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Japanese sweet potatoes are the best sweet potatoes

WASHINGTON (THE WASHINGTON POST) – As someone whose previous ode to sweet potatoes was headlined “My Orange Crush,” I have a confession to make. Don’t worry; my devotion to sweet potatoes hasn’t ebbed. But for years now, I’ve been prone to skipping over the orange varieties in favor of the starchier, nuttier, pale-fleshed, purple-skinned beauties from Japan.

Which do I love more, their flavor or their texture? Hard to say. They taste like buttery chestnuts, and when you bake them their interiors get so fluffy, thanks to less moisture, they taste like a cross between a white Russet and an orange Beauregard – and somehow more appealing than either.

I’ve taken to baking them regularly for my husband and me – with an extra one or two for the teenager to snag on one of his late-night fridge raids. They can handle any of the toppings I’d typically put out for a baked-potato bar, including ground chicken (for them), black beans (for me), plus the dairy trifecta of butter, cheese and sour cream, and maybe some salsa and pumpkin seeds. But recently I followed my cravings – and the contents of my refrigerator and pantry – in a different, even tastier direction.

Japanese sweet potatoes. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

While the sweet potatoes cooked in the air fryer, I crumbled tofu and got it nice and crisp in a hot pan, seasoning it very simply. Then I mashed spicy-sweet gochujang and sesame oil into vegan butter, sliced a couple scallions, and had just enough time to clean up before the potatoes were steaming hot inside, ready to slash open, top and devour.

If you’re anything like me, this combination will be a keeper. And while I designed the toppings especially to go with Japanese sweet potatoes, I’ve since tried it with my old orange friends, too, and remembered: Tastes change, but some crushes are forever.

Japanese Sweet Potatoes With Tofu and Gochujang Butter. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

Japanese Sweet Potatoes With Tofu and Gochujang Butter

4 servings

Crispy bits of tofu and a spicy-sweet gochujang butter turn nutty Japanese sweet potatoes into a fun, satisfying meal. This makes more gochujang butter than you need for this recipe, but you can use it on other roasted vegetables or as a sandwich condiment or spread for savory toast.

Make ahead: The gochujang butter can be made up to 3 days in advance.

Storage: Refrigerate the sweet potatoes, tofu and gochujang butter separately for up to 4 days.

Where to buy: Gochujang can be found at well-stocked supermarkets, Asian markets and online.

Active time: 45 mins; Total time: 1 hour

From Food and dining editor Joe Yonan.

Ingredients 

4 large Japanese sweet potatoes (about 12 ounces each)

3 tablespoons peanut oil or other neutral vegetable oil, divided, plus more as needed

1 (14- to 16-ounce) package extra-firm tofu

1/2 teaspoon fine salt, plus more to taste

1/4 teaspoon black pepper, plus more to taste

1/2 cup (115 grammes) unsalted vegan butter, such as Miyoko’s brand

1/4 cup to 1/2 cup gochujang (see NOTE)

2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil, plus more for serving

1 to 2 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced

Steps

Scrub the sweet potatoes and pierce each four to five times with a paring knife. Microwave on HIGH for 3 minutes. Remove and use your hands to rub all over with 1 tablespoon of the oil.

Transfer to an air fryer and cook at 400 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, or until fork-tender. (Alternatively, you can roast them in the oven at 425 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, or until fork-tender.)

Meanwhile, pat the tofu dry and use your hands to crumble it into small pieces. (The smaller the pieces, the crispier the tofu will get.)

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of the oil until it shimmers. Add the tofu and spread it evenly in the pan. Cook, undisturbed, until browned on the bottom, about 2 minutes. Scrape up and toss with a spatula, spread out evenly again, and repeat, pan-frying for 1 to 2 minutes at a time and then scraping and tossing. (Scrape up any bits that are sticking to the pan.) If the pan seems dry, add a little more peanut oil, as needed. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the tofu is deeply browned and crispy all over, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the salt and the black pepper. Taste, and season with more salt and/or pepper as needed. Remove from the heat.

In a small bowl, use a fork to mash together the butter, gochujang and toasted sesame oil until fairly smooth.

When the sweet potatoes are ready, divide them among serving plates and let cool for a few minutes. Slash them open. Divide the gochujang butter among them, top with the crispy tofu and scallions, drizzle with a little sesame oil and serve warm.

Substitutions: Can’t find Japanese sweet potatoes?Use orange-fleshed sweet potatoes. Not vegan? Use dairy butter.

Notes: Use more or less gochujang in the butter to taste, depending on your appetite for heat. Keep in mind that the taste of the butter will be diluted by the sweet potato, so you can err on the spicier side if you’d like.

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