Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Actual Cooking: Chipotle Bacon Sweet Potato Salad

tap, tap, tap... is this thing on? <feedback>

Long time, no blog, I know, but I'm back, and I've got a bunch of ideas for posts queued up, so hopefully I won't disappear again for a while. Let's get started:

The beginning of this month was my wife's and my 29 anniversary, and we marked the occasion Sunday afternoon by going to Tanglewood in the beautiful Berkshires to see a concert by Joan Baez and the Indigo Girls. It was our first Tanglewood experience, but I knew there was a tradition of packing picnics (little did I know, until we got there and looked around, how elaborate they can be... but I digress), so I started planning.

Chicken salad sandwiches and a garden salad seemed like straightforward choices: I roasted chicken breasts for the former and made the latter with mixed greens from my own garden, along with local farmstand radishes and cherry tomatoes, and a house-made herb vinaigrette using my own mint, French tarragon, and thyme. But I wanted to do something a little less typical for a side, and since we had some locally grown sweet potatoes, I decided to try my hand at a sweet potato salad. A chipotle bacon sweet potato salad, to be precise.

Not having made anything similar before, I Googled up this recipe as a starting point, but I changed it pretty substantially. Here's what I ended up with:

  • 2 medium to large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon
  • 1 small bunch of fresh chives, finely chopped
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 3 to 5 fresh garlic scapes,a thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon chipotleb powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Add the sweet potatoes to a large pot of cold salted water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook the potatoes until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes and let cool in a colander. 
  2. Cook bacon in a medium skillet over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp. Drain bacon on a paper towel, then crumble or finely chop it. 
  3. In a large serving bowl, combine the sweet potatoes with the chives, red pepper, scapes, and crumbled bacon. 
  4. In a separate bowl, add the mayonnaise, lime juice, chipotle, cumin, and salt and pepper, to taste. Whisk to combine.
  5. Pour mayonnaise mixture over the potatoes and thoroughly mix. 
  6. Refrigerate at least 1 hour (preferably overnight) for the flavors to meld. 
a I'm fortunate to have a coworker who grows garlic, and she brings me a bunch of scapes every spring. If you can't find them at a farmers' market or grocery store, you can substitute scallions.
b My "chipotle" powder was home-made using dried smoked jalapeƱos from last year's crop, ground in a spice grinder... technically not really chipotle, which is traditionally made from red jalapeƱos, but close enough for my purposes.

The result was really very nice: sweet, spicy, and earthy, but lightened and balanced by the subtle herbs and citrus. When I first tasted the freshly finished product, I thought I hadn't used enough bacon... but after a night in the fridge, the porky goodness came shining through. I also worried that it might be too spicy for my wife, who doesn't share my asbestos palate, but she thought the heat level was just right. Your chipotle powder might be more or less hot than my homemade stuff, though, so I recommend adding it in separate portions, and tasting as you go.

At any rate, here's our mostly local, mostly homemade, somewhat homegrown Tanglewood picnic lunch:

Watch this space for a post on our post-Tanglewood dinner, at Chez Nous in nearby Lee, MA.

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