Since she discovered her appetite for sweet potatoes, my mom hasn't been able to get enough of them. She demanded them at every holiday dinner, every celebration, every weekend at home alone. When a plate full of orange vegetables was presented before her, she would proceed to devour most of them, greedily sliding increasingly-larger servings onto her plate with each time the communal dish neared her on the table. Some days, I would check her hands for the telling tints of orange, concerned she might get Beta-Carotene poisoning.
The problem is, my mother's repertoire of sweet potato or yam recipes has always been fairly limited. She would often ask me to make her sweet potato or pumpkin soup, creamy, spicy and enveloping with richness; She herself could roast them in the oven, robust spears nestled alongside potatoes and drizzled with an olive oil-herb mixture; and that about summed it up. But her appetite for the vitamin-rich tubers was insatiable. And as my desire to make my mother happy was usually pretty high, I was always on the look-out for new sweet potato recipes.
By the time New Year's Eve of 2011 rolled around, I had been subjected to weeks of hints about the need for sweet potatoes. First, it was a vegetable crisper drawer absolutely overflowing with beautiful orange root vegetables. Then it was a package of organic sweet potatoes that appeared on the table one Tuesday morning. Next, mom proceeded to outright told me she wants a sweet potato dish on the table come midnight. I knew my options were limited, and I started a frantic search on the internet for festive yam or sweet potato dishes.
When I came across this Smitten Kitchen recipe, I knew I had found what I need. First, symmetrical slices of sweet potato were beautifully browned on both sides in the oven. Then, toasted pecans were mixed with celery, cranberries and slivers of red onion, and gently tossed with tangy, rich goat cheese. A simple vinaigrette was drizzled on this "salsa", a spoonful of which was then ceremoniously placed atop each perfectly caramelized sweet potato slice. In true Smitten Kitchen form, the recipe was involved, detailed and utterly delicious. That night, my mother and I proceeded to fight over every single serving, and even the most reluctant members of my family professed their love for the dish. It continued to haunt my memories ever since.
The trouble is, on most days I am a fairly lazy cook. I do not want to spend 30 to 40 minutes carefully roasting vegetable slices, taking care to turn them over and ensure each side is perfectly browned, without being burned. I don't like the fussiness of eating little portions, ensuring not a drop is lost from the precious topping. Those are the kind of efforts I set aside for special occasions; on most days, I like meals that come from a bowl and straight onto my plate.
This salad is my attempt at getting what I want, while still preserving the delicate balance of flavours offered by those bite-sized hors d'oeuvres. The sweet potatoes and onions are haphazardly cut into one-inch cubes, which are then quickly roasted in a hot oven (I have long since given up on carefully turning ingredients to ensure both sides toast; now, I just switch my oven from 'bake' to 'broil', letting the different settings of heat do the work for me). They are then tossed with a medley of dried cranberries, creamy goat cheese and lightly toasted nuts (I don't skip this stage; it's true culinary gold, and one of the simplest steps to making a dish truly memorable. If I am out of pecans, almonds make a nice substitute). A sprinkling of chopped cilantro leaves follows, and a drizzle of the world's simplest vinaigrette crowns the feast. The salad is tossed, served and eaten immediately - it doesn't take kindly to wallowing in the fridge.
At the end, this isn't the world's simplest one-bowl salad. But some things in life are worth working for; the combination of roasted sweet potatoes, toasted nuts and mouth-puckering chevre is definitely one of them.
Roasted sweet potatoes, onions and nuts salad, topped with goat cheese
- 1 large sweet potato or 2 medium-sized sweet potatoes
- 1 medium red onion
- 3 Tbs olive oil
- 100 grams almonds or pecans chopped (or ½ cup)
- ½ cup dried cranberries chopped
- ½ cup goat cheese
- ⅛ cup parsley or cilantro
- 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
- 1 Tbs red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Chop sweet potato into 1 inch cubes. Chop onion into slightly smaller cubes.
- Cover baking sheet with aluminium foil. Coat sheet well with 3 Tbs of olive oil. Toss sweet potatoes and onion on baking sheet. Sprinkle salt and pepper on top.
- Roast onions and sweet potatoes in oven for 20 minutes. Then switch to broil setting at 450 and roast for another 15 minutes. The potatoes should be cooked through and browned in parts.
- Heat a pan on medium heat. Toast 100 grams (or ½ cup) of chopped almonds or pecans for about 2 minutes, watching them closely to prevent burning, and tossing occasionally.
- Chop parsley or cilantro finely. Crumble goat cheese.
- Transfer sweet potatoes and onions into a salad bowl. Top with cranberries, toasted almonds or pecans, goat cheese and cilantro. Pour dressing on top, mix well and serve immediately.