In all the news that’s fit to eat, this springtime has brought us sun, rain and food trucks. More specifically, the new Boston food truck schedule includes a rotating list of five trucks parked directly across from my office building. Although my co-workers would be the first to tell you that I’m a lunch packer, in the name of research, I have found myself grabbing my hat and scarf and venturing across Commonwealth Avenue to inspect the goods.
There are a few vegetarian options out there, including one of the pioneer food trucks here in Boston, Clover Food Lab. Clover, which now has brick-and-mortar restaurants in Harvard and Inman Squares, offers up some pretty decent $5 pita sandwiches, including a BBQ seitan, a soy BLT, a chickpea fritter (read: falafel), an egg and eggplant, and a rotating seasonal sandwich. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve had there, but I usually walk away saying to myself, “I could have totally made that,” and then go home and make it, or a variation on it.
The latest seasonal sandwich I’ve enjoyed at Clover (back in April) was a steamed sweet potato that had been tossed with cinnamon, dabbed with cilantro sauce, and then topped with a spicy jicama slaw.
I actually recreated the sandwich more or less, sans pita, during Passover, and it’s the inspiration for the sweet potato and cilantro pesto salad below. (Although now I’m realizing that I’ve enjoyed the sweet potato and cilantro combination in the past.) During Pesach I used walnuts, but I ordinarily make it with pepitas, (Spanish for pumpkin seeds). The nice thing about pestos are that they’re very forgiving and can be endlessly tweaked. I know there are some cilantro-haters out there reading this, but I’ve read that one can actually train the palate to enjoy the ruffled herb.
This can be made without cheese to keep it vegan and, depending on if you like spice, with or without chile pepper, although I would strongly support keeping it. Add a can of black beans to make this heartier. A little tip for cleaning the cilantro: soak the leaves, head first, in bowl of cold water, for 15 minutes. The dirt and grit will fall to the bottom of the bowl. I tend to do two rounds of this hands-free cleansing. This can be done as soon you bring the herbs home from the market. Store them in the fridge standing upright in a glass container filled with water.
Sweet Potato and Cilantro Pesto Salad
1 lb. sweet potatoes (approximately 2 medium-sized potatoes)
1 bunch cilantro
1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped
2 Tablespoons pepitas
1 chile pepper, chopped
1/4 cup hard cheese, such as Parmesan, finely grated (completely optional)
1 squeeze of lime juice
1 pinch of salt
Choose a pot that’s large enough to hold the sweet potatoes without crowding them. Fill the pot about 3/4 of the way with water and add several large pinches of salt. Bring to a boil.
While the water is heating, peel the sweet potatoes. Slice them in half, lengthwise, then slice those halves lengthwise. Depending on the size of the potato, cut those into three or four 1-inch cubes.
Add the sweet potatoes to the boiling water. Cover the pot and cook the potatoes for about 12 minutes, until just tender, but resistant in the middle if poked with a fork. When tender, carefully pour the pot of hot water and sweet potatoes into a colander in the sink. Set the potatoes aside and let them cool off a little bit.
Into the bowl of a food processor, place the remainder of the ingredients, except the olive oil. While the machine is running, pour the olive oil down the chute. Process for about 35 seconds. I don’t measure the amount of oil I use – my guess is half a cup – but I look for the pesto to turn to a smooth paste that will toss and coat things nicely. Of course, if you like your pesto a little on the chunky side, run the machine for about 20 seconds.
Once the sweet potatoes have cooled down, gently toss them with the pesto in a large bowl.