The problem with sweet potatoes is sometimes the sweet. It isn’t that they are too sweet naturally, it’s that they seem to have been “typecast” as something that must be covered in sugary goo, syrup and marshmallows, or used as the basis for cakes, pies, and other sweets. If the sweet potato were an actress, she would get all the roles of the sweet little best friend, the one that never gets to wear stilettos and red underwear. She never swears, always makes straight A’s, and will definitely wear a white wedding dress. In a comedy, she will always get the boy. In a horror/slasher film, she will always be the first to die.
Carrot and Winter Squash have naturally high sugar content too, but have managed to escape such typecasting. Sure, they have played their share of sweet parts—head-lining in pies and cakes, and starring in supporting roles alongside raisins and pineapple in vintage era salads. But they escaped typecasting to portray sexier, more provocative roles as well. Sassed up with spices and roasted with meats, made into soups, and stir-fry. And Carrot of course is one of three characters in the veggie Brat Pack–Mirepoix—making her one of the most recognizable and ubiquitous stars in the kitchen.
Sweet Potato can make the same leap from ingénue to femme fatale, with the help of an adept and open-minded Director. She will, of course, have to shed the vestiges of her past roles, leaving behind the orange juice, the maple syrup, the brown sugar, and for Pete’s sake, the marshmallows.
In her new provocative roles, she will go bare, or nearly bare. She will appear grilled, fried, sautéed, roasted, and bruleed. She will play the lead in burgers, stews, hashes, croquettes and pasta, supported by a cast of spices, peppers, veggies, grains and salads. She can quickly transition from “D” list staple in fall side dishes, to an “A” list regular all year-long.
Enough Hollywood cheese.
I love sweet potatoes, and always have. Admittedly, as a child I loved them covered in goo and marshmallows—because what kid wouldn’t prefer their veggies to taste like dessert? But as an adult, with a regard for both variety and nutrition in the food I eat, I love sweet potatoes anyway I can get them. I love them baked, with nothing on them, or tossed with olive oil and herbs and roasted.
But my favorite ways to use sweet potatoes are in the same ways they are used in the Low Country area of the United States, and in the Caribbean. Both cuisines are heavily influenced by the African cultures from which their areas grew.
Sweet potato also works well in many of the ways that green plantain would be used in Caribbean foods, as in the tostones that I create from them below.
Here is a recipe that combines sweet potato with some surprising ingredients for what was a delicious and beautiful meal. And not a marshmallow in sight….Don’t let the length or the number of components scare you…It is really a simple recipe, and comes together quickly.
Sweet Potato Tostones with Blue Crab Cake, Jalapeno Fried Corn, and Citrus Avocado Cream
- ½ large ripe Mexican avocado
- Juice of 2 small fresh oranges (about ¾ cup)
- Juice of one lime (about ¼ cup, scant)
- 2 T olive oil
- 1 fresh jalapeno, seeds and membranes removed
- 2 cloves garlic
- ½ cup fresh cilantro leaves
- 1 T agave syrup
- 1 t salt
Whiz all ingredients in a food processor until very smooth and set aside.
Sweet Potato Tostones
- 2 large sweet potatoes
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 3 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
Peel potatoes and cut into 1 inch thick slices. Arrange in baking sheet, and bake at 350* for 30 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Place a round on piece of wax paper, and using the back of a spatula, press down and flatten the round to less than ½ inch. Be gentle, to keep the round intact. Remove to a sheet of waxed paper, and repeat with remaining potato slices. Combine salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cayenne. Sprinkle over both sides of potato patties.
Heat large non-stick skillet to medium-high heat. Add olive oil, and swirl to coat pan. Add potato patties, and cook until golden on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. Set aside on platter while you prepare crab.
Blue Crab Cakes
In the coastal south, we have an ample supply of blue crabs. If you live elsewhere, make use of what is readily available in your area.
- 1 pound lump crab meat, picked over
- 6 sliced green onions, white and green parts
- 1 cup bread crumbs
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- juice of half a lemon
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
- 4 tablespoons melted butter
- ½ cup Panko crumbs
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
Place crab in a bowl. Toss with onions, crumbs, salt, pepper and lemon. Carefully stir in egg, butter and hot sauce. Form into 8 patties, about 1 inch thick. Press both sides into panko crumbs.
Heat oil and butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add crab cakes and cook on both sides until brown and crispy.
Jalapeno Fried Corn:
(prepare in a separate skillet while you prepare the crab cakes)
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 4 ears fresh corn, cut from the cobs
- 1 fresh jalapeno, seeded and minced
- 2 green onions, finely sliced
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 3 teaspoon sugar
Heat butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add corn, jalapeno, green onions, salt and pepper. Sautee for about 10 minutes. Add sugar and stir well. Continue to cook until the corn begins to caramelize. Reduce heat to warm until ready to use.
Place one tostone on the serving plate. Top with one crab cake. Add corn around the stack, and dollop some of the avocado sauce on top of or next to the stack.