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A little indulgence isn’t a terrible thing. But like most things in life, your dinner plate benefits from balance. Nipping some fat and calories while tucking in more fiber and helpful nutrients never hurts.

Here’s one way to do it: Instead of beating lots of butter and sugar into sweet potato casseroles, try a different presentation. Roast the sweet potatoes to make them creamy and the skins crisp. Scoop them out, beat in a little butter and maple syrup, and pile it all back into the sweet potato skins, ready to be warmed up for any dinner. It’s an easy make-ahead in a single-serve package.

Skip the marshmallows and sprinkle pecans on top instead. Pecans add protein, fiber and healthful fats without adding a load of sugar. Beta carotene, the pigment that makes sweet potatoes orange, helps your body make vitamin A, an antioxidant that may help to prevent cancer. Throw in orange juice for a vitamin C boost and you have something that's both delicious and nutritious.

Twice-baked sweet potatoes

From “Basic to Brilliant, Y’all,” by Virginia Willis (Ten Speed Press, 2011).

  • 4 medium sweet potatoes (about 2 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 1/2 orange (about 1/4 cup juice)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans


Heat the oven to 400. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Scrub the sweet potatoes well. Using a fork, pierce each one in several places and place on the lined baking sheet. Bake about 50 minutes, until fork-tender. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

Using an oven mitt or folded kitchen towel, cut each sweet potato lengthwise. Use a spoon to scoop out the flesh into a bowl, leaving about 1/8 inch of sweet potato inside the shell. Place the emptied shells back on the baking sheet and return to the oven for about 10 minutes, until they’re dry and slightly crisped.

Add the syrup, butter, orange zest and juice and spices to the cooked sweet potato. Beat with a mixer or whisk until smooth. (To get it really smooth, press the cooked sweet potato through a potato ricer first.) Taste and add salt and pepper.

Place the eight potato skins in a casserole dish. Divide the mixture between them, mounding a little in the middle. Sprinkle each one with some of the pecans. Refrigerate if making in advance.

When ready to serve, return to a 350- to 400-degree oven and bake until slightly brown and crisp on top and warmed through, about 10 minutes.

Makes 8 servings. Per serving: 143 calories; 6.5g fat (1.4g saturated, 0.1g transfat); 3.8mg cholesterol; 28mg sodium; 20.6g carbohydrates (3.3g dietary fiber, 8.6g sugar); 2.2g protein.

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