JeanMarie Brownson: Sweet potatoes for the weekday win!

Jeanmarie Brownson: Sweet Potatoes For The Weekday Win!
JeanMarie Brownson/TNS

Sweet potatoes prove super easy to cook.

Sweet potatoes, once relegated to holiday meals, now feature weekly on casual supper menus. From baked to mashed to fries, this potato graces our dinner table at least once a week.

The ubiquitous orange-fleshed tubers, also known as Jewel and Garnet, are packed with beta-carotene, vitamins A and C, calcium, potassium, iron and fiber. Purple-fleshed varieties, such as Stokes, Molokai and Okinawan, have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. All varieties sport a modest number of calories and plenty of satiety. (Yams, botanically a different vegetable, are starchy, dry and much less sweet.)

Best of all, sweet potatoes prove super easy to cook. Our weekday hack employs the microwave oven for fast mashed potatoes, and to jump start oven fries. Baked sweets, cooked slowly in a hot oven so the interior concentrates and steams, become the centerpiece of a meatless meal. We top them with plain yogurt and bottled Asian chili crisp. Alternatively, try chopped spicy nuts and cilantro.

Rich, creamy mascarpone cheese adds a lovely texture to mashed sweet potatoes along with a bit of tangy dairy, mild cheese flavor. Crème fraiche, sour cream or plain yogurt make nice substitutes. Another favorite combination involves mashed purple-fleshed potatoes with coconut milk and grated lime rind. The point is to counter the sweetness of the potato with the mellowing qualities of dairy or fat.

Oil does the same for sweet potatoes destined for the oven. A mild oil that can take high heat, such as expeller pressed canola oil, safflower or sunflower oil, will tame the sweetness along with adding to the finished texture. An easy barbecue-flavor rub, made from chili powder, sugar and salt, flavors the oven fries. Serve them with grilled chicken or ribs.

Perfect Baked Sweet Potatoes

Makes 2 servings

  • 2 medium-size sweet potatoes, about 1 pound total
  • Expeller pressed canola oil, safflower or sunflower oil
  • Coarse sea salt

Toppings such as plain yogurt, Asian chili crisp, butter, sour cream, red pepper hot sauce, chopped cooked bacon or spicy pecans

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Scrub potatoes clean and pat dry. Place on a baking sheet. Pour a little oil over each potato and roll it around to coat it in oil. Sprinkle with salt.

2. Bake, turning potatoes once or twice, until tender when a knife is inserted in the center, 45 to 60 minutes, depending on size. Cool 5 minutes.

3. Split down the center of each potato with a knife and press the potato open to reveal the soft interior. Add desired toppings.

Mascarpone Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Makes 2 servings

  • 2 medium-size sweet potatoes, about 1 pound total
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup mascarpone, crème fraiche or sour cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon each: salt, freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 green onions, trimmed, thinly sliced

1. Scrub potatoes clean. Pierce in several places with the tip of a knife. Place in microwave oven. Microwave on high (100% power), rotating potatoes once or twice, until tender when pierced with a fork. Cool.

2. When cool enough to handle, peel the potatoes and put the flesh into a medium-sized microwave-safe bowl. Mash coarsely using an old-fashioned potato masher or a large fork. Stir in the mascarpone, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings. (Mixture can be refrigerated up to two days.)

3. Stir in green onions. Microwave on high (100% power), stirring once or twice, 2 minutes, or until hot. Serve hot.

Sweet Potato Oven Fries

Makes 2 to 3 servings

Note: When roasting sweet potatoes into “fries,” be sure to use a large baking sheet so the vegetables are in a single layer and can crisp nicely.

  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 large sweet potatoes, about 2 pounds total
  • 3 tablespoons expeller pressed canola oil, safflower or sunflower oil

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees on convection or 400 degrees conventional. Mix chili powder, salt and sugar in a small bowl.

2. Scrub potatoes clean. Pierce in several places with the tip of a knife. Place in microwave oven. Microwave on high (100% power), rotating potatoes once or twice, until starting to get tender when pierced with a fork, about 5 minutes. Cool until they can be handled.

3. Peel potatoes with a paring knife. Cut potatoes lengthwise in half. Cut each half into 1/3-inch thick wedges. Place on a large nonstick baking sheet. Add oil and toss well to coat. Sprinkle potato wedges generously with some of the chili mixture.

4. Bake, stirring potatoes once or twice, until tender and crisped a bit on the edges, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve hot.

(JeanMarie Brownson is a James Beard Award-winning author and the recipient of the IACP Cookbook Award for her latest cookbook, “Dinner at Home.” JeanMarie, a chef and authority on home cooking, Mexican cooking and specialty food, is one of the founding partners of Frontera Foods. She co-authored three cookbooks with chef Rick Bayless, including “Mexico: One Plate at a Time.” JeanMarie has enjoyed developing recipes and writing about food, travel and dining for more than four decades.)