Sweet potatoes at heart of fair recipes

By Brie Handraaf
Posted 10/22/19

It is time for the N.C. State Fair and, to me at least, that means it is time for some awesome culinary creations. This year, the tasty treats weren’t limited to the food vendors as I judged one of …

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Sweet potatoes at heart of fair recipes

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Flat Rock resident Betsy Tankersley was the grand prize winner in an N.C. State Fair contest with her buckeye ice cream sundaes.
Flat Rock resident Betsy Tankersley was the grand prize winner in an N.C. State Fair contest with her buckeye ice cream sundaes.
Contributed photo

It is time for the N.C. State Fair and, to me at least, that means it is time for some awesome culinary creations. This year, the tasty treats weren’t limited to the food vendors as I judged one of the cooking competitions with my significant other.

James and I headed to Raleigh on Saturday morning to judge the N.C. Sweet Potato Commission’s dietary restriction recipe competition where 36 cooks incorporated fresh sweet potatoes into a vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free or sugar-free dish. The nine judges were split into groups, each of which tasted a third of the entries before picking the tops and trading with the other judges.

One bite at a time, each of us ranked the recipes on three criteria: 40% of the score was reserved for creative use of sweet potatoes, 35% going to taste and the remaining 25% going toward preparation and cooking time.

And the winning recipe — buckeye ice cream sundaes — ranked high in all those categories. This sweet concoction from Betsy Tankersley of Flat Rock hit a home run with James, who has a major soft spot for peanut butter and chocolate. The fact that this dessert is made with sweet potatoes and coconut cream was amazing to me because I definitely wouldn’t have guessed it wasn’t an indulgent dairy ice cream.

It was a hard decision among the other finalists, but it should come as no surprise for North Carolinians that a sweet potato pie garnered second place. Durham resident Aasiyah Hasan impressed us all with her flaky gluten-free pie crust, perfectly seasoned filling and candied pecans.

“I’m a fan of sweet potato pie and that is one of the best ones I’ve had,” James said after tasting the winning dish.

Even though sweet is literally in the name of the popular produce, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the more savory dishes offered by cooks across the state. Yvonne Payton Davis of Knightdale took home third place with her vegan sweet potato chili with creamy coconut rice. The honorable mention went to Domino Ireland of Raleigh with the Hit the SPOT — sweet potato, onion, tomato — Soup, which amazed this anti-tomato soup gal. I loved the balance of spices and the chives as garnish really won me over.

While Julie Truelove of Raleigh didn’t take home bragging rights or prize money, her Autumn Gratin was among my favorites from the day. The balance of sweet and savory combined in a gluten-free and vegetarian dish means I’ll be bringing this to upcoming holiday celebrations.

“There were a lot of recipes that if you brought it to a dinner party, I’d have it and enjoy it, but it is harder when you’re supposed to be critical,” James said after picking the winners.

Brie Handgraaf covers city government and business for the Times. Reach her at 252-265-7821 and bhandgraaf@wilsontimes.com.

Buckeye Ice Cream Sundaes

Gluten-Free, Vegan-Friendly

Ice Cream:

1 1/2 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes

1 cup pure maple syrup

3 tablespoons vanilla extract

16 ounces creamy peanut butter

21 ounces cream of coconut

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon salt

Hot Fudge Sauce:

1/3 coconut oil

1/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup plant-based milk substitute

1 cup dairy-free chocolate chips

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whipped Cream:

14 ounces coconut cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 tablespoons powdered sugar


1 cup gluten-free mini pretzels

For the ice cream: Blend all ingredients together until smooth. Place in a large plastic or metal container and lay plastic wrap on top of the mixture (this will help keep ice crystals from forming on the ice cream). Place in freezer for four hours, stirring and recovering every 30 minutes. While near the fridge, place a medium mixing bowl in the freezer for 30 minutes for the whipped cream.

For the hot sauce: In a medium pot, mix together the oil, sugar, cocoa and milk substitute until combined. Bring the mixture to a steady boil over medium-high heat and stir until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and chocolate chips until smooth.

For the whipped cream: Drain off the clear liquid from the cream of coconut. Remove the mixing bowl from the freezer and add the ingredients. Whip on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form.

