For The Sweet Love of Spud

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Spicy Feta-Olive Salad

Let me introduce you to someone. His name is Mr. Sweet Potato. You may have met him before, you may have even enjoyed his company, but you might have thought he was too unexciting to go out of your way to see again. You might have also found him just a little too sweet for his own good, with that appearance he made cloaked in sugar, marshmallows or pie crust at your last family get-together and his uncanny ability to make your grandmother swoon. You probably decided he had friend potential, maybe someone you would invite for holidays at your house to amuse your relatives, but you decided he just wasn’t your kind of potato for anything more.

Well, let me tell you something. Times have changed. Since you last met Mr. Sweet Potato, he has matured. He has roughed-up that sugary veneer and cast off those wretched marshmallows. When you meet him now he exudes the unmistakable scent of earth, and spice, and danger; even his clothes are different: rough, torn, masculine. He has been to exotic places, learned things that will thrill you, amaze you, make you crave his company in a way you never thought possible. After you’ve been with him, you dream about him at night, imagining how your next encounter will be even more exciting than the last. Your grandmother may not even like him anymore.

But this bad-boy potato hasn’t completely transformed. Underneath this new facade is still that same sweet wholesomeness you admired in him before. Despite the fun, the impetuousness and the danger this is a potato that once welcomed into your life will care for you, nurture you, nourish you. He’s still good for you – he’s just a lot more fun than he used to be. Shall I give you his number?

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Spicy Feta-Olive Salad
Recipe Source: Inspired by a recipe in Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons
Serves: 2 as main course, 4 as side dish (can easily be multiplied)

2 large sweet potatoes, 3/4-1 lb each
200g (about 1/2 lb) block good feta cheese (sheep’s milk is the best – try feta imported from Greece or France), cut into 1/2-inch (1 cm) cubes
2/3 cup black oil-cured olives (or other high-quality olives), pitted and chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
1/2 cup (packed) chopped fresh coriander/cilantro
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds (ground ok)
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds (ground ok)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper

something cool and creamy to dollop on top: sour cream, yogurt, tzaziki… even hummus!

Preheat the oven to 375F/190C. Wash the potatoes to rid them of any dirt and place on a foil-lined baking pan in the oven (no need to prick them). Bake until they are completely soft, about 45-60 minutes (depending on their size).

While the potatoes are roasting, make the salad. I like to toast the cumin and coriander seeds before using them, but you don’t have to. If you do, just heat them in a dry pan, stirring often, until they smell fragrant and toasty. Set aside to cool, then crush them coarsely in a mortar or with the back of a heavy knife (if using whole seeds). Mix together all the salad ingredients in a bowl and leave to marinate in the fridge until the potatoes are done (add a little more olive oil if it seems dry). When they are, remove them from the oven and place on plates. Slice them lengthwise down the center, folding open to reveal the orange flesh inside. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Pile half the feta salad on each potato, and eat!

Notes: I can’t get enough of this dish. The contrasts between hot and cold, sweet and salty, crunchy and soft are mind-blowing. I make it in a slightly different way every time, depending on what I have in the fridge, but it graces our plates at least once a week. It is so simple, so quick, and so delicious – I am head over heels in love with sweet potatoes.