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Summer salads: Sweet potato salad

Sweet potato salad (photo: Jean-Mark Sens)

Sweet potato salad (photo: Jean-Mark Sens)

Editor's note: As we move in to summer (and infernally hot weather), NolaVie launches a new summer salad series from New Orleans-based chef Jean-Mark Sens that will keep your kitchen cool and your waistline trim. Today's selection is a New Orleans-inspired sweet potato salad. 

This main course salad is a New Orleans take on a famous style of Moroccan sweet potato salad, “slada batat halwa.” The Moroccan version uses preserved lemons, which are not very difficult to make and for which using Meyer Lemon is better than regular lemons, which can be too pungent. They also are readily available in many Middle Eastern and international grocery stories. Even more simple, I use kumquats, as they are immediately useable without the preserving process, and they have a sweet and slightly bitter taste that fits very well with the profile of this salad. And kumquats make this a true Louisiana version of this salad.

This dish complements grilled chicken, lamb, goat and tuna nicely.

Because sweet potatoes are the primary ingredient of this dish, you need to purchase top quality, deep-orange-flesh sweet potatoes and not yams, which are not as sweet and whiter in color. Organic sweet potatoes are often of better quality in terms of taste and texture than their conventional counterparts.

1 lb. red onions: peeled, halved and cut into rings
1 tbsp. garlic: crushed (or more to taste)
2 tsps. ground ginger (or more to taste)
1 tsp. ground cumin (or more to taste)
2 tsps. ground Spanish, smoky paprika (or more to taste)
4 tbsps olive oil
2 lbs. sweet potatoes (5 to 6 potatoes): peeled, diced into 1-inch cubes to make about 6 cups.
3 -5  fresh bay leaves
2 - 3 cups vegetable or chicken stock: (you can use water, but stock imparts a richer taste)
Salt and black pepper to taste

1/4 cup kumquats: chopped and seeded
1 tsp lemon zest
3 tablespoons lemon juice
6 oz. pitted green olives: halved in length (check your grocery store salad bar)
1/2 cup Italian or flat leaf parsley: trimmed and chopped

In thick bottom pot or Dutch oven:
- Bring oil to heat and reduce to medium heat. Add onions and cooked until tender but not brown. Add garlic; cook until blonde.
- Stir in ginger, cumin and paprika until fragrant (about 1 minute).
- Add diced sweet potatoes and bay leaves. Stir and cook for about 3 minutes with lid on.
- Add stock, cover and bring to boil. Lower heat to simmer, stirring every 10 minutes. Cook until tender when pierced with a fork -- tough but not crumbly.
- Add stock as needed if mixture dry, making sure you have at least 1/2 cup of liquid at the bottom of the pot.

- Remove potatoes with a slotted spoon and add the rest of the ingredients to remaining liquid in the pot. Stir on medium heat to thicken liquid if needed, adding more stock if necessary.
- Return sweet potatoes to the pot. Cook for an additional 5 to 10 minutes. Do not cook potatoes to the point of being mushy.
- Mix in chopped parsley.
- Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Pour in flat dish and let cool.

Adjust seasoning before service.
Serve as is or a bed of green leaves (I like using arugula for the shape of the leaves and slightly peppery undertone that contrasts with the sweet potatoes). Shock the greens in ice water to bring out the color. After drying, lightly dress the greens with a small amount of olive oil. This salad pairs well with proteins such as grilled chicken, lamb, tuna and goat

Jean-Mark Sens grew up in France and Belgium and has been living in the Southern United States of America for the past 25 years, except for a short stint in the deep East of Maine, which brought him back to New Orleans. He has taught culinary arts at the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute, Eastern Maine Community College and for Mississippi University for Women on the Gulf Coast. He has published a collection of poetry, Appetite, with Red Hen Press, and is now working on Leaves of Greens: Mostly Leafy Salads, a book on the arts and technique of composing salads.