What I’m about to say is heresy, but I can’t help how I feel. I don’t like sweet potatoes very much. I find them confusing. They’re potatoes, so I expect them to behave like potatoes. I expect them to be savory and satisfying, happy to be tossed in the oven for a hot roasting or simmered into a soup. What I don’t expect, and can’t seem to enjoy most of the time, is their sweetness. Yes, I know—the name should tip me off, right?—but I just don’t like them in the vast majority of recipes that are out there.
But the truth is, I want to like sweet potatoes. I really do. They’re a delightful vegetable, comfortingly starchy, a pretty orange on the inside, and they even come in petite sizes at my beloved Brazos Natural Foods. Here in the States, sweet potatoes are Thanksgiving and wintertime and coziness all rolled up into a humble root vegetable. As an American, it’s practically unpatriotic of me not to like sweets. And don’t they just have the best nickname? I want someone to start calling me sweets.
As luck would have it, I have found an answer to my sweet potato dilemma, in the form of an awesome salad, adapted from Deb’s recipe for Sweet Potatoes with Pecans and Goat Cheese. It really was lucky because I don’t read Smitten Kitchen too often any more. I suppose I poke around Deb’s blog maybe once a month or once every couple of months. But recently, I happened to be at the right place at the right time, and I was captivated by the idea of roasting sweet potatoes in fat rounds or “steaks,” as Deb calls them, until they start to char and blister against the metallic heat of a baking sheet. I thought that deep, dark roasting step would add something special to the sweets, something to contrast the sweetness and add depth to their flavor. Indeed, those roasted steaks of sweet potato teeter on just this side of burnt, but they are perfect. The rest of the recipe really steps up the savory quality of the dish: crispy celery, a fresh green herb, a handful of minced onion, and my favorite part, cubes of smoked cheddar, all tossed in a very mild vinaigrette, just enough to moisten things. It’s a wonderful combination of contrasts, flavors and textures, sweet and smoky and crunchy and just flat-out delicious. I really like it, and I think you might, too.
Celery and Sweet Potato Salad
Adapted from this Smitten Kitchen recipe
A quick note: do you have a pair of kitchen tongs yet? If not, ask Santa to bring you some! I bought myself some tongs not too long ago, and I love them. They are perfect for flipping over the sweet potato “steaks” in this recipe.
2-3 small or medium-sized sweet potatoes
3 tbsp. olive oil, divided
2 tsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 tbsp. minced onion
1 sprig of fresh dill, finely chopped
4 big handfuls of fresh baby spinach
2 ounces smoked cheddar cheese, diced
1/4 cup pecans, chopped, toasted, and cooled
1) To roast the sweet potatoes, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Drizzle a small baking sheet with 1 tbsp. olive oil, or drizzle the oil on a small part of a larger baking sheet. While the oven is preheating, prep the sweet potatoes by chopping them into roughly 3/4-inch coins. (If any of the peel is particularly gnarly, take that off first with a vegetable peeler.) Place the sweets on the oiled part of the baking sheet—I like to rub them into the oil a little bit, just to make sure they have some oil on their bottoms. Pop the sweets into the oven and roast them for 15-20 minutes, then flip them over (with tongs!) and roast for another 10 minutes, until both sides are almost a bit charred. I use a fork to make sure the potatoes are tender all the way through.
2) While the sweets are going, make the vinaigrette. Whisk together 2 tbsp. olive oil, the vinegar, the mustard, and a good pinch of salt.
3) In a medium-sized bowl, toss together the celery, onion, and dill. Add a spoonful or two of the vinaigrette and toss again. (You’ll have some leftover vinaigrette, but I just see this as an excuse to make this salad again!)
4) Plate the spinach on two plates (two big handfuls per plate). Divide the celery mixture between the two plates, then top it with the sweet potatoes. Divide the cheddar cubes and the pecans between the two plates and serve. The leftovers from this salad are fantastic the next day. I just make the salad, minus the spinach and pecans, and tuck it in a tightly sealed bowl, one that can accompany me to work. You can pack the spinach and pecans separately and then add them when it’s time to eat.