The exotic south.

DSC_0299Growing up in New England I didn’t eat a lot of sweet potatoes. While we may have eaten them baked once or twice, there was certainly no marshmallow-topped casserole adorning the Thanksgiving dinner table. As far as I can figure the only reason why is that they were southern, which seemed far away and exotic – somewhere south of New Jersey.

Today — having resided in Washington, DC for the past 12 years — I’ve learned a little bit about southern food. I can cook sweet potatoes 5 different ways from baked and mashed to deep fried. I now know there’s more than one kind of barbecue – and I’m not just talking Carolina versus Kansas City, I know those recipes are as varied as the number of backyards where meat is smoked.

Still, given my New England upbringing, you’ll excuse me if I went a bit far afield for an “exotic” sweet potato salad, missing the South entirely and ending up somewhere in Northern Africa for inspiration. Three colors of sweet potatoes, large pearls of couscous scented with cinnamon, lots of parsley and a cumin, honey and red wine vinaigrette taste strangely comforting and easy. Kind of close to home.

Sweet Potato and Couscous Salad

Serves 6-8

Purple, white and orange sweet potatoes make this salad burst with color but it will taste great with just the orange ones.


  • 1 tbs butter
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 4 medium sweet potatoes cut in a 1/4″ dice, 3-4 cups
  • 1 cup Israeli couscous
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 large red onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 tbs honey
  • 2/3 cups red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup vegetable or grape seed oil
  • 1 cup chopped parsley
  • Sumac*

*Sumac is a North African spice that adds earthy tartness. It rounds out the flavor of this salad nicely, balancing the richness of the couscous and the potatoes. An extra splash of vinegar in your dressing will do the trick if you’re out (or never had sumac to begin with).


  • Melt butter together with olive oil in a 12″ skillet over medium heat. Add sweet potatoes and cook until tender and easily pierced with a fork, 10-15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and reserve in a large bowl.
  • Meanwhile, combine the couscous and 1 1/3 cups of water in a small sauce pan with the cinnamon stick and a pinch of salt. Cover, place over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook 8-10 minutes until all liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and let rest for 10 minutes.
  • Add the couscous (remove and discard the cinnamon stick), onion and parsley to the bowl with the sweet potatoes.
  • Make the dressing: Mince the garlic and sprinkle with a couple of pinches of coarse salt. Mash it into a paste on your cutting board using the flat side of your knife. Place in a medium bowl along with cinnamon, cumin, honey and red wine vinegar. Season with black pepper.
  • Drizzle in oil in a thin stream, while whisking, to form a creamy emulsion.
  • Dress the salad to taste and toss with parsley. Season to taste with additional dressing, salt, pepper and sumac if you have it.

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