Thursday, September 1, 2011

Start With... Sweet Potatoes

Just in time for the start of the school year, welcome to my new recipe series, "Start With..."

I often spend Sundays cooking a variety of things for us to eat throughout the week, and learned long ago that if I just make, say, a pot of soup, neither of us want anything to do with said soup by Wednesday.   My "Start With..." idea comes from the notion that you can make one versatile big batch item to start with on Sunday, and let it live in many different incarnations throughout the week, each so diverse from the last that your family will hardly recognize it's reappearance.  This week, for example, I made a big pot of chile verde on Sunday, which reappeared as carnitas burritos on Tuesday.  Ideally, a Sunday dish would have even more ways to vary in appearance as the week goes on, and in the name of that efficiency and creativity, I bring you "Start With..."

To kick us off, I'm starting with something gloriously simple, and found in every toddler-having home I know... the humble sweet potato.  
It's hard to think of another vegetable that packs such a nutritional wallop while simultaneously being nature's answer to dessert.  Sweet potatoes are an unsurpassed source of Vitamins A and C and beta-carotene, as well as being high in fiber and anti-oxidants.  They even have anti-inflammatory properties beneficial to your digestive system.  And as the cereal commercial says, "don't worry, your kids will eat it." Finally, these tubers are dirt cheap, even in organic varieties.  A nice-sized organic sweet potato can make a filling dinner and only set you back about $2.  I love these beautiful taters!

So, in honor of the start of September and the return to cool weather and all things root vegetable, this week let's Start With a tray of roasted sweet potatoes.
Cube six large, organic sweet potatoes, toss with olive oil, kosher salt and pepper, and roast at 350 for an hour until soft on the inside and slightly crisp on the outside.  Allow to cool before storing.  
Start with your roasted sweet potatoes and then...
Make a quick weeknight soup!
- puree two cups of roasted sweet potatoes with two cups chicken or veggie broth and a splash of milk or cream, and season with a bit of paprika and cinnamon for a classic sweet potato soup.
- puree two cups of roasted sweet potatoes with one cup broth and one can of coconut milk + a teaspoon of Thai red curry paste for a spicy Thai twist.
- puree two cups of the sweet potatotes with four cups of broth, one 4 oz. can of green chiles, two teaspoons chopped fresh ginger, one-half cup creamy peanut butter and allspice to taste for a quick take on a West African peanut stew.
- buy a prepared soup (I love Trader Joe's Creamy Tomato) and throw in a handful of sweet potatoes for added flavor, texture and nutrition.

Make a tasty entree...
Like black bean and sweet potato burritos...
Just smash your roasted taters and warm in a frying pan, stirring in a drained can of black beans, cumin and paprika to taste, and some chopped cilantro.  Roll in a tortilla and serve with sour cream, salsa and guacamole if you are feeling fancy.

Or make like one of my favorite local cafes and build this incredible sandwich...
Roasted sweet potatoes (you'd need to slice your cubes into thin pieces) layered on great bread with sliced red pepper, avocado, jack cheese and sprouts.  This cafe spreads the while thing with a phenomenal tahini-poppy-yogurt spread I have yet to recreate, but you could improvise with any number of creative condiments, including good ole mayo.

Or get out your nori, sushi rice, some sliced avovado and a tatami mat and roll some tasty vegetarian sweet potato sushi.

Use the sweet potato cubes as croutons to give a salad heft.
One of my favorite salads is sweet potatoes tossed with baby spinach, goat cheese, dried cherries and chopped tomatoes in a balsamic vinaigrette.  Serve with a great crusty bread, and you have dinner.

And, of course, you can use your sweet taters as a killer side for any number of quick weeknight dinners...
- crisp quickly in a pan and dip in ketchup alongside veggie burgers (or regular burgers) as rustic and healthy french fries.
and serve alongside a simple grilled pork chop or piece of chicken.
- chop and saute swiss chard in olive oil with a clove of minced garlic, add a handful of sweet potatoes and a generous handful of parmesan for a quickie gratin to serve with fish or another light protein. 
- drop sweet potatoes into a baking dish, drizzle with maple syrup, cover with marshmallows and bake until marshmallows are toasted for a fast, weeknight version of everyone's Thanksgiving fave.

Start with sweet potatoes and the possibilities are endless!
What's is your favorite sweet po' creation?


  1. LOVE this idea! I love planning weekly meals because it just makes life easier & we never have those nights of "ordering in" when we can't think of what to make. This "start with" idea is even better & will simplify my life during the week! I love sweet potatoes just roasted with different spices, sometimes I use thai spices, sometimes indian...just depends on the day. :-) I think Nick would definitely like the burritos! Will have to try one soon.

  2. I love sweet potatoes, and these all look great! Another great sandwich is thin sliced, roasted sweet potatoes, spinach, cranberry sauce, and goat cheese.

  3. All these ideas look scrumptious and sweet potatoes are going on my weekend shopping list. Thank you for all the suggestions-this will help my meal planning.

  4. Great idea! I love sweet potatoes, and my favorite way to eat them is sweet potato fries with ranch dressing. Kind of defeats the health benefits, I know, but still delicious.