Sweet Potato and Navel Orange Salad
The unseasonably warm weather in Ontario is making everything smell like spring. The ground is starting to breathe out wispy green shoots and even the wind feels lusty, curling through the air and snaking lazy tendrils around the early morning dog walkers who seem to have a hesitant spring in their steps. The sky is sharp but the sliding warmth of early April kisses pale and recently unwrapped necks and ankles. Apparently, this year I have a crush on spring. Like, an embarrassing hold-a-binder-in-front-of-my-pants kind of crush on spring, which makes me giggle and blush every time that I hear the word ‘sunshine’.
Early spring always marks that transient period for our palates, where cravings emerge for fresher, brighter meals that are laden with fruits and vegetables. We’ve spent a long, dark, fall and winter eating richly braised meats, earthy root vegetables, and slews of stews. With weather that’s predicted to hit 28ºC this weekend, we’re positively champing at the bit to siphon some of that sunshine out of the sky and onto the table. Hence, I offer to you, sweet potato and navel orange salad with quick pickled onions, a bare hint of jalapeno heat, and the verdant sweetness of freshly chopped basil. You’re welcome.
Sweet Potato and Navel Orange Salad
Serves 4 as a side dish
- 2 lb (1 kg) long sweet potatoes, about 3
- 3 large navel oranges *
- 1/2 medium red onion
- 1 medium clove garlic
- 1 jalapeno pepper
- 5 tbsp grapeseed or light vegetable oil, divided
- 1 lemon
- 1.5 tbsp rice wine vinegar **
- handful fresh basil (about 1/4 cup in chiffonade)
- salt and pepper to taste
* Ignore the fact that there are only 2 oranges in the picture. It is possible that the third one rolled off the counter and I didn’t notice until I kicked it, skidding, across the kitchen and into the living room. It is possible that said orange got peeled and ended up in the salad anyway. That’s life.
** If you don’t have rice wine vinegar, you can substitute with a mild white wine vinegar or even a white balsamic if you like a richer, sweeter taste.
Preheat your oven to 400ºF.
Grate the garlic (or use a garlic press) into a fairly large mixing bowl. I’m all about minimizing dishes, despite what Mike would have you believe, so I find it convenient to make a dressing in the same bowl that the salad will be tossed in. Squeeze the juice of an entire lemon over top and whisk in the vinegar. Slowly drizzle in three and a half (3.5) tablespoons of oil, whisking constantly, until your nicely acidic dressing is combined. Season the dressing lightly with salt.
Peel half of a red onion and slice it horizontally into very thin slices that are almost translucent. Cut the jalapeno in half and remove the ribs and seeds (unless you’re feeling the urge to heat things up). Finely mince the flesh of the chili pepper and toss it, along with the onion, in the dressing. Let this sit for at least half an hour while you prepare the potatoes. As time and acid work their magic, the heat of the jalapeno will soften and dissipate, and the onions will take on a milder flavor like a quick pickle.
Peel the sweet potatoes and slice them into thick 3/4″ rounds. If your sweet potatoes are fat and squat rather than thin and long, you may want to slice the rounds in half to make half moons, or consider slicing a bit thinner, like 1/2″.
Toss the sweet potato hunks with the remaining tablespoon and a half (1.5) of oil and season generously with salt and pepper on both sides.
Roast the sweet potatoes in the center of your oven for 35-40 minutes or until they are fork tender and cooked through and barely browned. Don’t forget to flip over the slices and rotate the pan halfway through (after about 20 minutes) to ensure even cooking.
In the mean time, top and tail about 1/2″ off your oranges so that they’re sitting flat on your cutting board. Pare off the pithy rind and discard it.
When the sweet potatoes are cooked through take them out of the oven and immediately toss the slices in the dressing. When the tubers are hot they will soak up all that deliciously bright flavor, like a swell root vegetable sponge.
Slice the oranges horizontally into 1/4″ rounds and add them to the mix, along with any juices which pooled and collected while the oranges were being stripped and sliced.
Taste the salad and season with a touch more salt and pepper if you like. The salad can be served slightly warm, at room temperature, or after it has had some time to hang out in the fridge and chill. To finish the salad, chiffonade the basil (or give it a nice chop) and gently toss it with the rest of the ingredients right before serving.
We ate this salad as a side dish with spicy citrus infused Mojo chicken and some garlicky sauteed broccoli rabe. It was a perfectly light and heart healthy late spring meal to celebrate the long days of sunshine that are peeking around the corner, daring us to dash off after them…and I intend to.
Oranges and sweet potatoes are more than just a color match; the flavors work so beautifully together. Sweet citrus and buttery root vegetables, brightened with an acidic dressing redolent with basil, this one is a winner for spring. If poultry isn’t your pleaser, you could serve this dish alongside a Cuban spice rubbed roast pork loin, mustard glazed ham, or even a slow roasted side of salmon.
It’s time to celebrate spring, starting with our stomachs. As for the sweet potatoes, I hereby thumb my nose at anyone who says that root vegetables are only appealing in the wintertime. They don’t know what they’re missing.