Growing up I associated sweet potatoes with one thing -- marshmallows.
I only ever consumed them on Thanksgiving, and even then I would usually just eat the marshmallows off the top and then move on to the more familiar territory of my mom's mashed potatoes.
In my eight-year-old mind, orange was so not the new white. (Or the new pink for that matter.)
Some time around high school, however, it dawned on me that sweet potatoes are actually far more flavorful and nutritious than an ordinary russet. Incidentally, it was also around this time that I started to become more conscious of my waistline and the foods I was putting into my body. For a 16-year-old, not being able to fit into a pair of skin-tight jeans can be the difference between popularity or social pariahdom.
Unless one is a complete dork like me and it doesn't matter if you can fit into a pair of jeans because you still carry a massive backpack with a color-coded notebook for every subject.
So, even though nobody was sweet on me (I spent senior prom night at home with my parents), during my "socially-challenged" years I became sweet on sweet potatoes.
Today, I love experimenting with the Vitamin-A-rich spud and am always looking for new recipes and dishes that showcase its natural sweet and creamy texture. I was particularly excited when I heard about a sweet potato sandwich that Simple Things Sandwich & Pie Shop is offering at its Los Angeles cafe.
"What a great idea!" I thought. (I'm always keen on anything that involves carbs on carbs.)
While I haven't had a chance to get over to the cozy West Third Street shop to try the sandwich in the bread and potato flesh, I decided to try my hand at creating my own version of it for the 2011 Sweet n' Healthy Blogger Recipe Contest sponsored by the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission.
The vegetarian sandwich I came up with is a hot mess of complimentary flavors and textures. There's crunch from the slices of tart pink lady apple, a sweet tang from the caramelized onions that are finished with Sherry vinegar, a savory bite from the arugula and melted goat cheese, a salty kick from the pretzel roll, and, of course, the gorgeously candy-like flesh of the cumin-dusted sweet potatoes to bring it all together.
What's perhaps most noteworthy about the sandwich is that the fiber-heavy potatoes are surprisingly super-satisfying -- a major downfall for most vegetarian sandwiches. It's a substantial meal unlike that sad marshmallow-topped side dish I picked a part as a child.
There's no need to pick anything a part here. It's all good.
And, most importantly, it's all good for you.
Sweet Potato Sandwiches on Pretzel Rolls
Inspired by the sandwich at Simple Things Pie & Sandwich Shop
1 thick sweet potato (look for a fat one that weighs approximately 1/2 lb), peeled and cut into eight 1/2-inch rings
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon Hungarian sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon sea salt + a pinch more for the "onion jam"
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
1/2 large red onion, sliced into paper-thin slices
2 teaspoons Sherry vinegar
1/2 medium-sized pink lady apple, sliced into thin pieces
2 ounces soft goat cheese
1/2 cup arugula
2 pretzel rolls, toasted
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Whisk 1 tablespoon of the olive oil with the cumin, paprika and salt. Dump potato rings onto a baking sheet and drizzle the cumin-oil mixture over them. Toss to coat on all sides and then spread the potatoes into a single layer. Roast in the oven, flipping once half-way through, until tender and easily pierced with a fork -- approximately 30-35 minutes.
While potatoes are roasting, heat a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the remaining teaspoon of olive oil and tilt the pan so it spreads across the entire surface. Add the red onion, stir to coat the slices with the oil, and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Let cook slowly, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt, then continue cooking over moderate-low heat for another 20 minutes. Just prior to serving, stir in the two teaspoons of Sherry vinegar so it forms into a bit of a jam.
To assemble the sandwiches, spread a thin layer of goat cheese over each side of the two toasted pretzel rolls (the heat from the rolls will help melt the cheese). Top each bottom with three-four slices of sweet potato (it's fine to layer them a little). Finish with apple slices, onion jam and the arugula. Serve and enjoy immediately.