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My Sort-of Version of Gjelina’s “Yams”

By Jason Wilson

For me, pantry cooking includes “vegetables that can sit around for weeks without rotting.” So I always have plenty of carrots, butternut squash, and sweet potatoes. Now that I think of it, I guess I always have something orange around. I have no idea why. I know that one of my regulars is a simple salad of shredded carrots tossed in a dressing peanut oil, fresh lemon juice, Dijon mustard, salt and lots of pepper. I will often have frozen butternut squash in the freezer that I use in risotto. And in the winter, I have so many oranges sent from family in Florida and California that I will make a 1990s Martha Stewart salad of sliced oranges, chopped olives and mint, and dusted with paprika. But why all the orange? It’s not like orange is even my favorite color. Perhaps there are some things we shouldn’t delve to deeply into.

In any case, my very favorite orange-hued dish comes from the gorgeous 2015 Gjelina cookbook. In the early 2010s, Gjelina’s Venice beach vibe—simplicity at a sun-drenched-yet-moody communal table—was where so many of us wanted to live, and possibly still do if only we could afford it. What became my go-to dish was the Gjelina recipe for yams, roasted to a near-burnt sweetness, and topped with spicy pepper, crisp scallions, and a lime-yogurt sauce.

I have made this recipe so many times that I don’t really follow the recipe anymore. The Gjelina version calls for yams. I never understand the difference between yams and sweet potatoes and so I what use is sweet potatoes. The Gjelina recipe calls for the sweet potatoes to be tossed in honey. I usually have Very Dark, Strong Taste maple syrup (what used to be called "Grade C") in my fridge and have found that gives the dish a slightly smoky element that I like. Gjelina calls for Espelette pepper—which I’ve been meaning to buy since 2015 and never have. So I used standard red pepper flakes, which work just fine. I also end up using a little more oil and maple syrup and a little less lime in the yogurt.

What I do follow religiously is having a very heated oven and being patient to let the sweet potatoes (or yams) caramelize deeply. Tossed with the yogurt sauce and chopped scallions, it’s a beautiful mix of spicy, sweet, creamy, acidic and can be both either a side dish or even a main dish. And the leftovers can even be used in a taco the following day.

Makes 3 to 4 servings
Time: Slightly less than an hour

4 or 5 sweet potatoes, cut lengthwise into wedges
4 T olive oil
3 T dark maple syrup (preferably Very Dark, Strong Taste)
1 T crushed red pepper flakes (or maybe a little more)
Salt and pepper
1/2 c Greek-style yogurt
Juice of 2 limes
3 or 4 scallions, thinly sliced (both green and white parts)

Heat oven to 425. In a bowl, toss sweet potatoes with 3 T oil, the syrup, pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes, tossing a couple more times. Transfer the sweet potatoes to a baking sheet and roast for at least 35 minutes. The edges should be really caramelized and thickest parts should be soft when pierced with a fork.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, remaining 1 T oil, lime juice and salt, and set aside.

Once the sweet potatoes are finished cooking, transfer them to a serving dish, add more pepper flakes and salt to taste, then drizzle with the yogurt sauce, and top with sliced scallions.


Jason Wilson is the author of Godforsaken Grapes, The Cider Revival, and Boozehound. He’s the series editor of The Best American Travel Writing, and the new wine publication, Planet of the Grapes.