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For The Sweet Love of Spud

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Spicy Feta-Olive Salad

Let me introduce you to someone. His name is Mr. Sweet Potato. You may have met him before, you may have even enjoyed his company, but you might have thought he was too unexciting to go out of your way to see again. You might have also found him just a little too sweet for his own good, with that appearance he made cloaked in sugar, marshmallows or pie crust at your last family get-together and his uncanny ability to make your grandmother swoon. You probably decided he had friend potential, maybe someone you would invite for holidays at your house to amuse your relatives, but you decided he just wasn't your kind of potato for anything more.

Well, let me tell you something. Times have changed. Since you last met Mr. Sweet Potato, he has matured. He has roughed-up that sugary veneer and cast off those wretched marshmallows. When you meet him now he exudes the unmistakable scent of earth, and spice, and danger; even his clothes are different: rough, torn, masculine. He has been to exotic places, learned things that will thrill you, amaze you, make you crave his company in a way you never thought possible. After you've been with him, you dream about him at night, imagining how your next encounter will be even more exciting than the last. Your grandmother may not even like him anymore.

But this bad-boy potato hasn't completely transformed. Underneath this new facade is still that same sweet wholesomeness you admired in him before. Despite the fun, the impetuousness and the danger this is a potato that once welcomed into your life will care for you, nurture you, nourish you. He's still good for you - he's just a lot more fun than he used to be. Shall I give you his number?

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Spicy Feta-Olive Salad
Recipe Source: Inspired by a recipe in Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons
Serves: 2 as main course, 4 as side dish (can easily be multiplied)

2 large sweet potatoes, 3/4-1 lb each
200g (about 1/2 lb) block good feta cheese (sheep's milk is the best - try feta imported from Greece or France), cut into 1/2-inch (1 cm) cubes
2/3 cup black oil-cured olives (or other high-quality olives), pitted and chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
1/2 cup (packed) chopped fresh coriander/cilantro
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds (ground ok)
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds (ground ok)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper

something cool and creamy to dollop on top: sour cream, yogurt, tzaziki... even hummus!

Preheat the oven to 375F/190C. Wash the potatoes to rid them of any dirt and place on a foil-lined baking pan in the oven (no need to prick them). Bake until they are completely soft, about 45-60 minutes (depending on their size).

While the potatoes are roasting, make the salad. I like to toast the cumin and coriander seeds before using them, but you don't have to. If you do, just heat them in a dry pan, stirring often, until they smell fragrant and toasty. Set aside to cool, then crush them coarsely in a mortar or with the back of a heavy knife (if using whole seeds). Mix together all the salad ingredients in a bowl and leave to marinate in the fridge until the potatoes are done (add a little more olive oil if it seems dry). When they are, remove them from the oven and place on plates. Slice them lengthwise down the center, folding open to reveal the orange flesh inside. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Pile half the feta salad on each potato, and eat!

Notes: I can't get enough of this dish. The contrasts between hot and cold, sweet and salty, crunchy and soft are mind-blowing. I make it in a slightly different way every time, depending on what I have in the fridge, but it graces our plates at least once a week. It is so simple, so quick, and so delicious - I am head over heels in love with sweet potatoes.

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Reader Comments (35)

I am well aquainted with Mr. Sweetpotato but now I may have another way to dress him up/down for the evening. What a lovely post (and picture). I have some catching up to do on your blog... dodgy Wifi makes for challenging work & play.
June 9, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterHeather
I think we are lucky in Austarlia, we dont do that weird marshmallow thingy ...:P

How about some trivia? They are called Kumera in New Zealand and they make great chips! We always have them with our Roast vegtables too. But I have never had them like that, and I KNOW I will. Thanks :)
June 10, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterclare eats
He sounds hot. I'll take his number :) Though I've never had sweet potatoes with marshmallows, I am a huge fan of mashed sweet potatoes bruleed with brown sugar. And yes, when you call it bruleed it sounds that much better, doesnt it? Great post, you have me longing for my own hot potato!
June 10, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMichele
Hi Heather - I'm honored that dodgy wifi and all you still find the time to comment on my posts. How do you always find hotspots on the road? I somehow get an image of you crouched behind a dumpster with your laptop in dusty parking lots latching onto pirated signals, but I'm sure the reality is much less romantic!

