J and I took a much needed vacation to Tennessee for our birthdays; we freakishly share the same birthday – same day, same year. No joke. The gift of annual birthday travel is a promise to we made to each other after our engagement in Portland, Oregon, for the same purpose over two years ago.
The vacation was anything but restful. We toured the streets of both Nashville and Memphis, reveling in historical music scenes while enjoying pulled pork sandwiches, fresh gumbo with andouille sausage, and a handful of dive bars (“Hello” to Karen and Russell at Ernestine and Hazel’s). The weather was a flawless 70 degrees and sunny, a stark contrast to the Nor’easter that smacked Philadelphia in our absence. And as we turn the calendar to November, I find comfort in an old pair of sweatpants, a cup of hot chocolate and this reason to turn on the oven: Sweet Potato Fries.
Sweet potatoes from my Summer CSA (which comes to an end this week!) were first to be prepared upon arrival home from Graceland’s precinct. Sweet potatoes are a cold weather mainstay and their nutritional profile is compelling – rich in dietary fiber, potassium, and vitamins C, B6 and A, in the form of beta carotene.
Beta carotene is actually converted to vitamin A in the body, and there are a number of factors that determine just how well our body absorbs this nutrient. In the case of the sweet potato, a study published in the journal, “Plant Foods for Human Nutrition,” found that deep-frying this root vegetable was the most effective cooking method for optimal retention of beta carotene (followed by steamed/boiled, baked, and raw). Since vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin, it makes sense that frying in oil (fat) may increase its absorption.
My featured sweet potato fries recipe doesn’t fry them (I’m courageously ignoring the deep fryer in our garage), but roasts them in a fair amount of extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar. Simple and much healthier than the deep-fried kind. I even enjoyed them re-heated the next day. Sweet potato fries are a great canvas for your favorite seasoning – make them spicy (with chili powder or cayenne pepper), savory (garlic, Parmesan and rosemary), or sweet. Just add a bit of olive oil to help protect your eyes and skin, along with your digestive, respiratory and urinary tracts — thanks to the beta carotene.
There are many types of sweet potatoes, my oven unveiled both the Japanese and Beauregard varieties in the fry form. The Beauregard is a popular variety in supermarkets and contains the trademark orange flesh, which is sweeter and more moist than its white counterpart, the Japanese sweet potato. (Keep in mind that sweet potato varieties with dark orange flesh have more beta carotene than those with light coloured flesh. Also, keep the skin on to reap the fiber benefits.) The drier texture of the Japanese sweet potato can make for a burnt fry, so be sure to monitor cooking times closely if you choose this variety.
Sweet Potato Fries
- 2 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed, skin on
- 2-3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
- Cinnamon sugar to taste
- Heat oven or toaster oven to 400 degrees F.
- Slice sweet potatoes to your desired French fry shape; thicker fries will take a little longer to roast.
- Place on cooking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, cinnamon sugar. Toss with hands to evenly coat.
- Roast for about 20 minutes (monitor closely, oven times vary!) turning once during roasting.
- Fries are done when they are soft to the fork with lighly browned skins.
Recipe Note: For crispier fries, try this trick from La Fuji Mama: Soak potatoes in salt water for several minutes after slicing. When cooking, move them to the highest rack in the oven once they are soft, then increase the temperature to 475 degrees F for the last 5 minutes.