Add a few pomegranate seeds and lots of black pepper, and you have a tasty side dish with balance and texture.
Sweet potatoes. They are nutritious, lovely to look at and, well, sweet. In a savory side dish, the sweetness can be a problem to some. I’m not a huge fan of really sweet vegetable dishes, so my relationship with sweet potatoes has been a bit strained.
A distant (too sweet) memory
Our family used to include a member (now removed by divorce) who always brought the same thing to our holiday gatherings – a sweet potato casserole enhanced further with lots of brown sugar and topped with marshmallows. Lots of marshmallows! Now, as a general rule, New Englanders are not prone to really sweet anything, even dessert. This side dish was usually left almost untouched. I shudder even today thinking about it.
For the most part, I try hard to tamp down the sweetness of this vegetable because I really do want to eat them. Loaded with beta carotene (one of the best vegetable sources) and high in fiber, sweet potatoes also have lots of Vitamins C, B6, B5, and E, plus tons of potassium and manganese, magnesium, zinc, and iron. That’s a lot of nutrition packed in a little tuber.
Yams vs. sweet potatoes
For this dish, I found some beautiful “garnet yams” at the farm stand – a mislabeling we see everywhere at this time of year; these are sweet potatoes, not yams. Yams (member of Dioscorea, native to Africa, related to lilies and grasses) and sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas, native to the Americas, member of the morning glory clan) belong to two different families and are not even distantly related. If you find it in abundance in this country, it is most likely a sweet potato, whether white, orange, or purple fleshed, and often it is mislabeled.
As I was stripping my herb bed of its tender plants this week, I filled a basket with basil and basil flowers and knew where this dish would head! I decided not to make a full-blown pesto with the nuts and cheese, and instead made a sauce of basil, garlic, olive oil, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Lots of black pepper entered the equation.
Make it pretty
I cubed and roasted the sweet potatoes along with a lovely onion. This added its own type of sweetness, but more mellow. I also found a pomegranate and tossed that into the mix to add a bit of crunch, but you could use any favorite seed or nut if you like. As I finished plating, I realized the presentation sort of came out looking like a Christmas wreath, but it tasted good!
Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Basil and Lemon
2 sweet potatoes, dark fleshed
1 small sweet onion
Olive oil for the roasting pan
Salt and pepper
1 large handful of basil
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
The juice and zest of 1 lemon
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp, pomegranate seeds, optional
Basil leaves and flowers to garnish
Preheat oven to 450 degrees and place a rimmed baking sheet on the middle rack to heat.
Peel and cube the sweet potatoes, and chop the onions roughly. Drizzle with a little olive oil, and place on the hot baking sheet. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and bake for 10 minutes. Turn, then bake another 10 minutes or so, until the potatoes are just softened but not mushy.
While the vegetables are baking, make the sauce. Crush the garlic in a mortar and pestle, or place in a food processor, with a little salt. Crush or grind the garlic, and add the basil and some of the oil, processing by hand or machine until well blended, but still textured. Continue adding the oil, then by hand mix in the lemon zest, juice and black pepper, more grinds of pepper than you think you’ll need. Taste. Correct seasoning if necessary, and set aside.
Plate the potatoes and drizzle with the basil sauce. Garnish with the pomegranate seeds, more basil leaves and flowers, and more pepper if you like. I also added a final squeeze of lemon juice over it all.
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