Hi Clare - I honestly don't know who thought marshmallows and vegetables should go together, but you're lucky to have been spared this. For me it ranks up there with green jello salad. Interesting trivia about Kumera in NZ - now that you mention that I remember eating sweet potatoes there, at a not-very-traditional Maori hangi. Sweet potato chips sound fantastic - darn you for making me hungry again!

Hi Michele - I've arranged for a private meeting between you two. Rendezvous at 2pm, at the supermarket. You bring the cayenne pepper ;) Actually, my mother-in-law claims she's never seen sweet potatoes in Germany, and I can't remember if I ever did. I do know that the vendors at our market were constantly getting more international with their offerings, so maybe they're available by now...
June 10, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
Hi Melissa - I've just got back from holiday so I've had some catching up to do on your posts. Just ran out and got the ingredients for this recipe so I'll be trying it tonight. I've also got your honey and ricotta ice cream in the freezer. Yum!
Loved your post on mangoes too. Every June I spend as much time as I can stuffing my face with alphonso mangoes. I like making lassi with them but I'll definitely try your recipe for frozan yoghurt.
June 10, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterDharshi
Hi Dharshi - Glad you made it back! I'm glad you mentioned the mango post because I wanted to stop and buy a box on my way home. I think those Sindhris are finally in season! I hope you like the sweet potatoes - they're perfect summer food, so effortless and they give you a chance to actually enjoy these brief moments of nice weather...
June 10, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
Hi Melissa,
Your "romantic" vision is not too far off... More than once we've parked the vehicle in an odd angle (even on the sidewalk) in the dead of night to "borrow" WiFi. We find signals via our Boingo finder, another service (I forget which one) and of course by clicking on our signal finder and sometimes tapping in to a network. Currently we're in a B&B in Austin which has its own so for a few short days I'm happy surfer.
June 10, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterHeather
This sounds delicious. By the way sweet potataoes are called Rathaloo in Maharashtra, India and are used frequently in simple veggie dishes.
Your blog is inspiring....makes one want to try out the recipes right away and the pictures absolutely drool worthy.
June 11, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterdeccanheffalump
Hi Heather - Well, "borrowing" a little wifi never hurt anyone, now did it? I'm sure the providers would agree, if they knew what a good cause it was being "borrowed" for!

Hi Deccanheffalump - That's quite a name! :) I'm glad to know that sweet potatoes are enjoyed in India - I don't think I've ever run across an Indian dish containing them here, so maybe I'll consult my cookbooks for a recipe. Thanks for your compliments on the blog - I really enjoy reading yours too!
June 12, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
I have a recipe for Sri Lankan sweet potato curry I can send you if you like. It's from a Madhur Jaffery book, but I have to say I've never had anything like it at home or at any Sri Lankan person's house. Btw, the baked sweet potatoes turned out really well. Ben says he is extremely grateful to you for putting on your blog!
June 12, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterDharshi
Hi Dharshi - I'd love your recipe for Sri Lankan sweet potato curry. I was just reading that sweet potatoes are considered a 'superfood' because of all the nutrients they contain, so the more ways to eat them, the better! I'm glad you liked this recipe, and tell Ben he's more than welcome :)
June 12, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
If I could find sweet potatoes here I would be done for! In any case, just wanted to stop by and say that the Socca recipe is EXCELLENT! That's it, from now on I will be a sucker for socca. ;-)
June 12, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterrowena
Hi Rowena - so glad it worked out for you! I'm also really glad to have made this culinary discovery - it will certainly be at the top of my list whenever I see it on the menu.
June 13, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
oooh! phwoar! yum! how can you go wrong - sweet spuds, olives AND feta together. what a great idea, sounds fantastic. i roasted a sweet spud in foil for the first time last week and it didn't need as long as a normal potato, but i didn't find this out til i had practically liquidised the sweet spuds innards. still nice tho :)

