Sweet Potato and Arugula Salad

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Now that the holidays are over, I have a confession to make.  I’ve never been a fan of sweet potatoes.  Sure, they’re good for you – seven ounces (about half of a large one) contains more than twice the daily recommended intake of beta-carotene (which the body turns into vision-friendly vitamin A) plus ample amounts of fiber, minerals (manganese, copper, potassium, and phosphorus) and B vitamins, and antioxidants. Yet the dessert-like concoctions that typically appear on holiday dinner tables have never held much interest to me.

This year, however, things have changed.  Blame it on the blog, but now that I spend my days thinking about food rather than tax law, it occurred to me that sweet potatoes shouldn’t be any less versatile than other root vegetables.  Since salads are a great way to showcase these staples of the winter kitchen, I thought I’d create one using cubes of roasted sweet potatoes.

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First, a quick detour on the distinction between sweet potatoes and yams.  If, like me, you’ve seen bins labeled “yams” in supermarkets and assumed that they contained a type of sweet potato, you may be surprised to learn that in fact yams and sweet potatoes are entirely different vegetables.  Yams are part of the family of plants that includes lilies.  They are native to Africa and Asia and are typically found in the U.S. only in international supermarkets.   (I found some in a Korean market near my home.)

In contrast, sweet potatoes are part of the morning glory plant family and are believed to have originated in the Americas.  There are two types:  those with flesh that is soft and moist after being cooked and those with flesh that remains firm and dry after being cooked.  The soft-fleshed types are the ones most likely to be labeled (incorrectly, it turns out) “yams” in everyday supermarkets.  Common varieties include Garnet and Jewel.

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For my salad, I used both varieties.  I peeled each sweet potato and cut it into 1-inch cubes.  I tossed the pieces with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and then roasted them in a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes.   While the sweet potatoes were cooling, I made a quick vinaigrette using apple cider vinegar.  I then tossed the roasted sweet potato cubes with some arugula, feta cheese, pecans, and the vinaigrette in a bowl, and voilà, my salad was done.

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The result was an absolutely delicious – and classic — study in contrasts:  bitterness from the arugula, sweetness from the sweet potatoes, saltiness from the feta, and sour from the vinegar.  The bitter-sweet crunch of the pecans provided the crowning touch.

Hello, weekday lunches and dinners with family and friends!  I’ve found a new addition to my regular menu rotation.

Sweet Potato and Arugula Salad

Ingredients for the Salad

1 large sweet potato (14-16 ounces), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon olive oil
⅛ teaspoon salt (1-2 pinches)
¼ teaspoon black pepper, coarsely ground
6 cups baby arugula
2 ounces (about ½ cup) feta cheese, crumbled or cut into small dice
2 ounces pecan pieces (about ½ cup), slightly toasted if desired

Ingredients for the Vinaigrette

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
⅛ teaspoon salt (1-2 pinches)
¼ teaspoon black pepper, coarsely ground
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Instructions

1.  To roast the sweet potatoes, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Toss the cubes of sweet potato with the tablespoon of olive oil, 1/8 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper, and then spread the cubes evenly on a large sheet pan lined with parchment paper or nonstick foil.  Place the pan inside the preheated oven and bake until the sweet potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven and let cool.

2.  While the sweet potatoes are cooling, prepare the vinaigrette. In a small bowl, whisk the 3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar with the Dijon mustard and 1/8 teaspoon of salt.  Whisk in the 3 tablespoons of olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.  Set aside.

3.  After the sweet potatoes have cooled, assemble the salad: Combine all the ingredients (arugula, roasted sweet potatoes, feta cheese, pecans, and vinaigrette) in a bowl and gently toss until the ingredients are evenly distributed and the arugula and sweet potatoes are evenly coated with the vinaigrette.  Divide the contents onto four salad plates and serve.

Tip:  When roasting the sweet potatoes, be sure to leave plenty of space between the cubes so that they roast rather than steam.

Tip:  If I am using a chunk of feta cheese (as opposed to the pre-crumbled type), I always rinse it first to remove excess salt left on it from the brine in which it was stored.

Make Ahead:  The roasted sweet potatoes can be prepared up to a week ahead and stored in a covered container in the refrigerator.  Ideally, allow them to come to room temperature before using.

Copyright © A Busy Mom’s Kitchen
https://abusymomskitchen.com/2015/01/06/sweet-potato-and-arugula-salad/

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