Weeknight Cooking

Yes, We Can Have Sweet Potatoes for Dinner

October 25, 2012

Every other Thursday, we bring you Nicholas Day -- on cooking for children, and with children, and despite children. Also, occasionally, on top of.

Today: The many ways sweet potatoes will keep the kids (and you) well-fed.

sweet potato salad

There are many things my refrigerator did not house before I had children. It did not house a Tetris-like collection of tiny leftover tupperware, which, if examined by an archaeologist, would turn out to contain everything Isaiah has not eaten over the course of his life. Also: sweet potatoes.

Is there anyone without a child who regularly purchases sweet potatoes? The sweet potato industry survives on the backs of parents and Pilgrims. For most adults, sweet potatoes are like turkey and cranberries: they are so identified with Thanksgiving that to eat them at any other time requires a really good reason.

sweet potatoes

But for children, sweet potatoes are the candy you are always allowed to eat: I knew a preschooler who, like some beta-carotene-starved coal miner, sat down to an entire roasted sweet potato every day for lunch. (And then she slumped over, presumably. If nothing else, it seems like a good way to prevent your child from giving up nap.)

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roasted sweet potatoes

For parents, the only reason to say no to sweet potatoes is that they feel like cheating. There is no nutritional reason; they are freakishly nutritious. Sweet potatoes are like coffee: they only seem like they should be sinful. (And sometimes they only seem like they are sweet potatoes. Next time you visit the produce section, notice how the yams are all huddled together in desperate silence, hoping to be mistaken for sweet potatoes. In our household, if we discover a yam, we are merciless: we hack it into small pieces and roast it. Then, vindictively, we eat it.)

An entire roasted sweet potato is a fine thing, especially if mashed and fattened up for supper. But most of us can only eat so many. Which is why for several years now, I have been combing through cookbook indexes, searching for sweet potato recipes that do not include the word candied.

sweet potato souphash
sweet potatoes, arugula, baconyam, zucchini, chickpea salad

This is not a rich vein of inquiry. Especially—and I know I am wrong—if you have never been convinced by sweet potato soup. But there are ways. There is hash. There are curries. There’s Rivka’s yam-zucchini-chickpea salad. (Yes: yams. But let’s move on.) Lately our household answer has been a different sort of sweet potato salad, a toned-down version of EmilyC’s sweet potatoes with bacon and arugula.

Ours looks like a ballpark parody of a salad—take arugula and pile sweet potato fries on top of it. But it works. It’s a variation on something I first had in, of all places, Israel. (Which is also, strangely, where these superb sweet potato pancakes hail from. Maybe all the good sweet potato recipes are hiding in Israeli cookbooks.) There are lots of bite-sized, bronzed sweet potatoes; some hearty salad greens; some nuts and some feta; and a player to be named later (avocado, pear, egg).

Serve with turkey on the side. Way on the side. Like next month.

sweet potato salad

Yes-We-Can-Have-Sweet Potatoes-for-Dinner Salad

Serves 4, lightly


3 large sweet potatoes, peeled
1 bunch arugula
1/2 cup feta, chopped
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup whole scallions, tops and bottoms, roughly chopped


1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon mustard
1 garlic clove, crushed


See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

sweet potato arugula salad

Photos by Linda Xiao


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I'm the author of a book on the science and history of infancy, Baby Meets World. My website is nicholasday.net; I tweet over at @nicksday. And if you need any good playdoh recipes, just ask.


tunie May 5, 2013
I don't know where you've been but sweet potatoes are a staple of roasted veggies, which are on heavy rotation here even though it's no longer the 80's, lol. And sweet potato fries? The same. My go favorite is to steam thick slices, then pan sear them on one side in olive oil until they have a good crisp crust. Sprinkle with sea salt and it's heaven!
Lauren V. February 13, 2013
I make a version of this salad at least once a week! To make a filling entree out of it, I add some quinoa cooked in broth and then cooled, and sprinkle on a few cranberries for a bit of a tart note.
PassTheKnife December 8, 2012
Wow - your collection of sweet potato dishes all look amazing.
loretta B. October 29, 2012
This comment is on the print version of the recipe not the recipe itself. the amount is in dark print but the ingredients are in a lighter color, making reading it difficult
mschrank October 29, 2012
Hmmm...a lot of confusion about sweet potatoes vs. yams. Most Americans call the orange fleshed sweet potato a "yam," and the lighter white/yellowish fleshed version a sweet potato. In the U.S., it's pretty difficult to find a true yam. I've never seen one, and have heard they aren't all that great anyway.
Lambs' E. October 28, 2012
In my part of the world (Australia) sweet potatoes are a vegetable and always treated as such. We grow them all year round and I use them as much as possible. As you said they are amazingly nutritious, versatile and addictively delicious - try them on a pizza too!
aquamarine84 October 28, 2012
Well, I still live with my parents so maybe I don't count, but whenever my father is out of town (he doesn't care for sweet potatoes), my mother and I do something sweet potato. Sometimes just baked sweet potatoes with butter and cinnamon, sometimes stuffed, or mashed...I just created this awesome Sweet Potato & Broccoli Shepard's pie. I think we might have to keep doing this one. If I could only stop finding more sweet potato recipes to try!
EmilyC October 26, 2012
Thanks for the shout-out to my salad. I laughed since I sometimes do a "toned-down" version of it, too, very similar to this one, which looks delicious by the way. A favorite of mine at the moment is also the Genius Northern Spy salad with sweet potatoes instead of squash.
Kristy M. October 26, 2012
I love this salad. And I'll be stocking up on sweet potatoes thanks to you!
smslaw October 25, 2012
Once we discovered how easy sweet potatoes are to grow (in Maine!) and how well they keep without refrigeration, we've not been without them.

Yotam Ottolenghi's "Plenty" has a recipe for "Surprise Tatin", a sort of tart with goat cheese, potatoes, tomatoes and onion with a bottom crust of puff pastry that is spectacular and delicious with sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes.
Nicholas D. October 26, 2012
That looks like some kind of genius. I owe you.
Kenzi W. October 25, 2012
I always look like a beta-carotene-starved coal miner when I eat sweet potatoes. Always. (Is that such a bad thing? Like you said, candy.)