No marshmallows required: Natural sweetness shines in Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Shallots

by Terry B on February 24, 2010

Roasting sweet potatoes and shallots with rosemary, garlic and cayenne pepper creates a naturally sweet/savory side dish that packs a satisfying kick. Recipe below, along with a link to a sweet potato recipe contest.


Sweet potatoes deserve better. As a kid, I thought sweet potato casserole was a waste of perfectly good miniature marshmallows. Now I think that saddling sweet potatoes with pie ingredients—brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg—and calling them a side dish masks their delicious natural sweetness. Again, a waste.

And sweet potatoes have far too much to offer to relegate them to a cloying, gooey annual tradition. The Center for Science in the Public Interest puts them at the top of their Best 10 Foods list, calling sweet potatoes a “nutritional All-Star—one of the best vegetables you can eat. They’re loaded with carotenoids, vitamin C, potassium, and fiber.” Sweet potatoes may help fight cancer and heart disease as well as diseases related to inflammation, such as asthma, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. And although they’re called sweet, they’re actually very low in sugar and in fact have been proven to help regulate blood sugar level in diabetics.

With all this going for them, is it any wonder the state that produces the most sweet potatoes in the nation wants to promote them? To get home cooks cooking and experimenting with them, the North Carolina SweetPotato Commission is sponsoring its second annual Sassy Sweets Bloggers Recipe Challenge. Now through March 29, bloggers are invited to submit original recipes for the chance to win up to $2,000 in cash. You’ll find complete details at the link above.

We’re big fans of sweet potatoes done right, so when I first heard about this year’s contest, I immediately started thinking of things to do with this healthy, delicious root vegetable. I wanted something that would take advantage of its natural sweetness, but still have an overall savory quality. Roasted shallots add a nice bite while delivering a little sweetness of their own. Garlic and rosemary further temper the sweetness of the dish. And cayenne pepper gives it dimension with a nice spicy finish.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Shallots
Serves 3 to 4

1 to 1-1/2 pounds sweet potatoes [1 large or 2 medium]
3 to 4 shallots, peeled, ends trimmed and halved lengthwise
2 cloves garlic, chopped
olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary [see Kitchen Notes]
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper [see Kitchen Notes]

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into bite-sized chunks. Place in a 9×13-inch glass baking dish. Add shallots and garlic to baking dish and drizzle with 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Toss gently with a wooden spoon to avoid breaking up shallots. Season generously with salt and pepper, then sprinkle with cayenne pepper. Toss gently again to spread seasonings more or less evenly.

Place baking dish on middle rack in oven and roast 40 to 55 minutes, stirring gently a couple of  times during the roasting, until sweet potatoes are tender and slightly browned. The sweet potatoes may absorb a bit of the olive oil and appear to be drying out—just drizzle with some more oil before tossing them. The shallots may brown even more than the sweet potatoes, and the chopped garlic will almost certainly blacken. That’s okay—all will be delicious. If your sweet potatoes were refrigerated before roasting, as mine were, you will probably need the full 55 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve immediately.

Kitchen Notes

Rosemary—keep it fresh. I’m a frequent user of dried herbs, especially in winter. But this dish demands fresh rosemary. Even though the needles dry during roasting, they’re not as stiff and tough as dried rosemary. And while I often chop fresh rosemary when I cook with it, I left them whole here. Paired with the chunks of sweet potatoes and halved shallots, they work better visually that way, I think. The act of plucking them from the sprigs sufficiently bruises them to better impart their flavor.

Cayenne pepper—how spicy do you like it? We don’t go crazy with spicy foods, but we like them to have a little kick. I used 1/2 teaspoon when I made this dish, which gave it some authority, as I like to say. Depending on your own tolerance levels for heat, use less or more. But unless you’re totally heat averse, don’t skip the cayenne pepper. It adds another dimension to an already interesting dish.

And finally, a note about recipe contests. Many cooking contests, including this one, grant ownership of submitted recipes to the sponsor. The language in the Terms and Conditions of the Sassy Sweets contest is pretty typical: “All entrants acknowledge and agree that recipes become the property of the NC SweetPotato Commission, which reserves the right to edit, modify, copyright and publish them for advertising, public relations and promotional purposes in any media without compensation.” A spokesperson for this contest assured me that bloggers may still use their own content however they wish. “We will never use the recipe as our own—it will always be credited to the appropriate person so it would still be yours,” she said. In fact, “With last year’s winners we contacted their local papers in hopes of getting each winner a little local press. Since then, we’ve used one of the recipes in a distribution to newspapers and credited the winner by including their name and blog name.”


{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

karen February 24, 2010 at 7:44 pm

I think sweet potatoes are the business. So versatile. We roast them, like you and also put them into Thai curries, savoury tarts and vegeburgers. They are fashionable on this side of the water these days but were relatively unknown until a few years ago. We’re making a spinach and roasted sweet potato tart in our shop these days.

Terry B February 24, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Karen—They really are versatile, aren’t they? Marion makes a wonderful Sweet Potato Vichyssoise, and I combine them with baking potatoes for another take on Spicy Roasted Potatoes that offer a healthier substitute for fries. By the way, if I’m ever on your “side of the water” again, I’d love to check out your shop and cooking courses!

