Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sweet Potato Salad

Clipping recipes can be like fishing. Many of the recipes you tear out of food magazines may look good at first, but turn out to be not worth the effort. But every once in a while you hook one that's a real keeper.

So it was with this sweet potato salad I've adapted from a recipe I found in Bon Appetit. I don't subscribe any more--some magazines just try too hard to be ahead of the latest trend. But being turned on to sweet potatoes prepared this way was worth the price of admission.

First, sweet potatoes are extremely healthy. A typical sweet potato contains only 95 calories, but is rich in Vitamins A and C in the form of beta-carotene, as well iron, dietary fiber and several other vital minerals. Plus it has a pleasing sweetness that sets it apart from regular potatoes and partners so well with other interesting ingredients, as you soon shall see.

Sweet potatoes are true root tubers, unlike the standard potato, which is actually a swollen stem. This year I am trying to grow sweet potatoes at the Washington Youth Garden as part of my chef residency. The plants I bought arrived in the mail all shriveled and looking nearly dead. But I was told they were tough little plants and would revive and they sure enough did. But now the deer have found the leaves too tasty. I'm not sure what the end result will be.

My grandmother made sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving by slicing them into chunks and smothering them in butter and brown sugar. Baked in the oven, they were incredibly dense and sweet, more like dessert, more like a confection. I think those are the kind of sweet potatoes most people remember (sometimes under a layer of marshmallows!)--and often reject. They can be achingly sweet and cloying prepared that way.

Instead, I like to peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into one-inch dice, toss them with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and bake them in a 350-degree oven until just tender. You can dress them any way you like at this point and they retain just their natural level of sweetness, which is enough for most people.

Or, you can treat sweet potatoes as a salad ingredient, as in this recipe. For 10 servings, peel 3 pounds of sweet potatoes. Cut the potatoes into 1-inch cubes, toss with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and spread on one or two baking sheets. Bake in a 350-degree oven until just tender (I poke them with a metal trussing skewer to test for doneness).

While the sweet potatoes are baking, prepare the dressing. Whisk together 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, 2 tablespoons orange juice, 2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg. Set aside.

When the sweet potatoes are cooked through, remove from the oven to cool. Meanwhile, toast 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans. In a large bowl, toss together the sweet potatoes, the toasted pecans, 1/2 cup chopped scallions, 1/2 cup chopped parsley, 1/4 cup golden raisins and 1/4 cup dark raisins. Stir in enough dressing to coat lightly.

The salad can be made ahead and refrigerated. Serve at room temp.

This sweet potato salad is a perfect summer side dish with grilled chicken, pork or barbeque. We served it with stuffed hamburgers for Fourth of July. We never tire of making it and people always ask for the recipe.


farmingfriends said...

Hi Ed,
I love sweet potatoes and am growing my own this year too. They must be hardy plants because they managed to withstand being submerged in the flood water that we suffered for a couple of days. I like to peel and slice the sweet potatoes and fry them like chips. Not particularly healthy but tastes great.
Thanks for sharing this dish I will certainly be trying it.
Sara from farmingfriends

Ed Bruske said...

Sara, what a great website you have! When you said you were having trouble with rain, I thought maybe you were in the Texas region. But I should have been looking in the opposite direction.

Love fried sweet potatoes. But as you say, it's a bit more of a production. I'm sort of lazy (slow), so I lean more toward the prepare-ahead style of cooking.

I am completely smitten by the pictures of your farm. I didn't know England could look like that. It looks like where I grew up in Illinois. I think you have a new friend...