Baked Sweet Potato Fries with Miso Aioli


Mayonnaise. It’s a component in so many things- deviled eggs, all sorts of not-salad salad sandwiches (chicken, tuna, etc.), dressings, sauces, and apparently Ina Garten’s pesto recipe (thanks Anne!). It’s creamy and mild. Who doesn’t love mayo?

I don’t. I’ve never liked it. I’ve never liked the way it coats my mouth as I eat it, the way it jiggles, the eggy aftertaste. I’ve also never liked ketchup, which is a whole different story. Sufficient to say, I’m generally not condiment friendly.

But I love aioli. And I can hear those among you who are familiar with food exclaiming, “Aioli? It’s just flavored mayonnaise”. And you’re correct. But for whatever reason, aioli is different to me. Perhaps it’s that I make it by hand, so it’s looser than mayonnaise and doesn’t have the same jiggle factor. Perhaps the flavorings (generally garlic) cover up the eggy aftertaste. Or perhaps all the whisking makes me hungry. But regardless of the reason, I love aioli, and mostly eat it at home. And aioli is best consumed with fries.

The tension inherent there, that I prefer to make my aioli and eat it with fries, is that frying fries at home is a headache. Everything smells of oil, it splatters everywhere, and I have to monitor the temperature pretty closely. I’ve done it, but only once or twice. And there’s the fact that the fries are not any better than those you can find in a restaurant. And there’s the whole issue of whatever metric you’re using to determine the nutritional value of the food you consume, you’re getting a lot of oil by deep frying fries and dipping them in an oil-egg emulsion. I want to be clear that I will still eat fries and aioli with this information on hand. But that pushes it out of a regular treat and into a “sometimes” food.

The best compromise I’ve found is to bake my fries, which requires a bit of technique. If you just throw strips of potato (or sweet potato, as is the case here) into a hot oven, by the time the middle cooks through the whole thing is a soggy mess. Those fries are not worthy of the term fries, much less to be dipped in aioli. But if you boil the fries first, the middles are cooked through before they are baked. And then you can take them for a jaunt in a hot oven, where they’ll get delightfully crispy. They may not be as addictive as hot fries doused in salt straight out of the fryer, but they are still very good. And I’m a firm believer that compromise is one of the keys to a good life.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries

2 large sweet potatoes, sliced into 1/2 inch batons
2 tablespoons olive oil

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Salt the water and add the sweet potatoes. Boil for 8 minutes, until the batons are tender. Drain. Let the sweet potatoes dry. (I used a cooling rack laid over a cookie sheet.)

When the sweet potatoes are dry preheat the oven to 450. Toss the sweet potatoes with the olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then spread out on a cookie sheet. Bake, tossing the sweet potatoes with a spatula once, until crispy, between 30 and 40 minutes.

Miso Aioli

The first step to making a successful aioli is to not be afraid of the aioli. My very unscientific survey has revealed that aioli can smell fear, and if you go into it thinking it will break it most certainly will. I’ve had the best luck while making aioli using a small bowl and a small whisk. If your bowl moves around a lot, it might be a good idea to place the bowl on top of a damp towel to stabilize it. Make sure to pour the oil slowly- it’s better to go too slow than too fast.  And finally, if you get tired, you can stop pouring the oil for a bit, but don’t stop whisking.

2 tablespoons miso
2 teaspoons water
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup canola oil


Meanwhile make the aioli. In a small bowl combine the miso and the water and whisk (making sure to use a whisk, and not a fork) well until it creates a smooth paste. Add in the egg yolk, and whisk until combined. Combine the two oils into a container that can easily be poured, like a liquid measuring cup with a spout or lip. And then whisk the egg yolk while slowly pouring in the oil in a thin stream.

Be sure to keep whisking, and to pour the oil very slowly. The oil may look like it’s not combining at first, but if you stop pouring the oil and keep whisking it will. Whisk continuously while streaming in the oil, and once it’s all added in whisk until you have a smooth mass. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary (adding a drop of vinegar, or a hint of salt, for instance, if you think the aioli needs it).

