This dish is, above all, spicy. It’s also sweet and savory, but more than that spicy. It’s soft and crispy, but lets not forget, spicy. These spicy, Chinese-style stir-fried sweet potatoes use several different heat sources to get their fiery taste and coat the crispy, but their lovely soft and sweet insides provide a wonderful contrast, and ever so temporary relief from the burning chili exteriors.
The spice in this dish comes from four different sources- least spicy, the jalapeño, fresh, fiery red Vietnamese chili peppers, dried, crunchy Thai chili peppers, and dark, smoky, Korean chili powder. Most of these were chosen simply because that’s what I had around, and you should definitely feel free to do the same. Instead of jalapeños you could use poblanos, serrano’s, or bell peppers (anything that you can eat a few strips of). Instead of the Korean chili, you could use any chili powder you have lying around, or smoked paprika- really anything you like the flavor of.
This dish is a modification of a traditional Sichuan-style potato dish I had recently at a Chinese food place in the area. The food they serve is healthier, lighter and more authentic Chinese dishes than other places in the area, with many more dishes that focus on vegetables. I’ve been getting a lot of inspiration of how to make delicious, veggie-ful Chinese food from them (or maybe I’ve just been using it as an excuse to order take-out), and from those many delicious containers of vegetables, the inspiration for this dish was born. The major changes I made were to switch the potato out for a sweet potato, because I thought the flavor of the sweet potato would be more enhanced by the spicy coating, and I used whatever capsicum sources I had available.
While in the USA, we often look down on the potato as a mere starch, meant to be fried or mashed and certainly not eaten in excess, this dish treats the potato for what it is- a vegetable. Sure, it’s a carb-heavy, starchy vegetable, but it’s still just a root. And it can be eaten over rice, as this dish often is. And that’s fine- a few carbs never hurt anyone. And if you really want to minimize the carbs, but skip the rice- it’s the potatoes that are important in these spicy, Chinese-style stir-fried sweet potatoes. But really, try not to take carbs so seriously- they, like proteins and fats, are just part of food and eating them won’t hurt you.
One thing you’ll notice about potatoes (sweet and not) is that they oxidize very quickly. Slice the tuber open and leave it in the open air for a few moments and you’ll see it turn a startling color of black- not ideal. Once you’ve sliced the potatoes (use a mandolin if you have one) place them immediately into a bowl of cold water to delay oxidation. And make sure not to slice them too far in advance, as the less time they have to oxidize the better. The rest of the recipe is simple- cut your peppers and garlic and stir-fry them in a little oil. Add the potatoes and a simple sauce and cook until done. Make sure you stir the mixture fairly frequently, so that every little potato strip gets his moment on the hot bottom of the pan, and so that the chilies and garlic don’t end up burning on the bottom. The best way to tell if they’re finished is to find a potato and taste it- if you like it, you’re done! If it’s still too hard and crunchy, give it a little more time. The entire cooking process took me about 10 minutes. Once you’re sure they’re cooked to your taste, turn off the heat and mix in the scallions before serving.
Spicy Chinese-Style Stir-Fried Sweet Potatoes
- 1 large sweet potato
- Around 1 tbsp. oil for cooking
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 5 fresh Vietnamese chili peppers (alternative: your favorite spicy fresh pepper)
- 5 dried Thai chili peppers
- 3 jalapeños (alternative: poblano, serrano, bell pepper)
- 1 tsp. Korean chili powder (alternative: chili powder, smoked paprika)
- 2 tbsp. soy sauce
- 1 tsp. sesame oil
- 1 tsp. red wine vinegar (alternative: any other vinegar)
- 2-3 scallions
1. Wash the sweet potato, then use a mandolin to cut the potato into thin strips (or julienne it, if you have the knife skills), placing the cut potato strips immediately into cold water to stop it from oxidizing. Mince the garlic and Vietnamese chilis, and use kitchen scissors to chop the dried chilis. Cut the jalapeños in half, remove the seeds and cut into long strips. Lastly cut the scallions finely and set aside.
2. Heat some oil on high in a large skillet. Add the garlic, Vietnamese chilis and dried chilis, stirring, until you can smell the garlic. Drain the potatoes, and add them along with the jalapeños and chili peppers, stirring so all the potatoes get coated with the oil. Reduce the heat to medium. In a small boil whisk together the soy sauce, sesame oil and vinegar and pour them over the cooking potatoes. Toss the potatoes again, so the all get covered with some of the sauce.
3. Cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring every 2-3 minutes so that all of the potatoes spend time on the bottom of the pan. Taste to tell if they are done. When they’re done, turn off the heat and stir in the scallions. Serve warm, over rice if desired.