I’ve come to see the sweet potato as a kind of orange Sweden. In all the food rules that swirl around me, the Garnet Yam is an island of neutrality. Vegan? Paleo? Gluten-Free? Just trying to find some tasty grub? The trusty sweet potato is on your short list for good food.
You see, I’ve been a private chef, specializing in cooking for people with special diets for years. Food allergies, weight loss regimens, diets to make it through cancer treatment, I’ve been there. Cooking the food.
If I’ve learned anything in 20 years of this, it’s that people really do need individualized diets. In a perfect World, we would all instinctively figure out which of the foods around us made us feel happy and healthy. But in our industrial food environment, many people struggle to find the combination of things that keep them humming along. All sorts of nagging problems come from eating things that seem perfectly harmless, and cause untold suffering and frustration.
So when somebody tells me that they can’t eat something, I believe them. It’s not my place, or anyone’s place, to decide that cousin Sally is just pretending to be gluten-free, or that the Jones family next door is just trying to be trendy with their vegan diet. We do seem to be in a time of flux, one that drives people a little crazy. Especially anyone hosting a party or Holiday dinner.
So, in the spirit of togetherness, I give you the Sweden of foods, a sweet potato. Now, I know, the sweet potato or even the onions might be on someone’s fodmap list. That person can probably eat something else on the menu, they are not so hard to please. This recipe is even nut-free. I used hemp seeds to make a creamy element in the stuffing, since there are not too many people reacting to hemp seeds.
Another trick I use to replace the cheese and dairy flavors in a stuffed potato is the caramelized onion. Sweetness, complexity, umami, all pile up in the panful of onions, if you coax it along patiently. It’s not cheese, but it adds so much, for so little.
Caramelized Onion Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
Of course, you can replace the hemp seeds with raw cashews, almonds, walnuts or pecans. If you are a dairy lover, you can sub chevre for the hemp, or sprinkle crumbled bleu cheese on top.
Makes 2, serves 2-4
2 sweet potato, 8 ounce or so
3 large onion, sliced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup hemp seeds, or other nut
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon water
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
Use a paring knife to score a cut along the tip of the sweet potatoes to make it easier to open them when they are done. Put on a sheet pan, slice up, and roast until soft, testing by piercing the flesh inside the cut. Let cool.
While the sweet potatoes roast, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan, add the onions and bring to a sizzle, then reduce to medium low. Stir often, cooking for an hour or so, until the onions are limp and caramel brown. Let cool.
In a food processor, grind the hemp or other nuts to a paste. Scrape down and add the lemon, salt and water and process to make it as creamy as possible.
Gently open up the sweet potatoes and scoop out the flesh, leaving a layer behind in the skins. Put half in a large bowl, and half in the processor with the hemp. Add half of the caramelized onions to the processor and process to make a chunky mixture.
Scrape the puree into the bowl with the mashed sweet potato, and add all but 1/4 cup of the remaining caramelized onions to the mixture. Stuff the mixture into the skins, then top with the reserved onions and cracked black pepper.
Bake at 400 for about 25 minutes. These can be made ahead and refrigerated, they will take longer to bake if cold.