Sweet potatoes pack flavor and nutrition into dishes

BATON ROUGE, La. - Sweet potatoes are a nutritional bargain. They are rich in flavor and natural sweetness and are packed with immune system boosting beta-carotene, the chemical that gives the sweet potato its deep orange color.

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, fresh sweet potatoes have more beta-carotene than carrots and more vitamin C than tomatoes.

Not just a holiday side, sweet potatoes are great to serve throughout the year, but they pair particularly well with fall fare such as pork roasts, turkey, duck and Cornish hens.

Every family has its favorite recipe for a brown-sugar-and-pecan or marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole. The food staff of The Advocate tweaked a couple of those oldie but goodie recipes for readers to try, and tested a less-rich sweet potato and apple casserole that would taste good alongside a bowl of spicy chicken and sausage gumbo.

Scalloped Sweet Potato With Apple

2 pounds orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced on the diagonal

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced

12 California dried apricot halves, chopped

3⁄4 cup honey

2 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate

1⁄2 cup apple cider

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

4 to 5 grinds black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 F. Coat an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray, or brush it lightly with oil, and set aside.

Cover the bottom of the baking dish with a layer using half of the potato slices, arranging the slices in four overlapping rows, like roof tiles. Cover the potatoes with the apple. Add a second layer of potatoes. Sprinkle the apricots over the potatoes.

Whisk the honey, orange juice concentrate, cider, salt and pepper together until the honey dissolves. Pour the mixture over the potatoes.

Cover the dish with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake 15 minutes longer, or until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife. They will still hold their shape. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Makes 8 servings.