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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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
Photos by Linda Xiao
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