Friday, January 4, 2013

Smoked & Spicy Sweet Potatoes

I'm going to go big and say that we Americans are doing sweet potatoes wrong. In my experience-- which I don't think is all that unique-- exposure to the tuber is typically a once-a-year affair, when they are presented, puréed and topped with marshmallows for Thanksgiving dinner. And no matter how many times I've tried them that way (which was every year until recently-- I'm nothing if not a willing subject), they always grossed me out. It wasn't until I was in my mid-twenties-- my mid-twenties!-- that I ate sweet potatoes that had been prepared differently, with candied pecans-- though, no, that wasn't a remarkable difference, it did open the door to new possibilities and lead me to believe that substances other than marshmallow goo might make sweet potatoes not just mediocre or passable, but in fact, quite good.

(Ahh, lighting.)
Sweet potatoes have a natural sweetness, I reckoned; why not add some smokiness, or spice, or both? Their texture too easily becomes gluey, so instead of intensifying that by mashing them, why not roast them, leaving them a little chunkier and perhaps even crispy? The result isn't so much a sweet potato french fry-- I think in order to get that kind of crispness you'd have to fry them twice-- but it's close, minus the guilt ... and we cannot get enough. They've made a sweet potato lover out of this skeptic.

Smoked & Spicy Sweet Potatoes

What I offer you is basically the rub I've been using, and I can assure you it is just as good on plain old roast potatoes. I bet if you added some garlic and maybe even some Parmesan cheese, it would be excellent on shrimp, too. This is quite spicy, so if you're not keen on the heat, simply use the lesser amount of ancho chile and cayenne powder. The recipe below serves four; we have been halving it so each of the two of us eats about one sweet potato along with our dinner.


  • 3 - 4 pounds sweet potatoes (roughly four potatoes), scrubbed and cut into 1/2 - 3/4 inch-wide matchsticks
  • 1 Tablespoon Smoked Spanish paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
  • 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
  • Olive oil for the pan (roughly 2 - 3 Tablespoons)

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Combine all the spices in a bowl or ziplock bag and mix well.
  3. Put potatoes in a large casserole dish, drizzle with olive oil, and use your hands to make sure the potatoes are evenly coated with oil.
  4. Pour half the spice mix onto the sweet potatoes and toss, evenly distributing the spices as best you can. Depending on your tastes, add as much spice to coat as you like, and save the rest for another day.
  5. Bake sweet potatoes for 40 - 45 minutes, stirring once or twice to ensure they all roast evenly. Allow to cool for ten minutes, after which the intensity of the spiciness seems to diminish a bit, before digging in.


  1. This sounds like a *much* better way to eat sweet potatoes. I've always been too scared to try that sweet potato and marshmallow concoction that I've seen online but these? These I can get on board with.

    1. Good for you, those are so gross! These make me actually *want* to eat sweet potatoes ... which is something I never thought I'd say.

  2. I never liked sweet potatoes either. But, we've been eating sweet potato fries once a week for months now, we cannot get enough! They are so much better this way with the balance of spicy, sweet and salty. Yum.

  3. Aren't they?! I think of all those years I claimed not to like sweet potatoes, when instead I just needed a different approach. Good to know that Z and H will experience them differently-- they are so good for you!


What do you think? I love hearing from you!