Cooking For (& With) Kids: Citrus Sweet Potatoes, Two Ways
Sweet potatoes are magic. I mean, the word “sweet” is right there in the name, but instead of sugar, these lovely root veggies are chock full of good things: Vitamin A, potassium, beta-carotene (just to list a few). They’re one of the perfect first foods for babies – cook, mash, serve, oh thank goodness, my baby likes it. My baby REALLY likes it! Okay, slow down there, your diapers are going to be day-glo orange if you eat anymore sweet potatoes today.
AND YET. As soon as we leave the baby food purees behind, people start doing awful things to sweet potatoes. We add sugar and sweeteners and freaking marshmallows. We deep fry and coat them in too much salt. It’s like, FINE, I will swap sweet potatoes for white potatoes because mumble mumble healthy reasons but I’m going to go out of my way to minimize the nutritional benefits and murder the natural flavor.
And I speak as one of those people, who once had a vague understanding that sweet potatoes were a “better” choice than the white ones, but would translate this squishy notion into bagged sweet potato chips and processed fries and tots from the freezer section. And then I finally glanced at the ingredient labels and realized how much added sugar, salt and questionable oils these products contain. (And don’t even get me started on the preservatives.) I was serving my kids tots with a TON more cane sugar than the regular white potato variety, and seriously, my kids do NOT need anymore sugar in their daily lives. So much for my “healthy” swap.
But my kids LOVE sweet potatoes. And they really did love those frozen tots, and I loved the convenience of them.
(Cue infomercial segue of THERE’S GOT TO BE A BETTER WAY!)
There is! This recipe, right here (below), is everything you could possibly want from a sweet potato recipe. It’s simple but not boring, delicious as a grown-up side dish (pairs amazingly with this pork tenderloin recipe, BTW), and is an awesome step-up from plain purees for your sweet-potato loving toddler.
The only sweetener is a touch of fresh-squeezed orange juice, the salt is minimal, and the nutmeg is a lovely change from the traditional cinnamon. (Although cinnamon most certainly works! You do you.)
And then! Add a wee bit of flour (any kind, though I find whole wheat or rice flour work best) and a touch of cornstarch and BAM. You’ve got yourself a sweet potato tot. Shape, freeze, bake. All the convenience with none of the added garbage. They’re a very soft-on-the-inside tot, probably more of a puff, but that citrus-y zing makes them a delicious little bite-sized treat.
This is my 7-year-old’s favorite recipe to make (and eat…stay tuned for an additional post on even more ways we use it!), so if you’d like to get your kids involved in meal prep and learn some safe, basic skills, this one fits that bill as well. Peeling the cooled potatoes, mashing them up, juicing the orange, stirring and shaping…it’s all good (albeit slightly sticky) fun.
I typically double or even triple the recipe below, so I’m left with an adequate yield for both the mashed and the tot option. It’s super easy to make a big batch – the mash keeps in the fridge for about a week but can also be portioned out and frozen along with the tots. If you need a time shortcut, the potatoes can be boiled or even nuked instead of roasted – I just love the natural caramelization that roasting brings so I don’t mind the extra passive cooking time.
CITRUS SWEET POTATOES (Mashed & Tots)
(Adapted from Gourmet)
- 1 pound sweet potatoes
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1/8 to ¼ teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg (we usually just grate-n-taste until we think it’s enough)
FOR MASHED VERSION:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (optional, and olive oil works too)
- ¼ cup flour of your choice
- ¼ teaspoon cornstarch
- Whole wheat or panko breadcrumbs (optional)
Recipe for Citrus Sweet Potato MASH:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Pierce potatoes all over with a fork and arrange on a baking sheet or dish. Roast in the middle of the oven until soft and bubbling slightly, about 1 hour.
When cool enough to handle, peel off the skins. Transfer to a large bowl.
Add orange zest, juice, salt and nutmeg. Mash with a fork or potato masher – don’t puree or mash it to death, just a quick rough mash. Lumps welcome and encouraged for better texture!
Give it a taste and add more zest/juice/salt/whatever. My kids like these really “orange-juicy” while my husband prefers a lighter citrus flavor with more of the nutmeg.
If serving as a mash or side dish, go ahead and add the butter here as well. (Again, it’s optional but does add some really nice richness.) DON’T add any butter or oil to whatever you plan to use for the tots.
Recipe for Citrus Sweet Potato TOTS:
If making the tots, add the flour and cornstarch and combine well. I’ve made these with soooo many different flours (including gluten-free), so go ahead and use whatever variety you prefer. Just be prepared that the measurements might be different and will require a little eye-balling. Add enough flour until the mash becomes “shapeable” and holds together in a small ball or mini-tot shape fairly well. (Chilling the mashed potatoes for a bit makes this part much easier.)
For a crunchier tot, roll them in some breadcrumbs, like whole-wheat or panko. I usually add a touch more salt and nutmeg to the coating, when I’ve bothered with this step. If you shape your tots on the larger side, however, I recommend using the breadcrumbs for a better crunchy-to-soft-inside texture ratio.
If freezing, put the shaped tots on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and put in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer to a plastic freezer bag.
Bake on a lightly greased baking sheet at 425 degrees, flipping occasionally, 15-20 minutes, or until tots are heated through and lightly browned on all sides. Serve with your kiddo’s favorite dipping sauce.
Photos by Jen Tilley