Sweet potatoes are harvested during late summer, but the season's crop is just now becoming available. In order for sweet potatoes to develop optimal texture and sugar content, they must be "cured" for six to eight weeks-meaning vegetarians too can experience the wonder of cured foods, well, kind of.
The maturation/curing process begins with keeping the sweet potatoes in a warm, moisture-controlled room for eight to 10 days. After spending time in this humid environment, the potatoes are transferred to a cool, dry storage area (between 50-60 degrees) for the remainder of the curing process. In the end, we're left with a fully developed sweet potato, primed to make your house smell of fond memories.
The sweet potato is a versatile winter vegetable. Try it fried, mashed, baked, boiled, raw, candied, or salted. Whatever you do, just don't microwave it. This simple warm sweet potato salad, prepared with sheep's milk cheese and basil oil, can easily highlight some local ingredients. I scored a couple of white O'Henry sweet potatoes from Quail Cove Farms in Virginia, but any orange-fleshed variety will do. For the cheese, I recommend Colbere from Shepherds Manor Creamery, located in New Windsor, Md. It's a tangy, smooth, semi-hard cheese, and you can buy it at the 32nd Street Farmers Market all winter.
Warm Sweet Potato Salad
2 medium-sized sweet potatoes
4 ounces tangy goat or sheep cheese
1 cup basil
frying oil (peanut, safflower, non-GMO canola)
salt and cracked black pepper
Peel, then cut the sweet potato into 1/4-inch cubes. Heat 2 inches of frying oil to approximately 325 degrees F, add sweet potato cubes, and stir occasionally. Cook until fork-tender and golden-brown.
Remove the sweet potatoes and place on a draining rack. Salt immediately and let cool.
Place basil, salt, and fresh cracked pepper in a food processor, and pulse while slowly incorporating the olive oil. Stop adding the oil when the basil has become liquefied.
Combine potatoes and crumbled cheese in metal bowl. Plate the potato and cheese mixture on a serving dish and drizzle basil oil on top.
*If you're not comfortable deep-frying, bake the cubed sweet potatoes at 425 degrees F for about 20 minutes, flipping several times.