Try this festive side dish of mashed sweet potatoes with leeks and walnuts to dress up the fall and winter holiday table, or any other special occasion. Simple mashed sweet potatoes are a nourishing side dish in their own right, and a nice alternative to ordinary mashed potatoes. Make them even better with a tasty topping of sautéed leeks, walnuts, and sage leaves.
Leeks, often neglected members of the onion family, resemble giant green onions (aka scallions). They’re sweeter and somewhat milder than onions. The most tender leeks are quite slender, about the thickness of a thumb, but those are rarely to be seen. What are most commonly available are plump leeks in bunches of three or four, and these will certainly do.
To prepare leeks, cut off the tops where they begin to turn dark green. The tops are too tough to use, but if rinsed well, they can be simmered in soup stock to add flavor, then discarded.
Cut off the coarsely bristled end and discard as well. I like to cut the usable parts of leeks (the white and palest green parts) in half lengthwise, then into into 1/4-inch-thick slices.
Make sure to rinse well! Since leeks grow deep in sandy soil, there’s often a considerable amount of grit imbedded in the rings, so rinse them very well in a colander. Swish them around with your hands — nothing ruins a good dish more than biting into sand.
How to cook: Leeks can be cooked in a covered skillet with a mixture of water and just a little oil—there should be just enough water to keep the skillet moist, not more. And if you prefer, you can skip the oil altogether, though using even a small amount seems to help deepen the flavor. It takes about 8 to 10 minutes to cook leeks to a just-tender texture.
As suggested in this recipe, once the leeks have wilted, you can drain off the water, drizzle in a bit more oil, and sauté until just touched with golden spots. I don’t recommend browning leeks, as you would onions; that tends to make them tough.
Photos of sweet potatoes with leeks and walnuts by Hannah Kaminsky, BittersweetBlog.com
- 4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
- 2 tablespoons vegan butter
- 1/2 cup plain unsweetened plant-based milk
- Pinch of nutmeg
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 2 large or 3 medium leeks, white part only, chopped and well rinsed
- 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
- A few small sage leaves for garnish, optional
- Combine the sweet potato dice with enough water to cover, plus 2 extra cups, in a large saucepan. Bring to a rapid simmer, then turn the heat down and simmer gently for 10 minutes, or until fork-tender (add more water if need be). Drain and transfer to a shallow bowl.
- Mash the sweet potatoes well, then stir in the vegan butter and plan-based milk. Add the nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Pat the mashed sweet potatoes into a small casserole dish, cover, and set aside.
- Combine the leeks with about 1/2 cup water in a large skillet or stir-fry pan. Cover and cook over medium heat until just tender, stirring occasionally, about 5 to 7 minutes. Drain off any liquid. Turn up the heat to medium-high and drizzle in the oil. Sauté for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the leeks start to be touched with golden spots here and there, but don’t brown them — they’ll get tough.
- Stir the walnuts and parsley in with the leeks and remove from the heat.
- Scatter the leek mixture over the sweet potatoes. Garnish the top with a few small sage leaves (or sliced sage leaves if large). To serve piping hot, microwave briefly before serving, or pop into a hot oven for 5 to 7 minutes.
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