There is something in sweet potatoes that my body must need because I cannot get enough of them. I like them prepared in all manner and form (except with marshmallows), and consider their appearance in the fall one of the highlights of the season. I am often reminded of that memorable scene in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man when the main character encounters a street vendor in Harlem who is selling baked sweet potatoes (yams), and he purchases one. When he bites into it, he is overcome with a surge of homesickness for his family in the south. He then reveals, “I walked along, munching on the yam, just as suddenly overcome by an intense feeling of freedom – simply because I was eating while walking along the street. It was exhilarating. I no longer had to worry about who saw me and what was proper. To hell with all that, and as sweet as the yam actually was, it became like nectar with the thought.” Wow! The power of sweet potatoes!
When sweet potato fries became popular a few years ago, I was in big trouble.I found them hard to resist when I saw them on a menu – even though they are high in calories. But I have since discovered a fabulous lower calorie way to prepare them at home – roasting the” fries.” You can use a minimal amount of oil and still create the texture of a “fry.” The secret? Toss the raw strips of sweet potato in cornstarch before dressing them in oil and spices. This draws the moisture away from the potato and helps create a crisp exterior.
When my son Daniel came home for Christmas, he enlightened me about the best way to season roasted sweet potato “fries.” He sprinkled on a combination of cinnamon, powdered chipotle, and salt all over the fries. Perfection!The sweetness of the cinnamon was an ideal foil for the smokey, hot chipotle, and together they worked magic on the sweet potatoes.
Powdered chipotle might be hard for some of you to find, but don’t worry, there are alternative spices that will work just fine. Try pairing the cinnamon with cayenne, or smoked paprika, or chili powder. Just be careful with with the amount of hot pepper (whatever variety) you use. Cinnamon can be liberally applied, but the chipotle or cayenne must be used judiciously.
Here’s how to make roasted sweet potato “fries”:
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Peel 2 or 3 sweet potatoes (you don’t want to crowd the pan, so if you are serving a lot of people, make them in batches)
- Cut the potatoes into logs – like french fries
- Place them in a large bowl and toss with about 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch. Use your hands to toss well to coat them evenly.
- Drizzle on a few tablespoons olive oil – just enough to coat them lightly. With a rubber spatula toss well. Season generously with cinnamon and cautiously with chipotle or other chili pepper. Sprinkle with salt.
- Spread onto a baking sheet, being careful not to crowd the potatoes.
- Bake at least 45 minutes, tossing often with a spatula so they brown evenly. Let sit 10 minutes before serving them; they will get more crisp as they cool.
The key to cooking them properly lies in realizing that even though they will become tender after 25-30 minutes, you still need to keep cooking them to bake off as much moisture as possible so the exteriors become crisp. They must become very brown, but you do not want to let them burn.
Here’s a bonus: you can refrigerate leftovers (an unlikely situation since they will be gobbled up), then reheat them with success. Again, let them sit a few minutes after they bake. Serving them piping hot is not the way to go – they crisp up as they cool.