Sweet potatoes were a staple at my grandmother’s Thanksgiving table. They were always mashed and delivered in a large serving bowl. While my aunts and cousins piled mounds onto their plates, I sat in silent protest. Growing up, I was always afraid to eat them because their bright orange color reminded me of carrots — my culinary arch-nemesis at the time — and I refused to even consider sweet potatoes as edible. It wasn’t until some time later that sweet potato fries were delivered alongside a bacon-cheddar cheeseburger. Much older and not afraid of food anymore, I decided now was as good a time as any. I dipped a fry in ketchup and put it in my mouth. I was in love.
I created this dish because every time I think about making scalloped potatoes, I love the taste, but disagree with the calorie count. This dish is a play on the traditional scalloped potato dish by substituting the cheese sauce with a béchamel (a milk based white sauce) infused with the delightful flavor of leeks. Best of all, this dish is incredibly easy to prepare. I will warn you though, like many good things, some assembly is required.
- 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled
- 1/2 medium leek, dark green stalk cut away (substitute sweet onions if you prefer)
- 2c low-fat milk
- 1/4c parmesan cheese
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter
- 3 tbsp flour
- 3 small bay leaves, or 1 large
- 1/8 tsp nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp paprika
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Then start building your dish by making the bechamel sauce. Measure out 2 cups of milk and heat over medium heat ( 7 on your dial) until warm. When you see steam rising, turn the heat off.
2. While the milk is warming, melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a large sauce pan. Cut the leek into thin strips and add to butter. Saute until leeks begin to turn translucent. Add flour to leeks and combine until leeks are coated throughout.
3. Your milk should be warm by this point. Pour milk into a measuring cup or a bowl with a spout for easy pouring. If you try to pour straight from the pan, the milk will dribble down the side of the pan and make a giant mess on your stove. While pouring, whisk milk into leek/flour mixture. Continue whisking over medium heat until sauce thickens to the consistency of oatmeal.
4. Turn heat to simmer (a 2 on your dial). Add bay leaves, stir, and let simmer uncovered for ten minutes.
5. While the sauce is simmering, slice the potatoes about 1/8″. A mandoline is a useful tool in getting uniform cuts. If you don’t have one, take your time to ensure your cuts are as similar as possible because thick cuts will cook slower than thin ones.
Note: Mandolines are relatively safe instruments even if they do look scary. The trick is not to do as the Iron Chefs do. They use their hands or a towel to slide the vegetables towards the blade. I cringe everytime I see this. Use the cutting guide that comes with the mandoline. You’ll protect your hands from the blade and make quick work of the potatoes and anything else you want perfectly uniform slices of in the future.
6. When the sauce is complete, sprinkle nutmeg into the sauce and take off the heat. Taste. Add salt and pepper as needed.
7. Place a layer of sweet potato on the bottom of a square baking dish. Top this with 1/3 of the sauce and then sprinkle with 2 tbsp parmesan cheese. Repeat this process two more times. This is just like building a lasagna. Sprinkle remaining parmesan cheese and paprika on top of last layer.
8. Cover with aluminium foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking for another 35 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked and the top has browned. Cook time will vary depending on your oven and how thick your potato layers are.
9. Let cool for 5 minutes. Serve alongside a small salad or as a side dish.