Scoop out a hearty serving of the ice cream into a serving dish, then top with spoonful of hot fudge sauce, whipped cream and a sprinkle of the pretzels. Enjoy!

Sweet Potato Pie with Candied Pecan Topping



1 pound sweet potato

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 cup white sugar

1/2 cup milk

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1 1/4 cup gluten-free flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg

2 teaspoons lemon juice

6 tablespoons cold butter

Ice water

Candied Pecans:

1/2 cup pecan halves

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon white sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

2 teaspoons water

Boil sweet potato whole in skin for 40 to 50 minutes or until done. Run cold water over sweet potatoes and remove the skin. Break apart the sweet potato in a bowl. Add butter and mix well with mixer. Stir in sugar, milk, eggs, cinnamon and vanilla. Beat on medium speed until mixture is smooth.

Whisk together flour and salt. Cut the cold butter into flour until it’s crumbly with some larger, pea-sized chunks of butter remaining. Whisk the egg and lemon juice together and mix into the dry ingredients. Stir until mixture holds together. Add water a tablespoon at a time until dough forms a ball. Roll out dough and place in pie pan, trim edges as needed.

Pour filling into unbaked pie crust. Back at 350 degrees for 55 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Meanwhile, mix together sugars, cinnamon and water for the candied pecans and set aside. Saute pecans in a saucepan for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Toss sugar mixture with pecans and spread onto parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about three minutes or until pecans are crispy.

When the pie is finished, top with candied pecans and refrigerate for at least four hours before serving.

Sweet Potato Chili with Creamy Coconut Rice


4 cups diced sweet potatoes

1 chopped large onion

3 cloves chopped garlic

1 chopped large bell pepper

1 15-ounce can whole kernel corn

1 14.5-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes

1 15-ounce undrained can black beans

2 tablespoons cooking oil

1 package taco seasoning mix

1 teaspoon chili powder

2 cups vegetable stock

1 cup rice

1 14.5-ounce can coconut milk plus enough water to make two cups liquid

2 chopped scallions

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven. Cook onion, garlic and bell pepper until tender or about five minutes. Add sweet potatoes and cook until lightly browned. Add taco seasoning mix and stir. Add corn, beans, tomatoes, stock and chili powder. Reduce heat to low and cook 25 minutes or until all vegetables are tender. Meanwhile, combine coconut milk, water and rice in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover with a tight lid, reduce heat and cook for 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Serve chili with a scoop of rice and chopped scallions.

Hit the SPOT Soup


2 tablespoons avocado oil

2 finely chopped yellow onions

2 cups cubed sweet potatoes

2 cups diced tomatoes

4 cups vegetable stock, divided

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon turmeric powder

Additional salt and pepper to taste

Chopped chives for garnish

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven. Cook onion until it becomes translucent and move contents to a bowl. While Dutch oven is still hot, deglaze with 1/2 cup of stock. Add the remaining stock and bring to a light boil, adding sweet potatoes and cooking for about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low and stir in onions, tomatoes and dry ingredients. Simmer about five more minutes before removing from heat.

Pour half into a food processor, blend and pour into a large bowl. Add remaining mixture to food processor and blend. Combine all in the Dutch oven, heat on low while stirring to warm back up. Add additional salt and pepper before garnishing to taste.

Autumn Gratin


3 small or two large peeled and thinly sliced sweet potatoes

1 thinly sliced small onion

2 peeled, cored and thinly sliced Granny Smith apples

1 cup heavy cream

1 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves, divided

Salt and pepper

1/2 cup finely chopped almonds

2 tablespoons melted butter

1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9x13 baking dish. Combine the cream and one teaspoon thyme in a small sauce pan over low heat. Heat through, being careful not to scorch.

Using half of the sweet potato slices, layer overlapping slices in the prepared dish and season with salt and pepper. Using half of the apple, add a layer of apple slices. Layer all of the onion on top, sprinkle with salt, pepper and 1/2 teaspoon thyme. Repeat sweet potato, seasoning and apple layers.

Pour the warm cream over the top. Press everything down with the back of a spatula before covering with foil and baking for 40 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine the almonds, cheese and melted butter. Uncover the dish and sprinkle the almond mixture on top. Bake uncovered for about 20 minutes or until golden.