My first introduction to fine dining (which I wouldn’t call fine dining anymore nowadays) was when my parents took us to Max’s Bistro when I was in high school. It was for no special occasion, but to try this restaurant that had just opened up, which was trying to introduce this town to “California cuisine.” It was one of the only “upscale” restaurants that I could recall at that time when I was younger. So we were all very excited. We even got all dressed up for this non-special, special occasion. We salivated as we looked over the menu. I saw sweet potato fries with a cilantro-jalapeno aioli and begged my parents to order it. They were a little reluctant partially because they aren’t too keen on appetizers, but also because the price tag on the dishes were a little high at that point in time for the city we live in. But hellooooo?! Fried sweet potatoes?!… Yes, please! Anything with the word fries was magic to my ears (and it still is!).
Mmmmm. Sweet potato french fries. I can still recall how amazing it was the first time I tried a sweet potato fry… crispy panko coating on the outside, and just the right about of tenderness on the inside. It was perfect. But then dip it into that aioli, and oooooooh weeeeeee! It was 100 times even more amazing. The aioli was tangy, cilantro-y, and had just the right amount of heat from the cilantro. Yum. Unfortunately, the only thing that impressed us that night was the sweet potato fries, and dessert.
Coming from a family history of the restaurant business, I grew up with the mantra of “the customer is always right.” Service. It’s a really important part of any business dealing with customer relations. In my humble opinion, if the service sucks, then the food sucks. I know the logic may seem oversimplified to some, but it can really ruin the mood of a great meal. If the entree costs more than $25, I expect to be wined and dined by the wait staff. And of course, the service that night was snooty and unattenative, which completely turned my parents off. My dad actually vowed never to go back to the restaurant because of the poor service, and he still hasn’t to this day.
I have found myself at the restaurant a few times here and there over the years for business and pleasure, and find the food a bit of a hit or miss. But it’s those sweet potato fries and the aioli that I crave. So I did what any other foodie would do, and that was to recreate one of my favorite appetizers. But in a more healthy matter. I still haven’t been able to bring myself to fry anything in the house. I’m afraid of the smell of fried oil lingering around the house for days. So I’d rather not. But trust me, I really want to fry foods like fries and chicken. I’ve tried the oven-”fried” sweet potato fries, but we weren’t a big fan of them.
My solution… roasted sweet potato cubes.
Roasted Sweet Potato Cube Skewers with a Cilantro-Jalapeno Aioli Dip
3 medium-sized sweet potatoes, peeled
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Dice the potatoes into 1 inch cubes. Place the cubes in a medium sized bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and season with paprika, salt and pepper. Toss with hands to coat evenly. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until tender, but slightly crispy in the outside. Stir the sweet potatoes once or twice during roasting. Remove from oven, and allow to cool just enough to be easily handled. Skewer the cubes, and enjoy with your favorite dip!
1/2 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise (we really like the Trader’s Joe brand)
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2 jalapeno chiles, seeded (if you like it less spicy) and chopped
Juice of one lime, plus more to taste
Salt, to taste
In a food processor, combine the mayonnaise, cilantro, and jalapeno; pulse until smooth. Remove the mayonnaise and pour into a bowl. Add half of lime juice and salt, to taste. If you like it more citrusy, add more lime juice, which is how we like it. Cover and refrigerate for one hour before serving to allow all the flavors to develop. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 to 4 days.
This is the perfect prescription for sweet potato fries, or with fish or shrimp tacos.
Makes about 1 cup of aioli.