Monday, April 12, 2010

Flora and Fire

This past Sunday presented the opportunity to embrace two of my very favorite culinary practices for the first time this season: firing up the grill, and cooking with fresh herbs from the garden.  The birds were chirping.  The sun was shining.  We had finished planting poppies, dianthus and a beautiful bleeding heart plant (among a bajillon-jillion other things).  The propane tank had recently been filled.  And luckily the chives, both intentional and volunteer, were in abundance and beckoning me to put them to good use before someone else did.

Those lovely chives were the motivator for me to make one of my all time favorite summer side dishes – grilled sweet potatoes with cayenne and chives.  Sweet potatoes, in case you’ve never prepared them this way, do something magical on the grill – the heat and relative dryness create a texture that I’d cautiously describe as puffy, and a bit of well controlled char deepens their flavor into something borderline addictive.  And even though this recipe is best with the inclusion of butter (haha, you’re shocked, I’m sure), it is still pretty light and not wintery at all, as many sweet potato preparations can certainly be.

One note about this recipe – it’s mostly a “throw it together because you have the ingredients, season to taste, modify at will" kind of deal.  Maybe you don’t like cayenne, maybe you want to use scallions instead of chives, maybe you want to add a dollop of sour cream or crème fraiche, maybe you’re vegan and want to use a binder* that’s dairy free…it’s basically grilled potatoes smashed up with vibrant fresh herbs and spices and a smidge of creamy goodness…perfection I think they call it.

Grilled Sweet Potatoes with Chives, Cayenne and Butter
by me

Serves 4-6

I’ve intentionally left the measurements here vague, because it’s really hard to screw this up, and your version of the above stated perfection may differ from mine…

4 good size sweet potatoes
a healthy splash of olive oil
1-2 teaspoons of cayenne red pepper
black pepper and sea salt
a nice bunch of chives, chopped
a good lob of butter – I used yogurt butter and it’s a lovely replacement for the real thing

Heat grill to medium low.

Peel sweet potatoes and cut into ¼ inch slices (the long way, so that it’s harder for them to fall through the grill!) Place on a large plate and drizzle with olive oil.  Toss to coat.  Sprinkle with cayenne, sea salt and black pepper.  Toss again until evenly coated with spices.

Place sweet potatoes on the grill and cook for about 12-15 minutes, turning once at the halfway mark, until lightly charred and tender – definitely test them for doneness.  Place slices in a bowl and smash using the side of a spoon (not mash, you want some big pieces left) with butter and chives.

*I use the term ‘binder’ very loosely here.  You’re not looking for smooth uniform consistency, like a puree – think big chunks of sweet potato dotted with spices and chives and slicked with a bit of butter, sour cream, what have you.

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