A natural culinary risk taker, Vivian Howard of A CHEF’S LIFE continues to find creative ways to maximize the versatility of sweet potatoes. Whether pairing with heat-seeking spices or re-imagining traditional cultural fare, Vivian has awesome suggestions on how to make the most of the sweet potatoes on your menus!
At Chef & The Farmer, what sweet potato dish(s) have you served/are serving that is a customer favorite?
We’re currently serving a poultry, either chicken or pheasant, with pecan relish and sweet potato butter that is very popular with our diners. It’s not an actual ‘butter,’ but we call it that because of the texture and the spice combination is similar to apple butter. A couple of things that come back each year are braised pork shoulder and sweet potato lasagna. It’s a free-form lasagna where we take one sheet of dough and fold it over the filling, so everybody gets their own personal lasagna. It has the flavor of a sweet potato infused, cheesy barbecue since we braise the pork in vinegar and thyme and use sweet potato ricotta as the filling. People are either obsessed with it or wonder, “Where’s my lasagna?” Because I love it so much, we’ve kept it on the menu year after year.
Many people just think of sweet potatoes in casseroles, pies or fries. What are some of your favorite recipes that showcase the versatility of sweet potatoes?
One thing we do at Chef & The Farmer is treat sweet potatoes like tostones, which are traditionally cooked, sliced, smashed, then fried plantains, so we apply this process to the sweet potato. Another favorite is to caramelize the sweet potatoes until they’re candied then drizzle them with a maple bacon syrup. This is a technique that’s a bit out of the box, but the sweet potato, maple and bacon are a delicious flavor trifecta! Another recipe I’ve been working on is a take on a spoonbread, cornmeal that’s cooked and then baked, giving it a dense texture. Currently, I’m experimenting with a sweet potato spoonbread, which is like a riff on the casserole…but deliciously different.
Chef Vivian Howard’s Tahini & Sesame Sweet Potato Wedges
We love trying new flavors and ingredients with our sweet potatoes, such as rosemary or bacon. What is the most interesting flavor combination you’ve discovered with sweet potatoes?
I’ve recently discovered that tahini and sesame are really great pairings with sweet potatoes. I think most people immediately think of sweet potatoes with cinnamon and nutmeg, but I like to pair them with spicy things as well. I love them with chipotle, cumin – warm spices with a little bit of heat.
Commonly associated with winter comfort food, many people are surprised to find sweet potatoes are delicious in lighter, healthier meals – such as salads or smoothies. What are some ways you incorporate sweet potatoes into your meals during spring and summer?
We eat a lot of tacos at my house, because it’s something we can all agree on and it encourages us to eat outside during the summer. Sometimes I’ll grill slices of sweet potato and toss them with cumin and other spices to create an interesting and different taco filling that Ben and the kids love.
In the busy world we live in, it’s easy to become lazy in meal prep – especially when there’s a fast food restaurant on every corner. What are some easy, convenient ways you have used sweet potatoes for a quick meal?
I truly believe that roasting a sweet potato is one of the easiest things you can do, but I also try to encourage people to think about what they can put on the sweet potato other than brown sugar. What about roasted broccoli with grated parmesan or roasted with garlicky or gingered greens? Just thinking about the sweet potato as a vehicle for other things can produce new ideas for a quick and easy meal. One of my household favorites is a sweet potato roasted directly in its skin topped with turkey, chili spices, sliced avocado and a dollop of sour cream – it is a really good dinner that doesn’t take long to prepare.