Sweet potato rösti with avocado and smoked salmon
March 6, 2012 § 19 Comments
My father, who is both a wonderful person and a wonderful eater, and one of the most truly consciously healthy people I know, has been having to make some dietary changes lately to try to figure out some minor allergies. That’s putting it mildly. By “some” changes, I mean he’s doing sort of the mother of all elimination diets. Even things like rice and potatoes, which are usually allowed in elimination diets are o-u-t, out.
If you’re exceptionally noble and self-possessed, I suppose you could see the good in such limitation. The strict form of the sonnet can give rise to even more beauty and creativity than free verse, and all that la dee da. But, overall, it has got to pretty much suck. Perhaps even with a capital S. That’s how I would feel about it, I know.
But, being a patient, creative, and good cook (that part’s my mother’s job, in general) is the best equipment you can have in this sort of situation. I learned from a talk by Tamar Adler that in ancient Greek the word mageiros was used for cook. Mageiros is also the root word for magic. In other words, a cook is someone who can do a little magic. Someone who can make something amazing out of very little, or even nothing. And, that is the task at hand in a challenging, limited diet.
I’ve been chatting with my mother a lot lately about ideas for ‘making something out of nothing.’ About substitutions for grain products, dairy products, eggs… Some things can indeed be effectively substituted. With others you simply have to change your expectations.
Thinking about it so much, trying to come up with new suggestions to give, has, unsurprisingly, affected the way I’m cooking right now as well, though in a much less extensive way. Some of the brainstorms I’ve come up with as I rattle off potential x-y-z-free dishes sound so good to me, I can’t help but scurry into the kitchen as soon as I can find a spare moment to try them out myself. Will it actually work? Will it taste as good as I imagine?
That was the origin of this sweet potato rösti. We were trying to come up with breakfasts, and I suggested sweet potato rösti. Eggs are off limits, but I’d also seen rösti with smoked salmon and sour cream. Oof, sour cream is a no-go as well. But, that gives the perfect excuse to work in a little avocado, something I absolutely adore paired with smoked salmon. On very special occasions we go to one of our local cafes for a breakfast bagel (Bagels are one of my personal special foods. And so much more affordable than caviar and foi gras!), and if I order the smoked salmon bagel, I always ask for avocado instead of cream cheese.
I get a weird look every time. But, it’s so delicious, the salty, fatty salmon a perfect counterpoint to smooth, nutty avocado. Sweet potato and salmon and avocado. I was drooling as I thought about it to myself. So, I dragged my sleepy, grumbly self out of bed an extra half hour early a few days ago in order to give it a try.
Now, rösti is a tricky beast of a potato pancake, as large as a whole frying pan and with nothing but itself to bind itself together. Instructions abound on how to make a rösti that doesn’t fall apart. Patient cooking, and skilled flipping with a plate jammed right into the pan, followed by a very careful slipping off of the plate (use a slippery plate! Do those exist?) back into the pan, seem to be the general modi operandi.
I am here to tell you that even if you follow all instructions to the letter, your rösti, fragile as a snowflake, may still fall into pieces. I am also here to tell you that this perfectly fine. Don’t feel bad! It will still taste good. And, you were going to eat it in pieces anyway! Just sort of patch it back together so you can bedeck it attractively with your toppings – which will serve the second purpose of concealing fault lines and missing portions of crispy crust. Or, cook your rösti as several smaller pancakes, as if you were making hashbrown cakes.
Either way, taste trumps looks here, and the taste is a decided winner. You will have a sweet, savory cake (or lovely orange shambles) with a crispy outer texture and buttery soft inner texture. The avocado, with a spoonful of grainy mustard smashed in, is rich and creamy, the salmon smokey and silky. You may find that you can’t stop yourself from adding a runny egg – which, like bacon, does make very nearly everything even better – but it doesn’t actually need it. Limitation can be a beautiful thing.
Sweet Potato Rösti with Avocado and Smoked Salmon (serves 4)
- 1-1 1/4 lbs. sweet potato, scrubbed (skin left on)
- 4 Tbs. melted butter, ghee, or coconut oil
- about 2 Tbs. grapeseed or peanut oil (or other oil with a high smoke point)
- 1 avocado
- 1/2 Tbs. whole grain mustard (optional)
- 4 pieces of cold-smoked salmon (or gravlax)
- salt and pepper
- a slice of lemon (optional)
- If you have a mandolin with a julienne setting, you’re in luck, this will make potatoes that are less likely to fall apart. If not, you can still do it! Use the large-holed side of a box grater. Very thinly julienne or coarsely grate your sweet potato. Transfer it to a clean kitchen towel (one that you can stain with some orange colore juice), bundle it up, and squeeze as much moisture out of the sweet potato as you can. (You can also squeeze the grated potato in a potato ricer.)
- Put the squeezed sweet potato into a bowl, stir in the melted butter (or ghee or coconut oil), and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.
- Heat a 10 inch nonstick pan (use nonstick! The first time I tried this I used a big enamel pan – total disaster!) over medium-low heat and add the oil. Press the grated sweet potato evenly into the pan.
- Cook for approximately 8-10 minutes on medium-low, then bump it up to medium-high for a couple more minutes to get a good crust (keep an eye on it though to prevent smoking and burning). When the rösti is ready to flip, use a plate that fits just snugly into the top of the pan or a flat, round pizza pan. Hold the plate/pizza pan snugly to the top of the frying pan (wear oven mitts), and holding it tightly, flip the whole kit and kaboodle – quickly! – so the potato cake falls onto the plate. Return the frying pan to the stove top, then gently slide the rösti, uncooked side down now, back into the pan (this is where I destroyed mine the second time, so I kind of just patched and pressed it back together again in the pan.)
- Cook the second side of the rösti until it is golden and crisp, 6-8 more minutes, or so. I used the same technique to get it onto the serving plate as I did for flipping. If yours seems sturdy you can use a big spatula, though.
- While the rösti is cooking, smash the avocado and mustard together – starting with 1 tsp. mustard and adding more to your taste – in a bowl, until well mixed and creamy.
- Cut the rösti into 4 pieces. Top each piece with a big smear of avocado and a piece of salmon. If desired, squeeze a lemon wedge over it before serving. Serve for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. And, add a fried egg, if it pleases you.