back in oz i once had a pizza with little chunks of sweet potato, feta, cashew nuts that was drizzled with pesto and some basil leaves. now that was great...
June 13, 2005 | Unregistered Commentershauna
wow.....that looks delish! My local store stocks big fat sweet potatoes, only problem, they are closed on Monday.....tomorrow I'll be on my way to the store and then I'll be whipping up your recipe.
June 13, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa
Hi Shauna - Sweet potatoes are actually very forgiving, as you must have realized. I often stick them in the oven and forget them there for hours - but they've never complained! Your ozzie pizza sounds absolutely delicious. Must file away for a rainy-day pizza emergency...

Hi Melissa - What a nice name you've got there ;) You're lucky to have a source for sweet potatoes, as I've found them to be hard to track down in some corners of Europe. Then again, what can't you find in France?
June 13, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
This recipe sounds awesome. I'm definitely going to try it out.

I generally like my sweet potatoes very simply roasted - chop them in slices or wedges, toss in some olive oil, kosher salt, black pepper, and some rosemary. Throw them in the oven for a while until they start browning. Very easy side dish for just about anything! And sweet potatoes are a lot better for you than regular potatoes -- high fiber, vitamin B, and various other nutrients. Good stuff.

June 14, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Machanic
I manaaged to find some purple kumera! I am so excited :) They are the BEST!
and I am going to do this to them :) yay
June 16, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterclare eats
Hi Adam - That sounds like an excellent way to prepare them too! You know, I've always liked sweet potatoes better than normal potatoes, so it's particularly nice to learn that they're so healthy. If only taste and nutrition always went hand in hand!

Hi Clare - I had purple sweet potato ice cream in Hawaii - it was so good! I hope it goes well with the feta salad :)
June 16, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
melissa! i just had to write and tell you I made this last night and it was SOOOOOOOOOOOOOooo soooooooOoOooo soooOOooo good! and the vegetarian husband scoffed it right up. everyone's a winner. the contrasts of sweet/salty/spicy was pure magic :)
June 30, 2005 | Unregistered Commentershauna
Hi Shauna! I'm sooOOOoooOooooooOOOOoo glad you liked them!
June 30, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
I have never understood why anyone would add sugar to the already super-sweet sweet potato, much less marshmallows (Does anyone know the culinary history behind that bit of epicurean blasphemy?). Give it a proper roasting and the tremendous tuber will ooze its own surplus of sugar. My absolute favorite is simply roasting the guys until they are completely soft and collapsed, then mashing them with a sauce of Chinese five-spice, a drop of soy sauce, lime and water. No fat, no sugar, no disgusting little nuclear war resistant pillows of fake marshmallow (and all the skins left for me to gorge on!). Okay, okay, enough of my lustful fantasies -- Did you receive the sri lankan sweet potato curry recipe mentioned in Dharshi's comment above? Have you tried it? Will you please copy it into the comments section or post it separately? Thanks
September 4, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAnother Yam Fan
Hi Yam Fan - I've never understood either how the poor sweet potato came to be so maligned. They're so much better when treated as a vegetable! Your recipe for mashing them sounds delicious - I'll definitely have to try it. I do have Dharshi's curry recipe - why don't you send me an email (my address is on the 'about' page) and I'll email it back to you?
September 5, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
I kind of cheated. I just put some tomatoes, olives and feta in a baked sweet potato. Delicious! Thanks for the idea. I loved the salty-sweet combo.
October 5, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJessica "Su Good Eats"
Hi Jessica - Hey, whatever works! :) I also vary this recipe quite often, it makes a good foundation for improvisation.
October 11, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
Hi Melissa!
I've been enjoying your wonderful blog for a while now, as much for beautiful photos as for your posts - I just love your writing! I also like how almost every story is built around an interesting recipe, and every recipe has a lovely story behing it.

