Friday, April 30, 2010

Sweet Potato Salad

Some nights are perfect. Just the right combination of family/friends, food, conversation, and—last Saturday night—song. Because my cousin Jeanne’s birthday was so much fun last year, we decided to do a repeat performance this year. Her brother Bill and his wife Jody hosted once again. A menu was carefully chosen—all recipes from Claudia Roden’s Arabesque. And those who know how to play were asked to bring their guitars.

I’d already fallen in love with Arabesque when I made a meal from it last year. The recipes are some of the most straightforward I’ve used, while the flavors are complex. A good example: the Tagine of Chicken with Preserved Lemon and Olives, which Jody took charge of this time around. It has an exotic combination of ingredients (saffron, preserved lemon, cinnamon), and at the same time can serve as an anchor for nearly every appetizer, salad, and side in the cookbook.

Among the numerous items Jeanne made, the Eggplant Slices with Pomegranate, Yogurt, and Tahini (page 261) was my favorite. I made the crowd-pleasing Orange, Olive, and Onion Salad (too easy/too good), a forgettable fava bean and artichoke salad (I was forced to rely on canned fava beans and frozen artichoke hearts), and Sweet Potato Salad. The latter was a happy discovery because as a side it completes my go-to Arabesque meal—I’d been looking for something to unite with the tagine of chicken and orange salad for a simple summer menu.

Along with dinner, we had beautiful wines—Jeanne’s friend Steve is a wine distributor. And Jules, who was working mad hours all week, valiantly squeezed in a trip to the store so we could finish our meal with some sticky, yummy baklava. After that we headed into the living room for more wine and two hours of Bill, Jim, and Steve on the guitars, with Jeanne, Jody, Jules and Clive, Julie and Eric, and me singing along. As we drove home the music was still in my head … there’s a kind of hush, all over the world tonight … Every night should be so memorable.

Sweet Potato Salad
adapted from Arabesque, by Claudia Roden


- 1 large onion, chopped coarsely
- 5 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lb. orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, peeled
- 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp. tsp. paprika
- salt
- 6 or 7 green olives
- peel of 1/2 preserved lemon, chopped
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 2 Tbsp. chopped flat-leafed parsley


1. Fry the onion in 2 tablespoons of oil until golden.

2. Cut the sweet potatoes into pieces (about 1-inch cubes), add to the pan, and barely cover with water. Add the ginger, cumin, paprika, a little salt, and 2 more tablespoons of oil. Cook until the potato pieces are tender, and the liquid has reduced to a sauce, turning the potatoes over once, and keeping watch so that they do not suddenly fall apart.

3. Serve at room temperature, mixed with the olives and preserved lemon peel, and sprinkles with lemon juice, the remaining olive oil, and the chopped parsley. (I just mixed all of these last ingredients in, with the exception of the olive oil, which I omitted).

Photo by Julie Fay Ashborn