Sweet potato showstoppers

Just in time for the holiday, three creative, unconventional choices.

Sweet potato recipe (Photograph by Jim Scherer)
By Adam Ried
November 21, 2010

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A confession: Every Thanksgiving I cringe (I hope not enough for others at the table to notice) when the inevitable dish of marshmallow-topped or otherwise candied sweet potatoes appears. Sweet potatoes possess such an individual, earthy sweetness of their own, I can’t help but wonder why cooks push it into overdrive? Here are three recipes that give Thanksgiving sweet potatoes a slight spin, keeping the sweetness in check with savory and piquant complements: black beans and radishes in a salad; fresh ginger and chili pepper in a spicy dish with tomato; shallots, thyme, and tomato paste in spoon bread.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Salad with Orange and Radish Serves 6
2½pounds sweet potatoes, peeled, quartered, and cut into ½1/2-inch-thick slices

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons orange marmalade

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Salt and pepper

1/3cup extra-virgin olive oil

5 large radishes, thinly sliced

1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed

2 medium navel oranges, either sectioned and cut crosswise or cut into supremes (see Kitchen Aide)

4 scallions, thinly sliced

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Fill a Dutch oven with about 2 inches of water, set a steamer basket in the pot, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Add sweet potatoes, and cook, covered, until just tender, about 8 minutes. Immediately arrange potatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet, sprinkle with 1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice, and let cool, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large nonreactive bowl, mix remaining lime juice, vinegar, marmalade, garlic, thyme, cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Whisk in oil.

With a flexible spatula, scrape the potatoes into the bowl with the dressing. Add radishes, beans, oranges, scallions, and most of the cilantro and mix gently to combine. Taste salad and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary, sprinkle with the remaining cilantro, and serve at room temperature.

Spicy Sweet Potatoes and Tomatoes with Cashews Serves 6

1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

2 teaspoons mustard seeds

1 large onion, chopped

Salt and black pepper

1 1/2 tablespoons grated or minced fresh ginger

1 large jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced

1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained, with juices reserved

2 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled, quartered, and cut into ¾-inch-thick slices

1 cup frozen peas

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

3/4 cup raw cashews, lightly toasted and cooled

In a Dutch oven over medium heat, heat oil until it ripples. Add cumin and mustard seeds and cook, stirring, until seeds begin to pop, about 30 seconds. Add onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add ginger and jalapeno and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the reserved tomato juices, 1/3 cup water, and the sweet potatoes and bring to a simmer. Cover, adjust heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until sweet potatoes are just tender, about 18 minutes. Add the tomatoes, peas, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, stir gently to mix, cover, and cook until sweet potatoes are fully tender and peas are heated, about 4 minutes longer. Stir in the cilantro and taste the sweet potatoes, adjusting seasoning with salt, if necessary, and adding black pepper to taste. Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle with cashews, and serve at once.

Savory Sweet Potato Spoon Bread Serves 6

2 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup cornmeal, plus extra to dust pan

4 large shallots, finely chopped (about 1 cup)

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce

2 tablespoons tomato paste

3 cups milk, preferably whole

Salt and black pepper

5 large eggs, at room temperature, separated

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/3cup snipped chives

Set the oven rack in the middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees. Prick sweet potatoes with fork and bake until tender, about 1 1/4 hours. Cool, skin, and roughly mash (about 4 cups). Adjust oven temperature to 450 degrees.

Meanwhile, in large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Pour about 2 teaspoons into a medium, shallow baking dish, brush over bottom and sides, dust with cornmeal, and set aside. Return pan to medium heat, add shallots and cook, stirring, until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, nutmeg, hot pepper sauce, and tomato paste, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add milk and 3/4 cup water, adjust heat to medium-high, and bring to a strong simmer. Add 2 teaspoons salt and gradually whisk in the 1 cup cornmeal. Adjust heat to medium-low and cook, stirring, until mixture thickens, 3 to 10 minutes (depending on cornmeal type). Off heat, beat in sweet potatoes and black pepper to taste. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary.

In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks until frothy, about 45 seconds. Add 1 cup of the cornmeal mixture, whisk vigorously, then pour back into the saucepan of cornmeal mixture, add the baking powder and most of the chives, and whisk vigorously to combine.

With an electric mixer or a whisk, beat the egg whites until they are glossy and hold stiff peaks. Add a quarter of the beaten whites to cornmeal mixture and stir until just combined. Add remaining whites and rapidly fold to combine. Scrape the batter into the prepared baking dish and smooth top. Bake for 10 minutes, adjust heat to 375 degrees, and continue baking until golden brown and a toothpick poked into center comes out clean, about 35 minutes longer. Sprinkle with the remaining chives and serve hot.

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  • November 21, 2010 cover
  • Nov. 21, 2010 cover

A cut above

Orange supremes, an example of classic French culinary technique, are sections of orange free of peel, pith, and membrane. While not necessary for the salad, they’re pretty and nicely suited to a holiday dish. Here’s how to cut them:

1. Choose a sharp knife with a thin blade. Cut the ends off the orange so it will sit flat on the work surface. Slip the blade in between the flesh and the white pith and cut along the contour of the fruit, removing a swath of pith and peel. Work your way around the fruit until all the peel and pith have been removed.

2. Carefully insert the blade between each membrane and the pulp of the sections and cut toward the center of the fruit to release the segments. If you are comfortable with the knife and the process, you can work over a bowl to catch the juices.