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How To Bake The Perfect Sweet Potato

Photograph by Morena Escardo

Roasted sweet potatoes look like something easy to make, but achieving a perfectly creamy, melt in your mouth texture, and an ideal combination of flavors to enhance this veggie's natural sweetness, is really an art. There's a big difference between eating just any old sweet potato that you wouldn't write home about, and having a roasted sweet potato that is good enough to be a meal or a dessert in and of itself that people will remember weeks or months after eating it. Getting it just right is a skill that needs to be learned and that may take a few failed attempts at first.

I've had trouble baking sweet potatoes to perfection many times in the past. In Peru, where I'm from, we don't have the tradition of eating sweet potatoes this way. We do eat a lot of camotes (which is what Peruvians, Chileans, Ecuadorians, Nicaraguans, and Mexicans, amongst others, call this root vegetable), but typically consume them deep fried (like chips), sliced and boiled to accompany a spicy ceviche, or cooked in a hole in the ground (this is called pachamanca, and it's similar to a clam bake).

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Camotes, also known as batatas, boniatos, papas dulces, or chacos — depending on where you're from — are indeed an important part of the diet in many Latin American countries. Mexicans usually use garnet sweet potatoes to make dishes such as camotes en almíbar. Dominicans use a different variety of sweet potato that is purple on the outside and greenish on the inside, and have a sweeter and more floury consistency than most and are used in recipes such as pan de batata. Buñuelos, flan, soups, candy, stews, tamales… they are all often made using this healthy ingredient as part of their preparation. But knowing how to make the perfect roasted sweet potato is a completely different story.

My usual mistakes are using too much garlic, not roasting it long enough, using too much oil or not enough oil, which makes it look dull and dry. When any of these things happen, I get extremely frustrated because as you may know, baking a sweet potato takes a lot of time, and a lot of wasted energy from your oven if it's not done right. That's why it's so important to learn to do it well.

This recipe will teach you how to stop making mistakes and prepare the most unforgettable roasted sweet potatoes ever. If you want to get fancy, leave out the herbs and top them with a little piloncillo or brown sugar and butter, or go savory with a classic chimichurri.

Photograph by Morena Escardo

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RECIPE: The Perfect Roasted Sweet Potato

Yields 8 sweet potato halves

Prep time: 1 hour

Cook time: 40-45 minutes

Total time: 50-55 minutes

Ingredients

  • 4 medium-sized sweet potatoes
  • Freshly ground salt and pepper, to taste (If you want it spicy, use cayenne pepper instead of regular pepper)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme, or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1-inch piece rosemary sprig (only the leaves)
  • 1/3 cup butter, cut in 1/3 inch cubes
  • 2 sprigs fresh oregano

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Wash and scrub the sweet potatoes, and cut them in half lengthwise.
  3. Place the sweet potato halves one next to the other in a roasting pan with the inside up, and sprinkle with freshly ground salt and pepper. Don't overdo the seasoning — you want the sweet potato taste to be the protagonist.
  4. Put the bay leaf in the middle of the pan. Sprinkle the sweet potato halves with the thyme and rosemary, and add two oregano leaves on top of each half.
  5. Put a few cubes of butter on each sweet potato half.
  6. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or more if the sweet potatoes you're using are bigger. They will be ready when you pierce them all the way through with a fork and they feel creamy inside.
  7. Take them out of the oven, remove the bay leaf, and sprinkle with the rest of the fresh oregano leaves. Serve.
Photograph by Morena Escardo
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