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Lynda Balslev: Taming the sweet in the potato


Hasselback potatoes never fail to get a “wow” at the dinner table. These accordion-shaped potatoes are lovely to look at, and a basting method while roasting ensures that flavor permeates the potato and crisps all the fine edges. Any potato can be prepared this way, including sweet potatoes, which may be the most striking presentation, since they fan out to reveal their orange jeweled flesh while roasting.

To make Hasselback sweet potatoes, choose long, relatively stable and straight potatoes. The key is to cut as many thin slices as possible, crosswise, along the length of the potato. To do this — without a wayward potato rolling across your cutting board — slice a sliver of each potato lengthwise along its base to stabilize it on a work surface and in the baking dish to prevent any wobbling or tilting. Then, place the potato on a work surface with a thin cutting board snugged up on either side of it. With a sharp knife, make narrow incisions crosswise in the potato, approximately 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch thick. The cutting boards will prevent the knife from cutting through the base of the potato. If a few bits break off, no worries; just continue to slice them if you can.

Arrange the potatoes in a baking dish and brush them with the spiced oil, making sure that the oil dribbles between all the crevices. Transfer to the oven and roast, basting once or twice if desired. When sweet potatoes roast, they will soften first before they begin to crisp. The potatoes are ready as soon as they are tender. If you decide to cook them longer to further crisp and char them, note that the interiors will be very soft.

Now, a word about a sweet potato’s, well, sweetness: In addition to a being a great source of fiber, vitamins and minerals, these roots have a notable helping of starch. When heated during the cooking process, the starch converts to maltose, or sugar, which delivers and amplifies the potato’s sweetness. I like to balance this notable sweetness with spices and fresh herbs, which rein in any rowdy sweetness and round out the flavors of the dish.

These potatoes make a wonderful and decorative side dish. For more embellishment, sprinkle crumbled cheese, such as cotija, or crisp bacon bits over the potato and call it a meal.

Hasselback Sweet Potatoes

Active Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

4 medium-large sweet potatoes

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra for finishing

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for finishing

1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, chives or mint

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cut a very thin slice lengthwise from the bottom of each potato to stabilize it. Cut each potato crosswise, as thinly as possible (1/8- to 1/4-inch-thick slices), to about 1/4-inch from the bottom without piercing the base. Place in a baking dish or on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment.

Whisk the oil, salt, garlic powder, cumin, paprika and pepper in a small bowl. Liberally brush the potatoes all over and in the crevices with the oil.

Transfer the potatoes to the oven and roast until they are tender and beginning to crisp, 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of the potatoes. Baste once or twice with the oil, if desired.

Remove from the oven and season with additional salt and pepper. Garnish with the fresh herbs. Serve warm.

Lynda Balslev is a cookbook author, food and travel writer, and recipe developer based in the San Francisco Bay area

Hasselback potatoes never fail to get a "wow" at the dinner table.
Photo by Lynda Balslev

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