If you’re looking for a new twist on sweet potatoes, you owe it to yourself to give this a try. It was a real eye opener to me. I had always been one to kind of sneer at savory uses of vanilla, thinking it best to leave well enough alone and let vanilla work its magic in sweets. But after stumbling across a recipe for Curried Duck with Vanilla in the Washington Post from Andreas Viestad, who noted that "when the sweet flavors of vanilla interact with curry powder, both ingredients are transformed,” I was wholly intrigued. As much as I love duck, I decided to take a much simpler approach and try out this flavor combination with roasted sweet potatoes and shallots. I’m a sucker for sweet potatoes this time of year, and I thought they’d play well with the sweet-spicy notes of the vanilla and curry. To round out the flavors, I tossed the sweet potatoes with nutty browned butter and fresh thyme. The smell of them roasting was intoxicating, and the taste even more so. The flavors are familiar yet exotic -- quietly comforting yet attention grabbing. I’ll be making this dish a lot this holiday season -- and needless to say, I’m happy to have been proven so wrong about vanilla. For a simple variation, throw in a few handfuls of spinach before serving, letting the residual heat wilt the leaves. —EmilyC
Test Kitchen Notes
Headnote: This recipe has forever changed the way I think of vanilla. Its comforting mellow sweetness combined with the nutty brown butter to tame the curry just enough. This dish perfectly walks the line between fiery spice and sticky caramelization. When I tossed the remaining cubes in a kale salad the next day, they just won my heart all over again. Comments: A winner recipe for sure! The brown butter doesn't power through as a flavor, but I think it adds a lot to the background complexity. —chez_mere
sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
large shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
mild curry powder
finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
vanilla bean (about 3 inches in length), split lengthwise and seeds scraped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 425° F.
In a sauté pan over medium heat, cook the butter until it turns brown and nutty, about 6 minutes. Remove from the heat, and add the curry powder, seeds from vanilla bean, and thyme to the browned butter. Mix well, then add the sweet potatoes and shallots, tossing well so they're evenly coated with the browned butter. Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Transfer to a roasting pan, large enough that the sweet potatoes and shallots are in a single layer. Roast for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are tender and caramelized. After about 20 minutes, toss the potatoes with a spatula to make sure they’re coated evenly with the browned butter. Remove from the oven and serve warm.