A chef of German heritage recently told me she was flabbergasted upon immigrating here to discover that Americans, for the most part, only cook turkey once a year — on Thanksgiving. In her native country, turkey is enjoyed with gusto year-round.
I often think that about sweet potatoes. We bring them to the table with great fanfare for Thanksgiving, and even Christmas. But after that, we kind of lose interest until November rolls around again.
Why not have them in June? I just did, and am so glad I did.
Because “Sweet Potatoes with Mojo Pican Sauce” is one of those great side dishes that feels right anytime of year. Heck, I even paired them with smoked baby back ribs, and they were a phenomenal accompaniment.
The recipe is from “The New Spanish: Bites, Feasts and Drinks” (Kyle), of which I received a review copy. The cookbook is by Jonah Miller and Nate Adler, native New Yorkers and childhood friends who opened Huertas in the East Village in 2014.
Their food is Spanish to be sure, but flavored with their own twists. “Tortilla de Calabazi” adds butternut squash and fried sage to the traditional egg and potato tortilla; “Spanish Kimchi,” a European twist on the Korean staple with swett and hot pimenton; “Arroz Al Chino,” fried rice with saffron, bacon and shrimp; and “Flan de Maiz,” the classic flan turned on its head by the use of fresh corn.
The sweet potatoes or “Batatas con Mojo Picon” are simple to make. Just roast chunks in the oven, then toss with a smoky, peppery, earthy, sweet dressing, before showering with crumbled goat cheese, and toasted pumpkin seeds.
I used Japanese sweet potatoes, which aren’t orange inside, but off-white. They are incredibly sweet, and fluffier and less stringy in texture than orange ones.
The dressing is heady with cumin, coriander, hot pimenton, garlic, fresh oregano, toasted almonds and sherry vinegar. The only change I made to this recipe is to decrease the amount of olive oil. It calls for 2/3 cup. Even though the sweet potatoes, especially when still warm, suck up quite a bit of the dressing, I still found a pool at the bottom of the serving bowl. I think the olive oil could easily be dialed back to 1/2 cup, if not even a little less.
With its Spanish flair, these are definitely not anyone’s idea of Thanksgiving sweet potatoes. In fact, I dare say they might be more exciting, with their crunch from all the nuts and seeds, as well as the wonderful smokiness from the pimenton. This would be a great side for all manner of grilled or barbecued foods.
Don’t wait until November to try them. Now’s the time to get your mojo pican on.
Sweet Potatoes with Mojo Picon Sauce
(Serves 4 as part of a larger meal)
3 sweet potatoes (any variety), scrubbed
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the mojo-pican sauce:
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 teaspoon hot pimenton
1 small clove garlic
1/3 cup almonds
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons crumbled goat cheese
2 tablespoons toasted pumpkin seeds (peptias)
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Cut the potatoes into large (about 1 1/2-inch) chunks. Toss them in a bowl with the olive oil and season with salt and black pepper. Roast for 30 minutes, or until fork-tender, and lightly browned. If they are tender but haven’t taken on any color, you can turn your broiler on high and broil them for 1 to 2 minutes.
While the potatoes are roasting, make the sauce. Put the cumin and coriander seeds in a dry saute pan over medium heat. Toast them, stirring constantly, until their fragrance intensifies, 3 to 4 minutes. Grind the toasted seeds in a spice grinder (a coffee grinder that you only use for spices) or crush them in a mortar using a pestle (if you don’t have either of those tools available, you can just buy ground spices and skip the toasting step).
In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the pimenton and ground cumin and coriander. Allow the spices to “bloom” in the oil, which further intensifies their flavor. Stir for 15 seconds and remove from the heat. Be careful, if your oil is too hot, you will burn the spices. Let cool slightly, then transfer the oil and spice mixture to a bowl.
Using a Microplane grater, grate the garlic into the bowl, Chop the almonds coarsely by hand and add them to the bowl along with the oregano, vinegar, and salt. Stir to mix well. (The mojo will keep, tightly covered in the fridge, for 1 week or more, but the flavors may become less intense.)
To serve, put the roasted sweet potatoes in a large bowl. Spoon the mojo over the potatoes and mix well. Arrange on a platter and garnish with the goat cheese, pumpkin seeds, and parsley. Serve immediately.
Adapted from “The New Spanish” by Jonah Miller and Nate Adler
More Sweet Potato Recipes: Spiced Sweet Potato Bundt Cake