In Season: Sweet Potatoes

There are few culinary moments more dramatic than when you first take a peeler to the skin of a sweet potato, revealing that shock of orange flesh. And things only get better when you eat ’em. Packed with complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, beta carotene, vitamin C and vitamin B6, sweet potatoes have long been trumpeted for their health benefits. Their cultivation is being encouraged in developing nations due to their nutritional heft, and some American schools have also taken notice, using them in lieu of their paler cousins.

These days, heirloom varieties are popping up all over the place—some starchier, some more tender, some not even orange at all. During the winter, local farmstands carry an astounding array of options. Try mixing and matching colors and textures for a more dynamic dish. (The white ones are great for those with a prankster streak—you’ll have your guests scratching their heads at your culinary magic.)
Many traditional American preparations play up the tuber’s sweetness, but it’s often more interesting to play off of it with heat, salt or citrus. Throw some in a roasting pan with various root vegetables and spicy sausage or mix a handful in with your Sunday morning homefries recipe. This holiday season, try them as an alternative in potato latkes. (I like to pair those with chopped avocado tossed with salt, chili and lime.) Our Thanksgiving table always includes two potato preparations: mashed white and sweet potatoes with sautéed onions, olive oil and garlic. Guess which one disappears first.

Oven-baked sweet potato fries are quick, easy, versatile and healthy. Just slice the potatoes thin (matchsticks, chip-like rounds and heftier fries all work), toss them with olive oil, sea salt and pepper, throw them in a 425 degree oven and cook until browned and beginning to crisp. (They’ll never achieve that french fry crunch, but make up for it in other areas.) Before baking, feel free to shake on some chili powder, paprika or fresh rosemary.

Sweet potato fries can be paired with all kinds of dipping sauces, creating a perfect savory-sweet-salty-spicy bite of food. Try horseradish aioli, yogurt flavored with garlic, mint and lemon, or a Thai-influenced blend of nam pla, cilantro, chili, mayo and lime.

If you have to go sweet, please, avoid the marshmallows. Sweet potato pie is a great option, as are biscuits turned a soft shade of orange by the addition of a quick purée. (Though, I’ll revert to my savory-sweet bias and suggest you top them with salty, braised meat or greens and a poached egg.) —Lee Stabert