If you’d like a thicker, more mayonnaise-y aioli, you could whisk in more oil into your aioli.


Sweet Potato and Coriander Buckwheat Salad

I was making Deb Perelman’s ricotta blood orange cake on Monday when I noticed something troubling. My oven was too hot. 75 degrees too hot, to be precise. I spent the whole time that it was baking fiddling with the nobs and opening the oven door to regulate the temperature. It was one of the more stressful cakes I’ve made in recent memory. It turned out beautiful, and was devoured at the dinner party we attended. But it was not an experience I was keen to repeat.

One email to my landlord and one landlord visit later I got good news. We’ll be getting a new oven, to replace our ancient one. In a week. Or two. I’m beyond excited, but still have want to feed myself and Aaron while we’re waiting on our new oven.

Ironically, this is close to a repeat experience from our old apartment, where our oven also ran 75 degrees too hot minus the caring landlord. I’m casting back to those ideas for ideas on how to feed ourselves in the next week. We used to eat, and will be eating a lot soups, and stews. I’ll turn on the oven for things that like high heat and don’t need pr, like roasted vegetables, and maybe even pizza. There are worse ways to suffer.

I braved the oven to make this sweet potato and buckwheat salad for an easy lunch. It’s a riff off of a butternut squash and buckwheat salad from Anna Jones’ very smart A Modern Way to Eat, which I’ve visited here for her hot chocolate before. Sweet potatoes and red onions get roasted with coriander seeds and blood orange juice, and then tossed with earthy buckwheat and a riot of parsley and cilantro. The result is bright from the coriander and cilantro (which are the same plant, just the bud and leaf respectively), slightly sweet from the blood orange juice, and nutty from the buckwheat. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to cook with one unfamiliar ingredient a month, and January’s was buckwheat. And after some misses (soggy kasha, I’m looking at you), I’ve found a great vehicle for the malty, rich flavor of buckwheat to shine through.

Sweet Potato and Coriander Buckwheat Salad

adapted from A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones

The blood orange gets juiced twice here- once over the vegetables before they are roasted, and once over the finished salad after the orange itself has been roasted. The two additions add a nice, layered sweetness, and I’ll be repeating the gesture when I make this salad again. If that seems too fussy for you, it would still be very tasty with the orange added either entirely at the beginning or entirely at the end.

Serves 2 for a lunch

1 large sweet potato, peeled and roughly chopped
1 large red onion, peeled and cut into wedges
1 blood orange
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, ground in a mortar and pestle
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup buckwheat groats
a large handful of fresh parsley, chopped
a large handful of fresh cilantro, chopped

Preheat the oven to 400.

In a large bowl combine sweet potatoes and red onion. Cut the blood orange in half and squeeze juice over the vegetables. Add in the coriander seeds, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 a teaspoon of salt, and the black pepper. Stir well so that everything is coated together. Turn out onto a cookie sheet or two, add in the blood orange halves, and roast until the onions are fragrant and the sweet potato is cooked through, about 25 minutes.

Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and add the buckwheat groats. Toast, stirring frequently, until the buckwheat begins to smell malty and small brown dots begin to appear. Place the buckwheat in a small pot.

Cover the buckwheat with 1 cup of hot water and bring to a boil. Turn the pot down to a simmer and cook the buckwheat, stirring occasionally, until it is cooked through and no longer chalky tasting. This should take about 15 minutes, but take care to watch the pot and add a quarter cup or so of water if necessary. If the buckwheat has cooked through while water still remains, drain the water.

In a serving bowl combine the roasted vegetables, the buckwheat, and the chopped herbs. Carefully squeeze the rest of the blood orange juice over everything. Drizzle over the final tablespoon of olive oil and the last 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Stir well and taste, then adjust for seasoning. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Sweet Potato Tea Cake

How do you deal with tragedy? I don’t mean the personal tragedies, I mean the macro, worldwide scale. There seem to be two ways to deal with tragedy, at least online. You can obsessively talk about it, bringing it into every conversation. Or you can ignore it. Both make sense to me- the former is to acknowledge it, and by acknowledging people’s suffering it feels like you are doing something. You are not helpless. The latter makes it feel like you are refusing to give the darkness power. You are not giving in. Both make sense. Neither seem to work.

