When celebrating the SU men’s basketball season, consider these foods with a hometown tint
With the success this year of the Syracuse University men’s basketball team, everything in this town seems to be turning orange. So it makes sense that your food take on the bright color as well. The otherwise obnoxiously flashy hue isn’t normally found in fan-friendly cuisine: It goes against the nutrition guideline that the deeper the food’s tint, the healthier it is. When’s the last time a sweet potato or acorn squash graced your game-time plate? Oh, that’s right; never.
Still, there are some orange delights out there, ones that actually are sport-watching friendly. And where better to start than a fried treat with more health benefits than your average deep-fried delight: sweet potato fries. The sweet potato, native to Central America, was harvested as far back as 3000 B.C. They took root in the Mississippi Delta, where French explorers encountered them in the mid-18th century.
But don’t confuse the sweet potato with the yam. When Africans came to North America, the expression originated from their similar hometown favorite called “nyami.” Although not the same plant, the two crops are sometimes similar in color. However, the yam contains more sugar than a sweet potato.
While the United States is not one of the main commercial producers of the sweet potato—China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan, India and Uganda lead that list—it’s still a popular vegetable in America, surprising because it’s especially healthy. Sweet potatoes provide a sizable amount of your daily dose of vitamin A, also known as beta-carotene, the pigment that makes the potato and other vegetables, such as carrots, the color orange. They are also known for their anti-inflammatory nutrients and blood sugar benefits, if prepared properly.
That means boiling or steaming. Studies have found that steaming a sweet potato for two minutes helps preserve their antioxidants. It has also been suggested that boiling the sweet potato instead of roasting it can help lower your glycemic index. Alas, deep frying does its share of damage to the healthful benefits of the tuber, but we can make an exception if you’re munching during the basketball game.
Shaun Morrison, owner of the Burger Joint, 2700 James St., admits he doesn’t know much about the food’s nutritional benefits, but he does suggest customers dunk their sweet potato fries in their signature sweet potato sauce. A sweet and tangy combination, it’s a thick paste with an off-white color. “Once you try it, you get addicted,” he says. “Everybody goes crazy for the sauce.”
The Burger Joint offers the option of adding cheese or chili to your sweet potato fries, but Morrison suggests customers just stick with the sauce. Unfortunately, he’s not dropping any hints about that recipe. For a half-basket of sweet potato fries, it’s $2.95. If you want to go big, try a full basket for $4.95.
Todd Ross, the general manager of Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill, 4036 Route 31, Liverpool, agrees this treat shouldn’t stand alone. Ross says the restaurant’s spicy ketchup sauce and brown sugar sauce make their sweet potato fries extra special. “Everybody loves them,” says Ross. Try a side of these for $2.99.
If you want to do it yourself, Alexia and Ore-Ida frozen sweet potato products are available at area grocery stores. Following the baking directions on the back of the package will yield some fairly mushy fries. We suggest you bake for either additional minutes or increase the temperature in the oven to create a crispy treat.
Alexia Foods offers an impressive array of frozen sweet potato products: crinkle cut fries, spicy and non-spicy julienne fries, puffs and waffle cut varieties. The other frozen potato giant, Ore-Ida, sells sweet potato fries and steam-and-mash cut potatoes.
For a healthier alternative, Joel Capolongo, co-owner of Strong Hearts Café, 719 E. Genesee St., suggests the sweet potato curry soup. Ingredients include things like canola oil, fresh shredded ginger, coconut milk, vegetable stock, red onions, curry powder, salt and pepper, carrots and sweet potatoes.
“We make a different soup most days of the month,” says Capolongo of the vegan restaurant. He also mentioned another orange soup favorite: carrot bisque. Capolongo says Strong Hearts’ soups are low in fat and calories, have no cholesterol and are high in fiber. Soups cost $3 for a cup and $5 for a bowl.
If you’re looking for something completely different, try the orange and blue panini at Kelley’s Bar and Restaurant, 5076 Velasko Road. Chef Chris Slater came up with the idea while thinking about Syracuse sports. The sandwich features crispy Buffalo chicken, grilled ciabatta bread, cheddar cheese and blue cheese crumbles, mixed greens and sliced onions. “We sell a lot on game day,” Slater says. This item goes for approximately $10, and make sure you ask for it as it’s not a regular menu item.
If you’re not watching any basketball, keep in mind that February is National Sweet Potato Month. But that doesn’t mean you should limit your ingestion of these healthy tubers to one short month a year. With the following recipes from foodnetwork.com, you can enjoy sweet potato fries and a tasty dipping sauce any time of year.
Sweet Potato Fries
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled or unpeeled, cut into fries 4 inches long and inch thick
2 tablespoons olive oil, or more as needed
1 teaspoon paprika
teaspoon chili powder
teaspoon ground coriander
Coarse ground rock salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside. Place the sweet potatoes in a large bowl and toss with olive oil until they are coated. Add the paprika, chili powder, coriander, salt and pepper; toss to distribute evenly.
Arrange the coated fries in a single layer on the prepared pan. Bake for 20 minutes on the lower rack until the sweet potatoes soften. Transfer the pan to the upper rack of the oven and bake 10 minutes longer, until fries are crispy.
1 avocado, preferably Hass
cup cream cheese
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped.
2 scallions, white and light green part only, chopped
1 lime, juiced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place the avocado, mayonnaise, cream cheese, jalapeno, scallions and lime juice into a blender or small food processor. Blend for 1 minute or until you have a smooth paste. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.