Here’s How I Kept Things Interesting When Food Restrictions Limited My Diet
Eating the same thing over and over again (looking at you, sweet potatoes) doesn't have to be boring. Here's how I switched up my meals—and stayed sane.
One recent afternoon it occurred to me that if I so much as spied one more roasted sweet potato chunk, my soul was going to wither into dust and blow away. I've eaten sweet potatoes at least twice a day for over a year now because of a gut condition that makes my stomach play poorly with most carbs.
Sweet potatoes are a life raft for me because a meal without some manner of starch tends to leave me feeling insufficiently fed—and fairly cranky—not long after. I also happen to enjoy them in all their permutations: bog-standard orange, Stokes Purple, white-fleshed Murasaki, and Garnet, Jewel, and Beauregard yams—all reliably great-tasting, versatile, and healthily filling. (Lest the sweet 'tater police come after me, yes, I know that sweet potatoes and yams aren't the same thing, but that's what those varietals are called.)
But eat anything you dig, day in and day out, and your enthusiasm can understandably be expected to wane. It's up to you to keep the flame a-flicker, and I completely failed. Well, my husband and I both share some blame, but let's leave him out of this. After an initial flurry of enthusiasm around the various settings on my spiralizer, heights on the mandoline, and fussy Hasselbacking, we fell into a rut of simply chopping sweet potatoes into rough cubes, popping them into the oven at 375°F for however long it took, and that was that.
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Yes, of course we seasoned them; we're not monsters, and sweet potatoes are a tabula rasa for spices. Dukkah one day, vadouvan then next. Sumac sometimes, madras curry at others. We even switched up the fat and used olive oil, sesame oil, and bacon grease in rotation. These sweet potato chunks were the side at almost every dinner, and made an encore appearance at breakfast the next day.
The flavors were never the issue, but suddenly after 11 or so months of the sweet potato singularity that my life had collapsed into, something changed. I just couldn't face another chunk, and neither could my husband. We took the night off from our kitchen, regrouped at a restaurant, and came back the next day with renewed purpose. It wasn't that we needed a mountain of new recipes or hills of flavor thrills; we needed to recommit to getting in shape.
The shape of the sweet potatoes, that is. I'm a texture fiend, and it almost surpasses flavor in importance for me. By cubing and roasting each and every time, I was condemning my mouth to the same sensory experience day after day. With just a little bit of creativity and patience, I could transform the experience significantly.
The way that plays out is that some nights I'll not just take the extra minute or two to Hasselback—I'll turn the sweet potato 90° and go back for another pass so they're crosshatched, and each of the resulting segments stands up proud and crunchy. I'll chop the chunks not into cubes, but with wild angles that I can toss around on a sheet pan to crisp in a festive fashion. Some nights I'll suck it up and brave the extra-scary plate on the mandoline to yield ridged discs, or even waffles if I can motivate my lazy bones to rotate the sweet potato a quarter turn on each pass.
The extra effort required is so minimal, and yet the payoff to my personal emotional wellness is incalculable. The food that sustains me is a reward, rather than a chore. Pretty sweet if you ask me.