What athletes eat -- Laila Ali's 'not your mama's' sweet potato pie

Even a champ like Laila Ali, a retired boxer, is known to indulge in a sweet treat. In "Food for Life," her new healthy comfort food book, she shares her most beloved recipes with a side helping of life advice. 

Photography by Matt Armendariz

What I'm eating: "Not your mama's" sweet potato pie

The story behind the pie: Traditional sweet potato pie is made with white flour, refined sugar, shortening and cream. Although this type of pie is truly mouthwatering, I usually don't feel too great after indulging in a slice or two. This recipe, which happens to be both gluten- and dairy-free, has a winning combination of goodness and wholesomeness with pure and simple sweet potato flavor.

My go-to pie crust is made from dates and nuts, making it more nutritious and flavorful than a flour crust, and requires no special pastry-making skills. Note that this type of crust browns quickly, so you'll need to cover it with a pie crust shield (available at kitchen supply stores) or a strip of aluminum foil 10 minutes into baking so it doesn't burn.

This pie tastes even better the next day after the flavors have had some time to mingle and chill in the fridge. Remove it an hour or so before serving to reach room temperature. A dollop of plain Greek yogurt or Vanilla Whipped Cream (see page 295 in "Food for Life") would be a fitting finish for a slice.

The recipe:


Ali with her "Food for Life" book.


2 pounds sweet potatoes (2 large)

Date-nut pie crust:

1½ cups walnut pieces

1/2 cup pitted dried dates

1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon sea salt


2/3 cup pure maple syrup

1/2 cup unrefined coconut oil

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Makes one 10-inch pie

Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into roughly 1-inch chunks. Place them in a steamer basket set over a pot filled with a couple of inches of simmering water. Cover and steam until tender when poked with a knife or fork, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the steamer and let cool.

While the sweet potatoes are steaming, make the crust: Combine all the crust ingredients in a food processor and process until broken down into a rough puree that holds together, leaving small pieces of nuts visible for texture. Transfer the dough to the center of a 10-inch pie plate and loosely form it into a ball (set the processor bowl aside, no need to rinse). Press the dough evenly over the bottom of the pie plate and up the sides (the bottom of a flat dry measuring cup would be a good tool for the job), but do not make a rim over the top of the plate. 

To make the filling: Combine all the filling ingredients in the food processor and process until smooth, about 2 minutes, stopping the machine to scrape down the sides once or twice as needed. Pour the filling into the crust and use a rubber spatula to spread it out evenly, making sure the filling reaches the sides of the crust in all places. Bake for 10 minutes, then carefully place a pie crust shield or a strip of aluminum foil over the crust and bake for 40 additional minutes, or until the pie is mostly set but still a little jiggly and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out mostly wet (not dry).

Place on a wire rack to cool completely before slicing and serving.

Reprinted from Food for Life by Laila Ali. Copyright © 2018 by the author and reprinted by permission of St Martin's Press.

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