a covered dish so that the top does not have a chance to burn before the inside has cooked through. Lids also help to keep the dishes consistently warm, and are often used once the casserole is done baking, particularly if there is some wait time before the dish is to be served.
There are a great many types of casserole that include sweet potatoes. In the United States, a sugary, dessert-like variation is a very popular dish at many Thanksgiving celebrations. Often made with sugar, nuts, and fruit juice, this homemade casserole is usually designed as a dish to pass at large family gatherings. The sweetness complements the savory flavors of other dishes traditionally served at the meal, particularly turkey.
Making casseroles with more salty ingredients like meats, beans, and vegetables is also popular. The sweet potato has a rather neutral flavor that goes well with a range of different tastes and textures. A heartier sweet potato casserole can easily serve as a main course.