Luscious sweet potatoes lovingly spiked with gari (japanese picked ginger), perfumed with lemongrass, and enhanced by the richness of fresh figs, all roasted to melt-in-your-mouth perfection. What a heavenly way to ramp up such a humble root vegetable, this dish truly highlights all the wonderful qualities of the sweet potato while tempering their sweetness just a bit and adding some zest and richness. If you’re a fan of of these sweet, orange delights, this is not a dish to be missed.
1.5kg | just under 3.5 lbs or 5 sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced ½ inch thick
325g | 9 whole fresh figs, chopped
60g | ½ cup (about two stalks) lemongrass, chopped
30g | 2 Tbsp finely chopped gari (japanese pickled ginger)
60g/ml | ¼ cup of liquid from gari
240g/ml | 1 cup water
25g/30ml | 2 Tbsp oil
10g/ml | 2 tsp red wine vinegar
50g | ¼ cup brown sugar
2g | ½ tsp cinnamon powder
1.5g | 6 whole green cardamom, smashed
2g | ½ tsp (1 small clove) minced garlic
.5g | ¼ tsp black pepper
4.5g | ¾ tsp fine salt
2 whole cloves (optional)
½ cup chopped toasted pecans or walnuts for topping
Place all but sweet potatoes, figs, chopped gari, and nuts into a small saucepan, bring to a light boil, then turn off heat, cover and allow to steep for 30 minutes (on the burner)
Place your remaining ingredients (minus nuts) in a large mixing bowl
Preheat oven to 350F
Grease an 11x7 baking dish
Blend liquid mixture and pour through a strainer over potatoes, figs, and gari, mix to coat all the potatoes
Stack the potato slices into your dish vertically, then pour over remaining, cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes
Remove cover and bake an additional hour, or until sweet potatoes are tender, basting and turning the dish halfway through
Remove from oven, baste again, cover and allow to rest 10 minutes (at least) before serving
Top with chopped nuts (if using)
This dish is really best made the day before, the sweet potatoes and figs will absorb almost all of the liquid and be extra delicious when reheated
Of course sweet potatoes make up the bulk of the dish, and if you can find purple or red ones, i highly recommend those, they just create such a beautiful dish, unfortunately i wasn’t able to find those this round (but when i do, prepare for an update on these photos to be sure!) Next in line are the fresh figs, you can use whatever kind you can find, green calimyrna, brown turkish, or if you can’t locate any fresh ones, you can rehydrate some dried ones, just make sure and fully rehydrate them first or they can turn into a hard rubbery mess during roasting. The figs provide a little richness, some added sweetness, and a wonderful texture (from the seeds) to the dish, really helping to temper and round out the other flavours. Gari (japanese pickled ginger) is most familiar to people as a zesty accompaniment to sushi, but it makes an incredible ingredient in dishes, i use it for all sorts of things (it’s especially good in salad dressings), it brings a smashingly brilliant zip and aroma to the dish while also supplying some acidity and salt. Lemongrass plays an underscore here, bringing in a perfumed floral quality that really lightens things up, counterbalancing the heavy earthiness of the figs and sweet potatoes, its flavour isn’t incredibly prominent in the end, melding into the dish, but it is definitely noticed by the lightness it brings. Cinnamon and black pepper bring a little dry heat and woodsiness to help fill in some gaps in our middle notes, cardamom to heighten the lightness and perfume of the lemongrass, garlic to add just a TOUCH of savoriness, a couple cloves to intensify the the spiced elements and round out the sweetness. A bit of brown sugar (light or dark depending on how rich you want the dish) brings in some molasses richness and helps to provide a little thickness to the end “sauce.” Finally we have a little bit of red wine vinegar to bring in a little more acidity and to spike the fruitiness a little, any soft fruity vinegar will work here, white blasamic, white wine, champagne, apple cider…so use what you have on hand.
This is quite a different recipe for sweet potatoes, not just the flavours, but also the methods used. We start by making an infusion of our aromatics (minus the gari) which then gets tossed with the remaining ingredients, this does not thicken much while baking, so don’t be surprised when you pull it out of the oven to find it all very liquidy, rest assured the flavours have completely permeated the potatoes (it’s like magic) all the way to the core. Now, this dish really is best done the night before and reheated, why? because the potatoes and figs absorb all that delicious liquid and the flavours are just incredible. (don’t worry, they’re still plenty incredible straight from the oven)
Though this dish takes awhile to cook, it’s very simple to throw together, once the infusion is done, you just toss everything together, making sure to coat the potatoes well, stack our slices vertically in a greased baking dish and roast away! The first third is done covered, allowing the dish to come up to temp a little quicker and without overly drying the figs out, then you’ll be roasting uncovered, basting it halfway through and after to make sure the top halves of the potatoes get the flavours and moisture they need. A key to getting the best flavour and texture here is to cover the dish after roasting and allow it to rest awhile (at least 10 minutes) which allows the moisture and flavours to truly even out. Even better, make this the day before and place it in the fridge, the potatoes and figs will absorb all that wonderful yum and the texture will be even better when reheated. It’s like magic, good kitchen wizardry, and makes it an awesome side to bring to a party or gathering when you don’t want to fuss about the day of. This is truly delightful when topped with some toasted, chopped nuts (especially pecans and/or walnuts) which add not only flavour, but a glorious textural element, it’s still truly amazing without them as well so if you don’t have them around it’s okay.
Aside from it being a beautiful dish to grace a holiday table, this dish is good all year round, try serving it along with thai curries, indian dishes, mediterranean dishes, it’s a good nom for brunches….it goes well just about every style of cuisine that incorporates sweeter spices and ginger. Another fun aspect of this recipe (or at least it is to me) is that they look deceptively plain, especially when compared to some crazy candied sweet potatoes, but they pack a TON of flavour. I always find these sorts of dishes are the ones that really get people excited at gatherings, it’s always nice to see that look on people’s faces when they’re pleasantly surprised and delighted by the bite they just took, that’s my favorite part of cooking for others, that burst of joy on someone’s face makes all the effort worth it.