That’s cumin and pecans for any strict Anglophones out there. Two decidedly not-French ingredients. But they are the two featured ingredients for Foodie Fights Battle #14, in which I was chosen to participate. Cumin, at least, is fairly easy to come by around here, but pecans are horrendously expensive. Lucky for me, Nick recently brought back a bag full of goodies from Trader Joe’s, including some pecan halves. Game on!
At first it felt a little weird trying to construct a dish based around a spice and a garnish; but then I have been known to build an outfit around a pair of shoes, which I guess would be the sartorial equivalent. So… cumin and pecans. Cumin makes me think of Mexican or Indian food, while pecans are 100% americana. I had a number of ideas floating around – curried carrots on cumin rice, cumin-pecan kettle corn - none of them really gelling into something I wanted to get off my butt and cook. Then I remembered that it’s sweet potato season.
And suddenly I had to have something Thanksgiving-y. The cumin would be an unusual twist, but I thought I could make it work. Smoky bacon (what else?) and sweet maple syrup provided the catalysts that ended up tying it all together. The pieces of the puzzle fell together while I was at work, so I quickly scribbled “Cumin-Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes w/ Sweet + Spicy Pecans Bacon!” on a torn-off scrap of paper, very excited to buy some sweet potatoes at the Asian market and make this dish happen.
Which it did, Saturday night. We had some guests for dinner, so I made the sweet-spicy-salty pecans first, appropriate for nibbling in between Wii bowling games. Honestly, the pecans by themselves were a huge hit, and I got repeated requests for the technique. I could have left it at that, but why would I, when I could use the pecans to top cumin- and bacon-scented sweet potatoes? I definitely wanted to use whole cumin seeds, but I didn’t want them to be too crunchy, so I tossed them with the potatoes, some chopped onion, blanched lardons, and a little oil before covering the baking dish with foil and baking/steaming it for 30 minutes. However, steamed sweet potatoes don’t excite me nearly as much as roasted ones, so after the initial half hour, I took off the foil, drizzled on a vinaigrette made with maple syrup and apple cider vinegar, and continued roasting for another hour while I prepared the rest of the meal: duck breasts and spinach wilted in the duck fat.
It was a great dinner for a chilly autumn night, and I can definitely see this one on the holiday table.
The battle starts tomorrow (Tuesday, October 20). I’d love it if you headed over to Foodie Fights and voted for me. It should be worth checking out, even if you ultimately decide I didn’t earn your vote – I haven’t seen the other entries yet, so I don’t know what I’m up against. The winner will be announced on Thursday, so get your votes in!
Click through for the recipe, which I heartily encourage you to try.
Cumin-Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Spiced Pecans
A Fall side dish par excellence, these heady, flavorsome potatoes would make a great accompaniment to just about any meat from sautéed duck breast to roast chicken to grilled venison steaks. The cumin perfumes the potatoes while the maple syrup enhances their sweetness. Toasted sweet and salty pecans provide crunchy contrast. Or you could just snack on them while you wait for the potatoes to finish cooking.
For the pecans:
1 cup / 130g pecan halves
2 tsp. oil, preferably peanut, though any neutral vegetable oil would be fine (not olive!)
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. sugar
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
Pinch ground cumin
- Preheat the oven to 375 F/190 C.
- Toss the pecan halves with the oil until evenly coated. Add the salt, sugar, cayenne, cinnamon, and cumin and stir again to distribute.
- Spread nuts on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake about 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until they deepen in color and entice you with the aroma of toasted spices.
- Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. If you’re going on to make the sweet potatoes, leave the oven on.
For the sweet potatoes:
3½ oz./100g lardons or diced bacon (optional) (not really)
2 large sweet potatoes (about 2 lb./1 kg), peeled and diced
1 small onion, diced
1 tsp. cumin seeds
A generous pinch of coarse sea salt
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
Vinaigrette (whisk together):
2 tsp. maple syrup
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- Bring a pot of water to a boil. Dump in the lardons or bacon and return to a boil for 1-2 minutes. Drain.
- Combine the sweet potatoes, onion, lardons, and cumin seeds in a roasting pan. Drizzle with 1 Tbsp. oil and season with coarse salt. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, until potatoes are beginning to become tender.
- Remove the foil and stir the vinaigrette into the potatoes. Continue roasting for another hour or so, giving them a stir every now and then. When the potatoes are fully tender and are starting to brown on the edges, they’re ready to eat.
- Gently stir in the pecans and serve hot.
Serves 4-5 as a side dish.
Originally published on Croque-Camille.