Superfood vegetables make the easiest dinners: hello sweet potatoes!
Sweet potatoes are definitely a superfood, loaded with beta carotene, which functions as a potent antioxidant and a rich source of vitamin A. Not to mention one of our culinary tenets is crème fraîche with everything, so this recipe checks all the boxes of deliciousness.
Nik Sharma’s latest book is our favorite kind of cookbook. We love authors who explain the science behind a recipe, Kenji Lopez-Alt’s The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science (W. W. Norton & Company, 2015) being a prime example. Take this recipe for Baked Sweet Potatoes with Maple Crème Fraîche. A quick Google search for baked sweet potatoes generates 164M results, but do any of them diagnose why the Maillard reaction (a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned food its distinctive flavor) occurs only when you use butter? Sharma explains:
Butter works as the fat of choice here due to its higher smoke point. As the butter melts, it separates into its constituents—fat, water, sugars, and milk solids—which undergo caramelization and the Maillard reaction.
The sugars concentrate as the water evaporates during cooking. Fish sauce adds a spot of umami to the sauce, you can use vegan fish sauce as an alternative. The peanuts and scallions provide crunch against the softer textures of the potato and the dressing.
So if you tried to veganize this recipe using olive oil or coconut oil in place of butter, your results will vary, but they won’t have the distinctive caramelization as described in the recipe.
Before writing cookbooks, Sharma, who is also the author of Season: Bold Flavors, Beautiful Food (Chronicle Books, 2018), was a molecular biologist. He uses the same approach in developing and testing recipes that a scientist uses when conducting experiments, trying different combinations of ingredients and techniques and observing the results. In the baked sweet potato recipe he notes:
I’ve been testing new ways to improve on roasting sweet potatoes in the oven, and I found that a combination of steaming and roasting works great for a dish like this for both the texture and the extra set of aroma molecules that comes through. The first step, partial steaming, keeps the moisture inside the sweet potato while cooking, and the second step, uncovered roasting, helps create a robust flavor profile.
Understanding the science behind what happens when we prepare food can make us better cooks and at the same time, make our food more delicious, which is the end game after all.
For the sweet potatoes:
4 sweet potatoes (each 7 oz), preferably a yellow-fleshed variety such as Garnet or Jewel
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
Fine sea salt
For the dressing:
½ cup crème fraîche or sour cream
1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons fish sauce (optional)
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Fine sea salt
2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions, both green and white parts
2 tablespoon roasted peanuts
1 teaspoon red chilli flakes, such as Aleppo, Maras, or Urfa
½ teaspoon lime zest
- To prepare the sweet potatoes, preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Rinse and scrub the sweet potatoes under running tap water. Slice them lengthwise and place them in a roasting pan, cut side facing up. Brush with the butter and season with salt. Cover the pan with a sheet of aluminum foil and press around the edges to seal snugly. Bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove the foil, flip the sweet potatoes, and cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes more, until the sweet potatoes are cooked thoroughly and are tender; a knife inserted into the center of the sweet potato should slide through easily. Remove from the heat and let rest for 5 minutes.
- To prepare the dressing, in a small bowl, combine the crème fraîche, maple syrup, lime juice, fish sauce, if using, and pepper. Taste and season with salt.
- To serve, top the warm roasted potatoes with a few tablespoons of the maple crème fraîche dressing. Sprinkle with the scallions, peanuts, red chilli flakes, and lime zest. Serve with the extra dressing on the side.
Reprinted from The Flavor Equation by Nik Sharma with permission by Chronicle Books, 2020. Photo: Nik Sharma
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 45 minutes
- Category: vegetables
- Method: baked
- Cuisine: American
- Serving Size: 4
Keywords: sweet potatoes, creme fraiche, maple syrup, flavor equation, nik sharma