When I was growing up, sweet potatoes never ever appeared on the menu: they don’t belong to the classic trove of French vegetables, and I don’t think I had a taste until I moved to the US in my early twenties. But I quickly grew to love and crave them as if they had been a part of my food landscape all of my life: the sweet flesh and versatility of these tubers makes them a delicious alternative to other starch options, especially regular white potatoes, and I indulge on a regular basis.
It doesn’t hurt that orange sweet potatoes (there are also white, less recommended varieties) have been touted a superfood for their exceptional antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, due to their super high content of beta-carotene and vitamin A, among other vitamins and minerals. They are also said to have a stabilizing effect on blood sugar, despite a medium glycemic index.
On top of the wedges I sprinkle a lovely chopped condiment of black olives, toasted almonds, shallot, cilantro, and lemon zest, that brings a remarkable zing to the whole dish.
Steaming is the best way to retain the entirety of their nutritional qualities, but they do beautifully when you boil, roast or grill them as well. You can serve them mashed, turn them into fabulously creamy soups, add them cubed to grain dishes and meal-size salads to make them extra satisfying, or purée them for use in cakes as a sweetener.
They are included in the “clean fifteen” list* but I usually buy organic ones, making sure they are nice and firm with no bruises. They are increasingly easy to find in supermarkets, organic or not, and I have found that sweet potatoes from the US have a moister flesh and keep longer. I store them in a paper bag at cool room temperature (never in the fridge!) and when I cook them I leave the skin on, both for nutrition and to help the pieces keep their shape if that’s needed for a particular dish.
I am always surprised to see sweet potatoes often paired with sweet ingredients in North America (maple syrup! sweet spices! brown sugar! marshmallows!) as I much prefer to balance their natural sweetness with contrasting flavors: tangy, sour, acidic, savory, umami… And because their flesh becomes quite tender when cooked, I usually take care to add an element of crunch to the recipe I use them in.
One of my quickest and easiest tricks to serve sweet potatoes is to boil or roast them — either whole or in cubes — and top them with my simple tahini sauce and lots of freshly snipped herbs, or Aria Beth Sloss’s miso butter topping.
But in warmer months, when I have access to a barbecue — or just my trusty griddler — I like to cut the sweet potatoes into long wedges, par-steam them, brush them with a mix of oil and lemon juice, and grill them. I love the mix between lightly crisp outer skin and the creamy soft insides.
On top of the wedges I sprinkle a lovely — and very quick to throw together — chopped condiment of black olives, toasted almonds, shallot, cilantro, and lemon zest, that brings a remarkable zing to the whole dish. This I’m happy to feature as the centerpiece of the meal, along with a green salad, or to serve as a side with roast chicken, duck magret, or grilled pork.
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- 900 grams (2 pounds) small sweet potatoes, not peeled
- 35 grams (1/4 cup) almonds, toasted and roughly chopped (I use these if I have them on hand)
- 40 grams (1/4 cup) black olives (in bulk from a deli or from a jar), about 15, pitted and roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot (about 1 small shallot)
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro or flat-leaf parsley
- The zest of 1/2 lemon or lime, finely sliced (I use this zester to get fine strips)
- 1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil fit for grilling
- Fine sea salt
- Cut the sweet potatoes lengthwise into long wedges of even thickness; I make four wedges from the slim ones and six from the thicker ones.
- Steam the sweet potato wedges for 8 to 10 minutes, until just tender when tested with the tip of a knife. (This can be done the day before; let cool, arrange in layers in an airtight container, and refrigerate.)
- In a bowl, combine the almonds, olives, shallot, cilantro, lemon zest, and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Add the olive oil and stir to combine. (This can be done the day before, but don't add the cilantro until the last moment to preserve its freshness. Cover and refrigerate.)
- Heat up the grill or an indoor griddler to medium-high heat (I set my griddler to 220° or 430°F, its maximum setting).
- In a bowl, combine the lemon juice and cooking oil, and use this to brush the cut sides of the sweet potato wedges. Sprinkle with salt.
- Place on the grill, one cut side down, for 3 to 5 minutes, until you get nice grill marks. Flip the wedges to the other cut side and grill until you get the grill marks you want.
- Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle with the black olive and almond condiment, and serve, hot or at room temperature.