Dani H February 24, 2010 at 8:14 pm

I. Love. Sweet potatoes. Truth be told, my favorite way to eat them is roasted in the oven (NOT microwaved ~ the skin doesn’t get crisp) and topped with butter. I devour them, skin and all. I also like them as oven-roasted “French fries.” But this recipe sounds divine ~ your combination of herbs and shallots truly sounds amazing, Terry. My mother made the annual Thanksgiving sweet potatoes and marshmallows, but she also fixed baked sweet potatoes during the rest of the year. The problem was that she always served them with butter and tons of brown sugar. She did the same with acorn squash, and it was only as an adult that I discovered they don’t actually taste the same. Thanks for another inspired dish.

Nicole February 24, 2010 at 9:21 pm

Those are absolutely gorgeous!

Delishhh February 25, 2010 at 5:10 pm

What a great food blog and nice site. I am new to the food blogging and hope to communicate with you in the future. I will let you know when i try one of your recipes.

Terry B February 25, 2010 at 5:26 pm

Dani—Your favorite way to enjoy sweet potatoes sounds perfect! I also remember having some amazing sweet potato straws at the bar of the House of Blues. They were finer than matchsticks and seasoned with cayenne pepper.

Thanks, Nicole! They are gorgeous, aren’t they, he said somewhat immodestly.

Delishhh—Welcome to the land of food blogging. Hope you have fun with it!

Laura March 1, 2010 at 1:21 am

I love the idea of the cayenne! I often find sweet potatoes, even without marshmallows, to be far too sweet. Spice is an excellent mitigation I would imagine…

katie March 1, 2010 at 10:41 am

I never could abide that horrid casserole. Fortunately, the only way my mother made sweet potatoes was to bake them whole. I love your dish – I wouldn’t peel them, though ;-))

Lora March 3, 2010 at 2:26 am

Never had anything as exotic as marshmallows on top of the sweet potatoes growing up. Mom simply opened a can of sweet potatoes and made a sickening sweet very thin syrup of brown sugar & water and heated them up. Brings to mind your profile where frozen veggies in a bag were taboo, but bring out the can opener and continue to cook them to death. (Can you tell I’m from the Midwest too?) Will try your recipe for sweet potatoes!

Terry B March 3, 2010 at 3:24 pm

Laura—I think the garlic and shallots help tame the sweetness here. So does the cayenne, interestingly; the heat gives your mouth something else to think about besides the sweetness.

Katie—For baked sweet potatoes, the peel is a definite good call. I wonder if in this dish, though, the peel might separate a little too much from the potato chunks.

Lora—Ah, the kitchen sins of our Midwestern mothers. I hope you enjoy these!

WizzyTheStick March 4, 2010 at 4:42 pm

I have never had it but sweet potatoes with marshmallows doesn’t sound like something I’d like. This recipe you have here is much more my thing. Gorgeous and delicious. BTW I didn’t know that a recipe could be copyrighted. On the US copyright site it states that ” Mere listings of ingredients as in recipes, formulas, compounds, or prescriptions are not subject to copyright protection.”

Terry B March 4, 2010 at 5:26 pm

WizzyTheStick—It’s not so much the ingredients list per se that are copyrightable, but the overall description of the process, along with the ingredients, is.

Kaitlin April 4, 2010 at 11:31 pm

I always felt like cooking sweet potatoes with marshmallows and brown sugar was a waste, too. I always feel bad after eating that stuff, especially since sweet potatoes are so good on their own! I’m bookmarking this recipe – it’s refreshing to see the potatoes used in a savory dish!

sunie October 3, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Happened on your blog when I had a yen for (not)sweet potatoes. I too think making them sweet(er) is a great mistake. I only learned to really enjoy them when I discovered savory preparations. Tonight, leading into fall, I roasted them as you described, sauted chard in garlic infused olive oil and served with my husband’s grilled turkey breast encrusted with a paste of garlic, dijon, and herbs. Marvelous!

Terry B October 3, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Thanks, Sunie! Usually when I find a comment on an older post, it’s spam. I was delighted to see this was an actual comment. And your timing is eerily impeccable. Last night, for this week’s post, I cooked sweet potatoes and served them with garlicky sautéed Swiss chard. I mashed the sweet potatoes this time and actually did sweeten them, but only a little, with a tablespoon of maple syrup. I also salted them generously. The combination of the salt and maple syrup really brought out the natural sweetness of the sweet potatoes. Look for the post on Wednesday!

Your meal with the grilled turkey breast sounds amazing, BTW.

Nicole December 4, 2013 at 10:43 pm

Hey Terry! Just wanted to let you know that my aunt made these for Thanksgiving and they were delicious and a big hit at our huge family gathering!

Terry B December 4, 2013 at 11:00 pm

Nicole, coming from you, this is huge praise. Glad the family liked it!

randi January 26, 2014 at 6:48 pm

Made these for dinner tonight along with ribs. They were so delicious. I keep sneaking into the fridge to pick at the leftovers. Thanks!

Terry B January 26, 2014 at 6:52 pm

Glad you liked them, Randi! And ribs sound like a perfect complement. I want some right now.

Maria November 25, 2016 at 10:25 am

Just checking in to say that this has become a Thanksgiving staple in our house–love a non-sweet sweet potato dish!

Terry B December 5, 2016 at 9:42 pm

So glad to hear that, Maria! We really like this dish too.

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