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Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Fried Sage

Many recipes play up the sweet taste of this root vegetable by adding sugar, but this recipe highlights the sweet potato’s savory side with sage. While dried sage could easily overpower this dish, fried fresh sage is entirely another story—it imparts a beguiling, savory grace note.

In Italy, fresh sage is often fried in butter or olive oil, which not only mellows its flavor but alters its texture, and then it’s crumbled over meat, fish and pasta dishes. This culinary technique transforms sage’s harsh, turpentine-like taste into a subtle, slightly sweet savory flavor that seduces your palate instead of hitting it with a sledgehammer. It’s the perfect foil to the caramel undertones of the roasted sweet potatoes. Frying also changes this herb’s woody texture into a soft, fuzzy crunch that amuses the tongue-- a nice contrast to the smooth yam purée.

But sage brings more to the table than taste. The Greeks and Romans used it as a preservative for meats, and sage’s ability to reduce spoilage via numerous terpene antioxidants is now being confirmed by researchers. Another study found sage reduced the concentration of microbes responsible for gingivitis in the mouth making it beneficial for people who suffer from periodontal disease.

Scientists also discovered sage contains other health-promoting compounds – volatile oils, flavonoids (apigenin, diosmetin and luteolin), tannins and phenolic acids. One phenolic acid, rosmarinic acid, reduces inflammation by altering concentrations of inflammatory messaging molecules. This herb’s leaves and stems also hold two very potent antioxidant enzymes. Together, these compounds prevent oxygen-based damage to cells and appear to be helpful to people who suffer from arthritis, asthma and atherosclerosis.

Other researchers investigated sage’s ability to enhance memory and short-term recall. One study found that Chinese sage contains active compounds similar to those developed into pharmaceutical drugs used to treat Alzheimer’s! In the study, four compounds were isolated that acted as acetycholinesterase (AChE) inhibitors—an important finding since the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s is accompanied by an increase in AChE activity in the brain.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Fried Sage
Serves: 4-5 as a side dish
Image of Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Fried Sage
1 package fresh sage leaves (about .66 ounces or 18 grams)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 large sweet potatoes
1 ½ Tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ½ tsp. kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2-3 Tbsp. sage oil (see recipe below)

Fried Sage & Sage Oil
Heat oil in an 8-inch nonstick skillet on medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add sage leaves to hot oil in batches (leaves should not touch) and cook for 5 seconds, then turn over sage sprig and fry for another 5 seconds until crisp. The grayish green leaves will take on a deep, blue-green color; if the leaves turn tan/brown they are overdone and should be discarded. Remove sage leaves with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Repeat this process until the entire bunch is done, then lightly dust with salt. Drain remaining sage-flavored oil from pan and set aside.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Preheat oven to 425ºF. Line a large, shallow roasting pan with foil and pierce each sweet potato with a fork several times. Place sweet potatoes in roasting pan and cook until soft, about 1 hour. Remove from oven and let cool for about 15 minutes. Scoop out flesh from sweet potatoes with a spoon into a large bowl. Add butter and whip with beater or whisk until smooth and butter is incorporated. Add salt, pepper and drizzle 2 tablespoons sage oil over sweet potatoes and lightly beat again until incorporated. Mound sweet potatoes unto a serving platter and crumble fried sage between your fingers over sweet potato and serve immediately.

Notes from the Author:
Use any leftover sage oil to pick up the taste of bland egg white omelets, or use it as a delicious, healthy fat alternative when making popcorn.
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