Spicy Roasted Sweet Potatoes – Healthy roasted yams
with sweet Maui onions, rosemary and spicy chili pepper flakes.
Sweet potatoes have roots (pun intended) in Central and South America. Like many crops indigenous to the New World, including chili peppers, squash and cocoa, it was commonly believed that sweet potatoes were introduced to Europe and Asia when Christopher Columbus brought them back from his New World expedition. However, recently a surprising truth has been unearthed through modern DNA science– sweet potatoes likely crossed traveled across the ocean much earlier than originally thought. DNA analysis of dried sweet potato remains from Captain James Cook’s expedition to Polynesia in 1769 allowed evolutionary biologist Caroline Rouiller to trace the root vegetable’s origins directly to Ecuador and Peru. Conclusion? Sweet potatoes crossed the Pacific Ocean well before Columbus landed in the New World.
While it’s possible that a seed crossed the ocean somehow (on the wing of a bird, perhaps?), there is mounting evidence that the Polynesians actually made early contact with South America. It would have been a very long and dangerous trip, but the Polynesians were well equipped for such a voyage; they built large double-hulled canoes that held 80 or more people for long trips at sea. In fact, the Polynesians were a very advanced society before their way of life was destroyed by European colonization. Did the Polynesians journey to South America and bring the sweet potato back home with them? It’s just one of the many mysteries housed inside this sweet and tasty tuber.
There are few things I enjoy more than a tray of freshly roasted sweet potatoes, especially when they come with a helping of history. Roasting sweet potatoes in a hot oven caramelizes them, bringing out the best of their naturally sweet, robust flavor. Recently I combined them with chunks of sweet Maui onion, kosher salt, red chili pepper flakes and rosemary. The result was incredibly flavorful… in fact, they were downright addicting. The spice can be adjusted to taste; 1/2 tsp of pepper flakes gives it a little depth, while 1 tsp gives it a nice kick. Perfect for the colder months, these Spicy Roasted Sweet Potatoes would also make an elegant and flavorful holiday side dish. Simple, healthy and hearty enough to cross the Pacific. Gotta love that!
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- 2 1/2 lbs sweet potatoes (yams) peeled and cut into 1 1/2-2 inch chunks
- 2 large sweet onions (Maui, Walla Walla or Vidalia), cut into chunks
- 3 tbsp fresh rosemary leaves removed from sprigs
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp kosher salt if salt sensitive use less to taste
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes NOTE: if spice sensitive start with 1/2 tsp and add more to taste
- Place baking sheet into the oven and preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place all ingredients into a large bowl and toss to combine, making sure all the potatoes and onions are evenly and lightly covered with oil and seasonings.
- Use hot pads to carefully remove the heated baking sheet from the oven. Spread the vegetable mixture out onto the tray in an even layer, making sure all potatoes are touching the surface of the tray. Careful not to burn your hands on the tray!
- Place tray back into the oven and let the vegetables roast for 20 minutes. Stir the vegetables and continue to roast for 10-20 more minutes or until they are tender inside and browned/crisp on the outside. Serve warm.
Doucleff, Michaeleen (2013). How the Sweet Potato Crossed the Pacific Way Before the Europeans Did. NPR – Web.
Mann, Charles C (2006). 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. Vintage, Random House, NY.
(2013) Disentangling the Origins of Cultivated Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas (L.) Lam.). PLoS ONE 8(5): e62707. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0062707