I sometimes find that Friday’s are a kind of culinary conundrum. The long week is behind me and I’m ready to celebrate with a special meal, but I’m too tired to spend hours in the kitchen. Just the thought of slaving over a hot stove makes me cast lustful glances at the take-out menus on our counter, and for the love of God, do not show me a recipe that calls for more than three finely diced ingredients. I don’t have the brain-power for that sort of knife work.
Over the past couple years, evenings like this have inspired me to collect recipes heavy on the flavor, yet light on the prep work. They vary in the amount of time it takes to get from start to finish, but since it’s Friday and I don’t have to get up at 5:40am the next day, I’m happy to invest a bit of (unsupervised) time in the creation of a soul-satisfying meal. The recipes in this post exemplify the characteristics of one of these suppers, with a total of 5 minutes active-work going into the sweet potatoes and about 15 minutes going into the tofu scramble (not counting pressing time, see recipe below). That’s the kind of kitchen work I like at the end of a busy week!
Now before you start thinking, “Sweet potatoes? Tofu? As in the marshmallow mush I’m served at Thanksgiving and bean curd?”, hear me out. Having been raised in a steak and potatoes (Idaho potatoes, mind you) household I understand how any naysayers among you may be feeling. There was a time when no amount of cajoling could get me to eat either of these food items, and to this day I cannot convince my carnivorous brother that tofu can actually taste good. But believe me, it can, it really can, and sweet potatoes can be so much more than that saccharine sweet casserole foisted upon Thanksgiving diners.* Pan-seared tofu ‘steaks’ with chimichurri sauce and Mexican rice, chipotle mashed sweet potatoes, sweet potato fries – these are just a few of the possibilities. Don’t underestimate the power of tofu to assimilate your desired flavors, or the ability of sweet potatoes to satisfy with the barest of efforts.
Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin C, vitamin E, protein, foliate, vitamin A (six times the recommended daily dose), have more dietary fiber than a bowl of oatmeal, and have twenty-three times as much beta-carotene as broccoli. They are the roots of a vine in the morning glory family and were among the culinary discoveries that Christopher Columbus brought back to Spain in 1493. According to Alton Brown, Henry VIII absolutely adored them – he had his first taste in the form of sweet potato pie and believed the tubers were an aphrodisiac. The king knew them as just “potatoes,” and across Europe the root was enjoyed under this appellation for over a hundred years. The word “sweet” was eventually appended to their name when Irish immigrants began bringing white potatoes to North America.
If you buy organically grown sweet potatoes then you can eat both the flesh and the skin, which is especially satisfying with a bit of sea or river salt. Baked sweet potato goes remarkably well with the cumin & turmeric spiced scramble recipe featured here, though if you’re looking for a super-quick weeknight meal the scramble is great on its own. On a Monday night when I don’t want to wait for the sweet potato to bake, I’ll often whip it up then serve the scramble hot, in whole wheat tortillas with some Mexican cheese and hot sauce.
*As you can no doubt tell, I’m not a huge fan of sweet potato casserole with marshmallows. I know this is very un-American of me, but what can I do? Alas, the trauma of past casserole experiences prevents me from exploring this topic further.
Baked Sweet Potatoes
Ingredients: Serves 2-3
- 2-3 medium sized sweet potatoes, all approximately the same size
- Olive oil
- Sea or river salt (optional)
- Butter (optional)
Place a baking sheet on the bottom rack of your oven and preheat to 410 degrees F. Tear off two large sheets of aluminum foil. Scrub the potatoes clean.
Pour about 1 teaspoon of olive oil in your hands, then rub onto one potato and tightly wrap in aluminum foil. Repeat for the other sweet potatoes. Make sure the seam of the aluminum foil is closed.
Place the wrapped potatoes directly onto the middle rack of your oven, seam side up. (The baking sheet is there to catch any juices that may escape the pouch during baking.) Bake for 1 hour, or until a knife passes through the center of each potato smoothly. I generally bake my potatoes for about 1 hour 15min. If your potatoes are noticeably different in size, then you may have to bake the larger one for slightly longer.
Using tongs or kitchen mitts, remove the potatoes from the oven. Test for doneness. Slice down the center, then across the width, creating a cross-hatch pattern. Gently peel back the skin, then slightly mash the insides with a fork. Top with about 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of butter and sprinkle with sea or river salt.
Adapted from The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen, by Peter Berley
Ingredients: Serves 2-3
- 3-4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 2 plump garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 3/4 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 pound firm tofu, pressed to remove excess moisture, and patted dry
- 1 large, ripe tomato, seeded and chopped
- Coarse sea salt
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
Before you begin: 30 minutes before you plan to start cooking, remove the tofu from its container. Put on a large plate, on top of a thick stack of paper towels. Put more paper towels on top of the tofu, then place something moderately heavy on top of it to press out the liquid. I generally prefer a 24-oz can of diced tomatoes, or something like that.
Then: In a wide, heavy skillet over medium heat,warm the oil. Add the onion and saute for 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic, pine nuts, red pepper flakes, and turmeric and saute for 2 minutes.
Place the tofu in a bowl and mash. (You can also just crumble the tofu into the skillet using your hands. I imagine children will prefer this method! I do too, actually…) Add the mashed tofu, tomato, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and lime juice to the skillet. Raise the heat and simmer, for 5 minutes to heat through and allow some of the moisture to evaporate.
Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot, with baked sweet potatoes if you wish.