For a long time I believed that I didn’t like sweet potatoes. I suppose this is because my only real experience with them was in the form of the classic marshmallow-topped Thanksgiving Day casserole. And while I loved the casserole as a child (how often do you get to eat marshmallows for dinner?), I grew to dislike it as an adult. It was simply too sweet. Way too sweet. I didn’t realize the potential for the sweet potato to blend so wonderfully in savory dishes, to enhance rather than overwhelm a dish with sweetness. And so, with the exception of the occasional sweet potato fry, the sweet potato all but disappeared from my diet for many years.
Last year I volunteered at our local CSA, Los Poblanos Organics, and I encountered the sweet potato again. At the time, the recession was in full swing and I was unemployed, so when I was allowed to take home extra sweet potatoes at the end of my shift, I jumped at the opportunity. I roasted them, froze them, and began to search for recipes. I was grateful to have them and thus open-minded about what I might be able to create with them. The three recipes featured below are a result of my sweet-potato renaissance.
The first is a simple Sweet Potato Chili. It is one of those recipe gems that is created when you just use whatever you have on hand. I needed to get rid of some vegetable cocktail juice, sweet potatoes, and black beans. I scrounged for the other ingredients and Sweet Potato Chili was born! Get all the ingredients ready, throw them in the crock pot, and by the time you come home from work you’ll have a hearty, healthy, vegan chili waiting for you. The recipe makes a very large batch, so if you don’t have at least a 5-quart crock pot, you may want to halve the recipe. I usually freeze half to have on hand for an easy dinner down the road.
The second recipe is for a Grilled Sweet Potato and Red Pepper Salad. This salad is incredible- one of my favorites. If you could put summertime in a bowl, it would taste like this. Sweet potatoes are tossed with a tangy lime and cilantro dressing, then grilled until tender and combined with scallions, red bell peppers, and black beans atop fresh greens. This vegan salad is bursting with nutrition: vitamin C, vitamin B-6, and beta carotene. I can’t believe it’s 30˚ outside.
Finally, in the third recipe, sweet potatoes are combined with Yukon gold potatoes and layered in a crust containing gruyere cheese, black pepper, and fresh rosemary. Layered with more cheese, drizzled with heavy cream and garlic, and baked to a golden brown, this potato gratin makes a decadent brunch item. Or serve with a small salad for lunch or a light dinner. You can prepare the dish ahead of time by layering the potatoes in the prepared crust and refrigerating until you’re ready to bake. Drizzle with cream and garlic just before baking. Another timesaver for this dish is to use store-bought pie crusts.
Three wonderful recipes with sweet potatoes and not a marshmallow in sight! If, somewhere inside, you are lamenting the marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole, you can always make it for Thanksgiving – but I know I won’t now that I’ve tasted what a sweet potato can really do, and how diverse it can be.
Sweet Potato Chili
3 celery stalks, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1 large onion, diced
2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 cup bulgur
2 15 oz cans diced tomatoes
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp cumin
4 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp oregano
6 cups vegetable broth
2 cups vegetable cocktail juice
2 15 oz cans or 3 cups cooked beans (kidney, pinto, or black)
salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients except beans in a 5 quart or larger crock pot. Cook on high for about 5 hours or until potatoes are tender. Add the beans and continue cooking for about 1 more hour. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Grilled Sweet Potato and Red Pepper salad
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced ½ inch thick
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 ½ cups cooked or one can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 scallions, sliced
3 Tbsp orange juice
salad greens or spinach
Salt and pepper
Whisk together the ingredients for the Cilantro-Lime dressing in a large bowl. Add the potatoes and toss to coat.
Prepare a medium fire on the grill. Grill the potatoes, turning occasionally and brushing with remaining marinade until lightly charred and fork tender. Watch the potatoes closely as you grill them, they can burn easily.
Because it is January, I prepared my potatoes on an indoor grill. While this got the job done, there are a couple of things to note: I set off the smoke detector, and my potatoes charred nicely, but did not cook through- I ended up putting them in the microwave for a few minutes to complete the cooking. I imagine you could also roast the potatoes in the oven if you don’t want to set off your smoke detector or brave the winter weather to fire up your grill.
Chop grilled potatoes into ½ pieces and return to the marinade. Add bell peppers, scallions and orange juice and stir gently. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Spoon potato mixture over a bed of fresh greens- I used mixed baby greens and spinach. Add ¼ cup black beans to each salad. Serve immediately.
Sweet Potato Gratin with Rosemary Crust
1 14.1 oz package refrigerated pie crusts
1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
¼ tsp black pepper
2 cups shredded Gruyere cheese
1 ½ lbs Yukon gold potatoes
1 ½ lbs sweet potatoes
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 garlic clove, minced
Preheat the oven to 450˚. On a lightly floured surface, unroll one of the pie crusts. Sprinkle with ½ cup cheese, rosemary, and black pepper. Top with the remaining pie crust and gently press crusts together. Transfer crust to a 9 inch springform pan and gently press into the bottom and up the sides. Chill for 10 minutes.
While crusts are chilling, peel and thinly slice potatoes. Layer 1/3 of the potatoes in the prepared crust. Each layer should contain an even mix of Yukon gold potatoes and sweet potatoes. Sprinkle each layer with salt and cheese.
Mince the garlic and place in a microwave safe dish with the heavy cream. Microwave for 45 seconds. Slowly pour the cream and garlic over the layered potatoes. Top with remaining cheese. Cover the pan in aluminum foil and place on a baking sheet.
Bake the gratin, covered, for 90 minutes at 450˚. Remove the foil and bake for an attitional 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender and crust and cheese are golden brown. Cooking times will vary depending on your oven. Test the potatoes with a fork to ensure they are tender. Adjust cooking time as necessary. Remove from the oven and let stand for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the sides of the springform pan. Slice and serve.