It’s been a busy several weeks, but I’m glad to be back to blogging. Consider this post “part two” of my previous essay, “Potatoes are Not Terrible,” but this time with an emphasis on the wonderfully tasty and healthful sweet potato. I have been eating quite a lot of sweet potatoes lately, so this seems like a good topic to explore.
Root vegetables are undoubtedly comfort foods, and no root vegetable is more comforting than a well-roasted sweet potato. In the South, sweet potatoes are most often associated with sweet potato casserole and it’s slightly-more confectionery first cousin, sweet potato pie. I have nothing against either, but I am steering away from those two southern staples in this essay for a couple of reasons.
First, while the pie and casserole are often very tasty, they are almost invariably unhealthy – filled with butter and sugar – and in my opinion should only be eaten sporadically. I want to suggest a few delicious ways that sweet potatoes can be enjoyed on a regular basis. Second, sweet potatoes in pie or casserole form are reduced to a mere ingredient, usually playing second fiddle to the stronger flavors of brown sugar, pecans, and the ubiquitous toasted marshmallow topping. Sweet potatoes have quite a bit of flavor in their own right, so I am suggesting a few ways to enjoy sweet potatoes that take advantage of and highlight their natural flavor.
Honey Roasted Sweet Potatoes
This is one my favorite ways to prepare sweet potatoes – packed with flavor and incredibly easy. Peel and chop two large sweet potatoes into one-inch cubes. Toss with 2 TBSP good extra virgin olive oil (I like Colavita), 2 TBSP honey, 1 TSP fresh-squeezed orange juice, and ½ TSP kosher salt. Transfer to a large glass baking dish, potatoes in one layer, and bake at 350° for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes to coat the potatoes. By the end of the cooking process the sweet potatoes will be perfectly roasted. The honey and natural sugars from the sweet potato will begin to caramelize, which adds an incredible depth of flavor that is more than worth the minimal effort. For a slight variation you may sprinkle with cinnamon, but I don’t think it is necessary.
Grilled Sweet Potatoes
Have you ever tried sweet potatoes on the grill? You should; it is a wonderful way to caramelize the natural sugars in the sweet potato and also introduce a smoky grilled flavor. First, boil a washed and scrubbed sweet potato until just fork-tender – slightly undercooked. The time will depend on the size of the sweet potato, so you will have to use your best judgment. Slice the potato lengthwise into either fourths or eights – once again, depending on the size – and brush with good extra virgin olive oil. Grill until golden brown and charred on all sides. Transfer to a plate and sprinkle with kosher salt, fresh lime zest, and chopped cilantro. Serve immediately. Try this. You will love it. It is great with a medium-rare T-bone.
Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Simply follow the honey roasted sweet potato recipe above, but substitute high-quality maple syrup for the honey. While the potatoes are cooking, sauté one small white onion in extra virgin olive oil over medium heat, about five minutes or until the onions start to caramelize. Add 2 TBSP maple syrup, 2 TBSP balsamic vinegar, and salt/pepper to taste. Cook until golden brown and caramelized. Serve sautéed maple balsamic onions over the roasted sweet potatoes.
I hope this essay will give you a few ideas about how to enjoy the truly wonderful sweet potato. You may be wondering why I have not included a recipe for sweet potato fries. Here’s why. Sweet potato fries are everywhere these days, and people seem to enjoy them, but I have found that they are usually greasy. Sweet potatoes act like a sponge and soak up oil. Furthermore, the frying process does not bring out the natural flavor of the sweet potato in a way that I enjoy. You may disagree, but I don’t think sweet potato fries are worth the effort. Deep frying is useful in many circumstances, but for sweet potatoes I would stick to either roasting or grilling. Enjoy!