Treat sweet potato like a spud and be pleasantly surprised

Ok, so maybe sweet potatoes are only potatoes in name. But they’re still large starchy vegetables, so maybe lets lay off the sugar and let’s hear what they have to say?

Don’t get me wrong – I have a real sweet tooth. But sweet potatoes can be so much more than sweet, and I think we’re short-changing them by always pairing them with sugar or spices we associate with sweet things (follow-up post to come on why pumpkin pie spices aren’t sweet). Or, doing horrendous things like turning them into toast. And it’s not that we don’t already treat sweet potatoes like russets or Yukon golds – sweet potato fries, anyone? But when we do, we often take the twist too far and go off into dessert land. So here’s what I’m saying – keep sweet potatoes potatoes, and bask in the sweet-savory results.

For instance: I just made this baked sweet potato. IMG_20190319_152033I rubbed the outside with salt, pepper, and olive oil like I do with a russet, and performed my mind-blowing microwave trick (5 minutes per side on high) to get a beautifully creamy interior and an almost crispy exterior (or I could have put it in the oven at 350 for an hour). So the outside is already savory – it’s got salt and pepper. So I did what I normally do with potatoes – I cut it in half length-wise, cut a cross-hatch in each side, mashed in a few dots of butter, and topped it with cheddar. When I make this into a real meal, I also put on sautéed greens and chickpeas or shredded chicken. But because I was lazy, I opted for medium salsa, which was in my fridge. The amazing thing here is that because sweet potatoes are already so flavorful, they can take on (and meld beautifully with) strong flavors like chilis. It’s not going to taste like a russet – it can’t – but it’s way more complex and interesting, and most importantly I don’t feel like I just ate a weirdly caloric dessert for lunch.

I love putting sweet potatoes in anything vaguely southwestern/Mexican/TexMexican/NewMexMexican/NewYorkShittyMexican. Sweet potatoes dusted with chili powder, tossed with Yukon golds and peppers in a saute, mashed up and paired with black beans – it adds a great depth to foods that can otherwise be aggressively salty, and compliments spices perfectly. Sweet potatoes love cumin and paprika and oregano.

I think this principle extends to other things that are sweet but don’t need to have their sweetness amped up. When I make butternut squash soup, for instance, I go the Jane Brody route and saute garlic and onions, toss in the squash and stock, puree, and then add a tiny bit of nutmeg and pepper at the end. I could make a soup with dark leafy greens exactly the same way – no apples or maple syrup or anything else sweet. The result is just a little bit sweet, but also interesting. And I think that’s really the point to me – if you leave out the sugar, you have to come up with something more complex in its flavor.

So I encourage you to pretend sweet potatoes aren’t sweet and venture forth into the land of sweet-savory.