I struggle with sweet potatoes. I think it’s a texture thing. It’s definitely a sweetness thing. I am nearly always going to choose something salty, savory, or spicy over something sweet. And the way that sweet potatoes are most often prepared — drizzled with maple syrup, mixed with cinnamon, topped with baby marshmallows — don’t help things along for me.
I know, it seems ridiculous to be surprised and/or annoyed that a vegetable with the word sweet in it’s actual name would be sweet. And I could just avoid them. Which I did in my personal cooking for a while. But they are an economical nutritional powerhouse in ways that your more savory potato varieties are not — a great source of fiber, Vitamins A & C, cell damage squashing carotenoids, heart protecting Vitamin E, collagen enhancing copper, a good source of Quercetin which helps with allergies and asthma, and a sweet potato has more potassium than a banana. And more urgently, unfortunately nearly everyone I cook for on a regular basis counts sweet potatoes among their favorite vegetables. Thanksgiving without sweet potatoes is sacrilege.
For a while I just baked them (Heat oven to 400° F. Pierce each sweet potato several times with a fork. Bake about 45 minutes or until tender) and let everyone else go wild with their sticky toppings at the table. I would squeeze copious amounts of lime over mine to add tartness and acid to cut the cloyingness. I would turn any leftovers into the base for spicy hashes or ginger-laden, chiles-laced soups. Then a few holidays ago I was sitting at the kitchen table on Christmas morning, moving my way through the vegetable prep while the turkey browned. And when I got to the sweets, which were a particularly beautiful specimen of pale-fleshed Japanese sweet, I wondered could I Hasselback them? Would that make them tastier to me?
Hasselback potatoes, also known as accordion potatoes or Pillburg potatoes, take their name from the Swedish restaurant where they are thought to have been first served in the 1800s. You cut each potato across in very thin slices, only going about 3/4 of the way through, so that the bottom of the potato stays somewhat intact while the slices fan out as it cooks. This creates a best of both world sort of situation tuber-wise — lots of extra crispy edges with a still fluffy center. When I was a catering cook, it was my job to make hundreds of them a night, slicing each potato precisely before dunking it in melted butter, sliding bay leaves into the slices, and setting them to bake. It turns out that the technique also works with sweet potatoes. I sliced them up, and rubbed them simply with olive oil, salt & pepper before putting them in a 400 degree oven for about an hour. The resulting potatoes were crisp and fluffy, not mushy in the center like traditional baked sweets. I now make them all of the time — the beauty of all of the slices is that you can fill them with herbs and spices — cilantro & lime, basil & Parmesan, ginger & chiles, roasted garlic & black pepper are current favorites.