The mention of great sweet potato fries could lure me to any restaurant. A plateful of these alone could easily be my entire meal.
My first taste of this savory-sweet side dish came in college, at a Washington, DC restaurant called J. Paul’s. They were skinny, shoestring-type fries served with ketchup. Though they were fried and salty just like regular fries, I remember thinking they were healthy, simply because they were made with a potato that I didn’t much care for as a child but my mom told be was loaded with vitamins. (To that point, one cup of cubed sweet potato has a whopping 377% of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin A and is also rich in potassium, Vitamins B-6, C, and Magnesium.)
In recent years, I’ve discovered several dressed-up versions of these tasty wedges. Locally, Iron Hill Brewery offers delicious thick-cut sweet potato fries, and if you find yourself in Portland, Maine, a restaurant called Sonny’s offers a memorable plate, too.
Both of these restaurants raise the bar on their fries by serving them with a trio of dipping sauces. When one of the generously portioned plates is shared, there’s inevitably a fun discussion as to which sauce tastes the best. I’ve made my own versions of habanero-lime dipping sauce and tamarind ketchup, but my hands-down favorite is a thick and creamy smoked paprika aioli.
For a healthier, less messy alternative to the fried restaurant version, I like to bake the potatoes. Because the baking is done at high heat, it’s important to use a cooking oil with a high smoke point, like avocado, safflower, or peanut oil. The smoke point is the point at which an oil will start to smoke and break down. When this happens, the oil can lose some of its nutritional value and develop an unpleasant taste.
Most coconut oils have a smoke point of 350 degrees F, but I was recently given a high-heat culinary option that provided a worthy stand-in for the avocado oil I typically use in this recipe. Of note, the high-heat coconut oil is flavorless, making it ideal for those who don’t care for the aromatic quality and nutty flavor of regular extra virgin coconut oil. Of course, if someone has a nut allergy or you’d simply like to use what you have on hand, another oil may certainly be used.
For the aioli, substituting a portion of the mayonnaise with Greek yogurt creates a lighter base without sacrificing taste or creamy texture. In fact, I prefer the brighter flavor of the lighter version.
Unlike the restaurant versions that inspired this recipe, I toss the sweet potatoes in a simple spice mix that makes them flavorful enough to enjoy on their own. If using the aioli, however, you may find that leftovers pair well with the likes of roasted mushrooms, baked chicken, or as a spread on sandwiches and burgers. Alternatively, serve alongside some grilled chorizo or a spicy sausage of choice that has been cut into bite-size pieces for an easy appetizer.
It’s worth mentioning that sweet potato fries will not become as crisp as traditional French fries due to their higher moisture content. If you prefer to remain a purist in terms of what constitutes a French fry, you can always refer to these as sweet potato “wedges.”
Yield: 6 servings of the sweet potatoes; 3/4 cup aioli
- 2 pounds sweet potatoes, cut into wedges with skin left on
- 2 tablespoons (28 grams) high heat oil*
- 2 lightly packed tablespoons (24 grams) brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon each cumin, cayenne pepper, and kosher salt**
- 1/2 cup (104 grams) mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup (60 grams) nonfat Greek yogurt (I like Stonyfield 0% Greek)
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) freshly squeezed lime juice
- 3/4 teaspoon each smoked paprika and ground cumin
- Scant 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- For the Spicy Sweet Potatoes: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F, and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. (For easy cleanup and no sticking if you don’t have parchment paper, use foil and lightly oil it.)
- In a large bowl or zipper-top bag, toss the potatoes with the oil.
- Combine the remaining ingredients in a small bowl, and then sprinkle over the potatoes. Toss to evenly coat.
- Transfer the coated wedges to the prepared baking sheet, spreading them in an even layer.
- Bake the potatoes for 20-25 minutes or until tender. Check after 15 minutes, and toss if the undersides are sufficiently browned. Depending on oven and thickness of potato wedges, a few minutes more or less may be needed. The potatoes are done when the tip of a sharp knife meets little resistance when poked into the potatoes.
- Serve as is or with the Smoked Paprika Aioli.
- For the Aioli: In a small bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, Greek yogurt, lime juice, smoked paprika, cumin, and salt. Cover and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
- The taste of this sauce will improve as it sits and the flavors meld. If possible, prepare it several hours or a day in advance. It will, however, still be good if enjoyed right away.
- *Good high-heat options include avocado, sunflower, safflower, peanut oil, or a culinary, high heat coconut oil. (The “culinary” brand I used was Barlean’s.)
- **A half teaspoon of cayenne pepper produces a heat level similar to medium-hot salsa. For milder spice, use 1/4 teaspoon. Feel free to adjust upwards as well.
(The other sauce in the photo is a cilantro-lime sauce, which is particularly well suited to oven fries made with Russet potatoes. It’s a nice option for fish, too. If there is interest, I will share that recipe soon!)
A few more coconut oil tips… Coconut oil can also serve as a non-dairy option to butter (for this I recommend extra-virgin, cold-pressed coconut oil) and can be used as a skin and hair moisturizer. No refrigeration is required, and it will be solid and require melting at temperatures below 76 degrees F.
Before I work with a new-to-me company or simply mention their brand on my blog or in my newspaper column, I always test out the products. I also like to learn a little bit about the company behind the product. Barlean’s has an especially compelling story that began in the early 1970s when Dave Barlean quit his job as a pipe fitter to become a full-time fisherman. His innovative techniques, which involved reconfiguring a canoe-type boat and installing live tanks on board revolutionized the reef netting industry by making it possible to separate endangered species from commercial catch—while guaranteeing his customers the freshest of fish.
How Dave transitioned from this clever canoe to being an industry leader with a family-run company is an inspired story. If you’d like to read more, click HERE.