But this - this is a masterpiece! And the recipe is great, I tryed it, and - not surprisingly - loved it, and I agree with every word you say about it!

A good surprise for me was that my husband also loved it. I'm always so happy when he approves the recipes I fish from the internet - it justifies the enormous amount of time I spend on this hobby of mine.

So thank you, thank you, thak you! And keep it up! :)

PS The only disappointment for me was that I just couldn't convey all the charm of your story to my husband. English is not our mother tongue (which is Russian) and his is not as good to let him easily enjoy text of this sort. But I did my best!
January 31, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterYulia
Hi Yulia! I'm always so thrilled to hear that one of my favorite recipes has met with approval, and of course I'm glad it's helped to justify your time spent reading foodblogs to your husband :) So thank you for taking the time to give me feedback on the dish, and thank you as well for all your kind words. I hope you and your husband will find many more recipes here to whet your appetites!
February 2, 2006 | Registered Commentermelissa
Hi again, Melissa!

Would you mind if I shared this recipe on a Russian cooking forum and included your picture of it? With a note that it's yours and a link to your post, of course.

In spite of having made this dish four times already, I just didn't have a chance to make a decent picture, but posting it without an illustration wouldn't give it the deserved attention.

What is it baout great recipes that gives you this strong urge to share it with as many people as possible? ;) Anyway, I'll be waiting for your answer.
February 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterYulia
Hi Yulia, yes, please feel free! I appreciate the PR :)
February 13, 2006 | Registered Commentermelissa
Mmmmmm.... I just made this recipe and it was fabulous! Very very strong flavors contrasting with the mellow sweet potato. I was worried about the raw onion and garlic so I sauteed them first, but then decided this was one recipe in which raw onion would not overpower the rest, so I added some after all (not red onion, the really sharp stuff). It was very very very good.
This is my first attempt at making one of your recipes and certainly an encouraging beginning. Now, if I can only muster up the courage to try your pastilla...
One question: I'd love to show this salad off to guests, but I'm afraid not everyone may be a fan of such strong flavors. Have you tried it on many guests? Do you get some polite "mmm, how interesting?" comments? Or only raves?
May 31, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAstrid
Hi Astrid - Thanks for the feedback, I'm glad you liked it! I haven't made this for people I don't know very well, just for friends and family whose tastes I can predict, and so far everyone has loved it (though one family member didn't try it based on a long-standing dislike of feta cheese). If your guests are pretty adventurous eaters I can't imagine a problem, but it never hurts to ask about their feelings toward individual ingredients like feta, olives, cilantro, etc...
June 1, 2006 | Registered Commentermelissa
Hello Melissa,

Thanks for a delicious, beautifully presented, dish! I've shared your recipe with several friends who are fellow lovers of sweet potatoes. A page at my site http://www.All-About-Sweet-Potatoes.com/marshmallows-sweet-potatoes.html addresses the tradition of putting "those little white lumps" on or in sweet potatoes. I hope you and/or your readers find the page, and site, helpful.
August 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterEllen


I've made this dish a bunch of times and it's always a big hit with my whole family (especially the vegetarians!)

I just started a new blog at barredowl.wordpress.com and I posted about this dish and gave you a shout-out. I'd love for you to see my pics!


March 21, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterbarred owl

Hey Melissa,
because of the sweet memories from last time!
I looked up the receipe and am fixing it for company tonight! :> Lynn

January 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterlynn

I love your description of Mr Sweet Potato. Sounds like it would be worth making a date with him in his new guise.

April 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterArwen from Hoglet K

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