Growing up, my family’s go-to, special-occasion sweet potatoes were, most likely, a lot like yours: a silky, creamy casserole topped with a whole mess of sugar. Usually, this means mini-marshmallows. At my parents’ house, it was a thick, crunchy layer of candied pecans. That casserole appeared at so many Thanksgivings, my mom can’t remember when we adopted it, or where it came from. My bet: Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock, who published a near doppleganger in 2003.
Somewhere along the way, though, I started craving something else. And I thought: What if, instead of pureeing the sweet potatoes, we chopped them into big, chubby chunks? And what if, instead of highlighting their sweetness with more sweetness, we upped the contrast with something salty? Or savory? Or spicy!
These simple, roasted sweet potatoes, dressed up a bit, are a worldly bunch. They’ve been to Spain and Italy and Germany and Israel and Iceland. And they want to tell you all about it. They’re that guest at your Thanksgiving table who everyone wants to sit next to. And I don’t blame ’em.
All the following recipes follow the base recipe's roasting technique: 425° F for about 24 minutes on two naked sheet pans, with a turn halfway through baking, for 4 pounds (about 12 medium-sized) sweet potatoes, chopped into large chunks. Use the list below, with measurements and method details, to find your new go-to sweet potatoes. (And don't tell the marshmallows.)
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Preheat the oven to 425° F. Peel 4 pounds sweet potatoes and chop into large (roughly 1 1/2-inch) chunks. Add to a bowl with 1/4 cup liquid, flavorful fat (such as olive oil, melted butter, or bacon fat) and 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt. Toss, then divide between two naked, rimmed sheet trays. Roast—stirring potatoes and rotating trays halfway through—until the potatoes are just tender and beginning to brown, about 24 minutes.
Want to get fancier? Peel 4 pounds sweet potatoes and chop them into large (roughly 1 1/2-inch) chunks. Now, turn them into...
Imagine patatas bravas as the Spanish one-up to French fries. Crispy potatoes, “special sauce.” Here, that means a smoky, spicy tomato dressing with garlicky mayo. Back home in España, patatas bravas are a late-night go-to at tapas bars (an easy-to-understand concept if you’ve ever been a little sloshed and anywhere near French fries). This version will have a similar effect on your relatives who may have a few too many during the hors d'oeuvres course.
Fat: olive oil
Mix 1/4 cup tomato paste, 1/4 cup sherry vinegar, 3 tablespoons hot sauce, and 1 tablespoon smoked paprika in a bowl. Mix 2/3 cup mayonnaise, 3 minced garlic cloves, and 2 tablespoons olive oil in another bowl. (Both can be prepared days in advance, then refrigerated.) Roast the potatoes. When done, let them hang out for 10 minutes. Pour half the tomato dressing onto each sheet tray and gently toss. Transfer to a platter and zigzag with mayo.
In the States, mayo-based potato salad reigns queen at summer cook-outs. But come fall, we could all take a cue from Germany. There, potato salad means zero mayo, lots of bacon fat, vinegar, and alliums. This formula applies equally well to squashy sweet potatoes, especially with some zingy mustard.
Fat: melted bacon fat!
Cook 10 chopped bacon slices in a hot skillet until crispy. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate—and reserve that rendered grease! Roast the potatoes. Meanwhile, combine 1/4 cup bacon fat, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, and 2 tablespoons whole-grain Dijon mustard in a large bowl and whisk until combined. Add 14 chopped scallions (1 bunch)—both the white and green parts. When the potatoes are done, let them rest for 10 minutes. Add to the dressing, along with the bacon, and gently toss.
If you’re wondering how to wake up tired vegetables, ask Yotam Ottolenghi. He’ll show you how to marry sweet and spicy, tangy and nutty, crispy and creamy. He’ll make your vegetables feel special. As they should! These sweet potatoes are pomegranate-glazed, tahini-drizzled, chickpea-scattered. If you have a vegetarian (or vegan!) at your holiday table, this side will hold its own.
Fat: olive oil
Combine 1/4 cup tahini, the juice of 2 lemons, 3 to 4 tablespoons cold water, and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Stir with a fork until smooth and runny, like yogurt. (This can be made days in advance and refrigerated.) Drain 1 (15.5-ounce) can of chickpeas and dry between paper towels. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until shimmery. Add chickpeas, 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne, and a pinch of salt. Fry until golden and crispy, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Roast the potatoes. When done, let them hang out for 10 minutes. Drizzle each sheet tray with 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses and gently toss. Transfer to a platter. Drizzle with tahini, then top with crispy chickpeas.
Cacio e pepe is one of Rome’s greatest treasures (no offense, Colosseum). This spaghetti involves salty water, Pecorino Romano, black pepper, butter or olive oil (or both!). Think streamlined, sophisticated mac and cheese. Here, I swap out pasta for sweet potatoes. Roasting them with butter and pepper turns the former nutty and latter toasty. Then say cheese!
Fat: melted butter
Add 2 teaspoons just-ground black pepper to the potatoes, 1/4 cup butter and 2 1/2 teaspoons salt. Roast. When done, transfer to a platter and
shower drown in Microplaned Pecorino Romano.
Brúnaðar Kartöflur is a Christmastime favorite in Iceland: golden potatoes swimming in buttery caramel. (Yes, with dinner. It’s a holiday!) With sweet potatoes adding another element of, well, sweetness, I wanted to add some salt, too. Say, salted caramel. Or miso caramel. Or fish sauce caramel! Enough funk to lick your fingers. Bet your drumstick on whoever can guess the secret ingredient.
Fat: melted butter
Mix 1 cup sugar and 5 tablespoons water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Use wet fingers to brush down any sugar on the side of the saucepan. Set over high heat and cook—occasionally, softly swirling the pan—until the sugar melts into an amber caramel. Remove from the heat and carefully stir in 1/4 cup fish sauce. After the bubbling subsides, stir in 4 tablespoons butter. (This can be made days in advance and stored at room temperature.) Roast the potatoes. When done, let them hang out for 10 minutes while you re-warm the caramel until liquidy. Pour half onto each sheet pan and lightly toss.
How do you like to dress up your potatoes? Let us know in the comments!