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Winter has arrived in full force, but that doens't mean your meals have to be one-dimensional. Alexandra Stafford of Alexandra Cooks shows us how to use the contents of our CSA to make comforting meals that still excite on the table.
Today: A cure for sweet potato ennui in the form of an elegant hors d'oeuvre.
With dark, dirt-covered roots dominating every square inch, a winter farm share box can look bleak at first glance. Only the most charitable of souls could guess that brilliant hues and crisp, sweet flesh lie beneath those weathered, gnarly surfaces. But few vegetables clean up as nicely as roots, and all it takes is a little grooming.
From watermelon radishes, whose magenta, kaleidoscopic cross-sections are as stunning as a summer's heirloom tomato, to slivers of raw, buttermilk-dressed celery root, this winter's bounty has been a surprise -- and it's disappearing much faster than anticipated. Pounds of sweet potatoes remain, but after discovering this recipe in The New Moosewood Cookbook, I have no fear of feeling overrun when the next box arrives.
Here, shredded sweet potato and onion, fresh lemon, a little flour, and eggs fry into the most irresistible pancakes, crispy on the edges and creamy in the center. They can be made large or small, and topped with anything from a hearty fried egg doused with hot sauce to a delicate spoonful of caviar sprinkled with chives. No matter the adornment, a dollop of crème fraîche (or sour cream or yogurt) is essential to balance the sweetness and cut the grease. And if you make tablespoon-sized pancakes, as I've done here, you have the makings of a perfect hors d'oeuvre to serve at a New Year's Eve gathering.
With the holiday season nearing its end, the time has just about come to liberate the sweet potato from those warm spices, brown sugars, and candied toppings. In just a few days we'll be roasting cubes with coconut oil for dinner or juicing wedges with kale for breakfast. But not before we pop open the Champagne and resolve to be better humans. Till then, fry away. Happy New Year, everyone.
Choosing and storing your sweet potatoes:
- Look for sweet potatoes with pointed ends and without blemishes or bruises. They can be large or small but should feel firm and heavy for their size. They bruise easily, so handle with care -- once bruised, they spoil quickly.
- Sweet potatoes store well and continue to develop sweetness and flavor as they age. The farmer that runs my CSA advised keeping sweet potatoes above 55° F to avoid chilling damage. He also warned against storing apples or other fruits near your sweet potatoes (or any root vegetables) because the ethylene in the fruit can cause root crops to spoil. The best spot for storing sweet potatoes is a cool, dark cupboard in your kitchen or a closet.
Prepping your sweet potatoes:
- If you're leaving the skins on, be sure to wash and scrub the sweet potatoes well. If you need to peel sweet potatoes ahead of time, place the peeled pieces in a bowl of cold water to prevent oxidation.
Cooking your sweet potatoes:
- Sweet potatoes can be roasted whole with their skins on. Again, be sure to wash the sweet potato well before roasting. At about 400º F, a large sweet potato might take as long as an hour to become tender. Prick with a fork or knife to check for doneness. Slice open, season with salt, pepper, and butter. Or scoop out the flesh and mash with butter, salt, fresh lime juice, and cilantro.
- Sweet potatoes can be peeled, diced, and roasted with other root vegetables such as carrots and parsnips. Toss with olive oil, salt, and thyme, then roast for 30 to 40 minutes at 400º F, stirring halfway.
- Coconut oil is a nice match for sweet potatoes, too. Brush cubes or wedges with melted coconut oil, season with sea salt, and roast at 400º F until caramelized and tender.
- Roasted cubes of sweet potato are a nice addition to any grain salad, especially one loaded with nuts, greens, and pomegranate seeds tossed in a lemony vinaigrette.
- For irresistibly crispy chips, thinly slice sweet potatoes into rounds using a mandoline, toss with grapeseed oil and any spices you like -- za'atar, smoked paprika, ground cinnamon, chili, cumin, and coriander are all great -- and bake at 400º F until golden brown.
- Need a break from the various brown sugar and maple syrup holiday recipes? Try boiling sweet potatoes in milk seasoned with thyme, garlic, and bay, then mash with crème fraîche and Parmesan.
- For a vegan variation, boil sweet potatoes until tender, then mash with coconut milk, and season with fresh ginger and maple syrup.
- Leftover mashed sweet potatoes? Mix with flour, cornmeal, butter, and milk, and bake into a soft and rich, orange-tinted sandwich bread. Or mix with cooked chickpeas, smoky cumin and paprika, flour, and breadcrumbs, form into cakes and fry. (Psst: You can also make waffles.)
More ways to cook your sweet potatoes:
- Purée them into a silky soup flavored with onions, carrots, and leeks. Crumble feta over the top, and drizzle with za'atar oil before serving.
- Thinly slice sweet potatoes on a mandoline, layer with port-soaked prunes, and make the most beautiful sweet potatoes Anna.
- Make a savory vegetable pie with layers of sautéed mushrooms, roasted root vegetables, and mashed sweet potatoes.
- Make sweet potato chana masala with cubes of par-cooked sweet potatoes, garbanzo beans, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and spices.
- Fry up simple fritters as described here, or make yours a little more assertive with caramelized leeks, hashed parsnips and feta.
- Make puff pastry galettes: Spread sour cream over puff pastry, then top with slices of cooked sweet potatoes, goat cheese, and pumpkin seeds.
- Or try individual, far-from-sweet sweet potato gratins with layers of pancetta and Gruyère.
- Mash roasted sweet potato flesh with ricotta and make light, pillowy gnocchi.
- If you still haven't had your fill of holiday pie, boil and mash a couple of sweet potatoes, mix the flesh with sugar, spices, and eggs, and then spread the mixture over pastry. Bake into an earthy and buttery pie.
- Or try buttermilk flan seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, and topped with caramel pecans and maple yogurt.
Sweet Potato Pancakes with Caviar and Crème Fraîche
From The New Moosewood Cookbook (Ten Speed Press, 2000)
Makes 25 to 30 hors d'oeuvre-sized fritters
4 cups coarsely grated sweet potatoes
1/2 cup grated onion
3 to 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup flour
Neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed, for frying
Crème fraîche, sour cream, yogurt, or apple sauce for serving
Caviar, for serving (optional)
Fresh chives, minced, for serving
How do you put sweet potatoes to good use, all winter long? Tell us in the comments!
Photos by Alexandra Stafford