This week has been full of sorrow  and anger and determination. There are many intelligent people who have written about how to respond to these events much better than I. I do know that banning Syrian refugees from entering certain states is a wrong and hateful reaction. I do know that changing my facebook profile picture does little except show solidarity, but that solidarity is better than nihilism. And I know that some joy has to be taken from everyday life. That tragedies, whether man-made or natural, will not stop, and to never step back is to risk becoming numb.

I bake when things are tough. There’s something about making things. Sorrow does not diminish, but it cedes some room for other emotions when I feel busy and useful. It was during one of these spats that I made this cake. This cake is wholesome. It’s the type you might make for an afternoon tea break, or eat for breakfast. It’s dense and slightly fudgy in texture, and just the right amount of sweet to feel like a treat. Aaron likened it to pumpkin pie, and it’s not an unfair comparison. It’s a nurturing cake, the kind you may want to eat when the world is spinning.

I’ll leave you with a poem, because if cake doesn’t help, poetry may. Stay safe. Stay strong.


by Ann Lauterbach

The days are beautiful
The days are beautiful.

I know what days are.
The other is weather.

I know what weather is.
The days are beautiful.

Things are incidental.
Someone is weeping.

I weep for the incidental.
The days are beautiful.

Where is tomorrow?
Everyone will weep.

Tomorrow was yesterday.
The days are beautiful.

Tomorrow was yesterday.
Today is weather.

The sound of the weather
Is everyone weeping.

Everyone is incidental.
Everyone weeps.

The tears of today
Will put out tomorrow.

The rain is ashes.
The days are beautiful.

The rain falls down.
The sound is falling.

The sky is a cloud.
The days are beautiful.

The sky is dust.
The weather is yesterday.

The weather is yesterday.
The sound is weeping.

What is this dust?
The weather is nothing.

The days are beautiful.
The towers are yesterday.

The towers are incidental.
What are these ashes?

Here is the hate
That does not travel.

Here is the robe
That smells of the night

Here are the words
Retired to their books

Here are the stones
Loosed from their settings

Here is the bridge
Over the water

Here is the place
Where the sun came up

Here is a season
Dry in the fireplace.

Here are the ashes.
The days are beautiful.


Sweet Potato Tea Cake

I roasted the sweet potatoes the day of, but you could easily roast some ahead of time and set some aside. Boyce’s original recipe calls for whole wheat flour instead of spelt, but I’m more likely to have spelt than wheat so I subbed spelt out. It also called for half a teaspoon of baking soda which I forgot (I know, I’m terrible). I quite like the end result, but if you would like a fluffier cake, you should add it in. Finally, these were originally muffins that I changed into a cake. If you would like to make muffins, I’d start checking the muffins around 25 minutes into baking.

Adapted from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce

One medium sweet potato, about 12 ounces
1 cup spelt flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup greek yogurt
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/4 cup cane sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 egg
6 dates, pitted and finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Prick the sweet potato with a fork a few times and roast until soft and sweet smelling, about an hour. Remove from oven and peel out of its skin.

Lower heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter and flour a nine inch cake pan, and set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together the two flours, spices, salt, and baking powder.

In a small bowl whisk together the greek yogurt and buttermilk.

In a large bowl, mix together the butter and the two sugars using a hand mixer until the mixture is fluffy and light brown in color, about three minutes. Scrape down the sides. Add the egg and half of the roasted sweet potato, and mix until well combined, about a minute. Scrape down the sides. On low speed, add the flour mixture until mostly combined. Add the buttermilk mixture, and then the sweet potato and dates, mixing until combined just combined. It’s okay if the sweet potato still has chunks.

Pour into the prepared pan and smooth over the top. Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until it is golden brown and a tester comes out clean. Remove  from the pan and let cool on a serving rack.