Having grown up in Asheville, I can tell you that nine times out of ten, once we pass Labor Day Mother Nature turns the thermostat down several notches and starts sending out major fall vibes right away. Because I'm a mountain girl at heart I get on the autumn train as early as possible, and y'all know I haven't wasted any time stocking up on fall fashion. (The cardigan craze in full swing...like...I may need an intervention.)
Even though it sounds sacrilegious coming out of my mouth, the stylish "look" of fall isn't even the most exciting part. It's the smells and the tastes. The scent and sounds of a crackling fire on a chilly evening. The comforting warmth of a porcelain mug filled with cider and cinnamon sticks. The promise of pumpkins, pecans, and sweet potatoes.
Anybody got the cozy feels yet?
This month in North Carolina is the "Fiesta de Camotes," a celebration of locally-grown sweet potatoes incorporated into Hispanic cuisine. Twenty-two restaurants across the state are highlighting the use of a fall favorite -- the sweet potato -- in traditional Hispanic fare like enchiladas, tostadas, tamales, and so forth.
Here in Asheville, five locally-owned Hispanic restaurants have created original dishes featuring the sweet potato, including Neo Burrito and Mountain Madre. Considering 1) Mike could eat Hispanic fare seven days a week, 2) Harlow loves to go anywhere she can dip a chip, and 3) I never need to be asked twice to go out for guacamole and margaritas, we went to both restaurants to try their sweet potato specials, starting with Neo Burrito's limited-edition Pacific Burrito featuring sweet potatoes, slow-roasted pork, and pineapple.
The verdict? We licked our plates! Pork and pineapple always pair so well together, and the flash-fried sweet potato sticks added flavors both slightly sweet and salty. I've been ordering the same old-same old burrito for years and felt grateful for the chance to be enticed out of my rut to try something new! Plus Harlow gave it a try and she loved it, too! I guess I should've seen it coming: the girl is a first-class carnivore and loves her some sweet potatoes. We shared my burrito with some guacamole on the side and it was just the right amount for us to share on our Saturday family lunch date.
Last Thursday we went downtown to Mountain Madre to see what magic they'd made from local sweet potatoes. We sat outside in the courtyard, beautifully appointed with colorful plants and canopies, and jump-started our meal with a salsa trio and a cocktail. Our server told us they were featuring a special sweet potato margarita and needless to say I had to have it. It. Was. Delicious!
My favorite thing about it was how the sweet potato puree and house-made cinnamon bark syrup cut the sharp acidity of the fresh-squeezed lime juice. I love margaritas made with fresh juices but sometimes they give me heart burn. This drink didn't do that AT ALL! What's more, the sweet potato puree and cinnamon gave it a nice fall flavor that I really enjoyed during our evening al fresco dinner.
Chef Kyle even told me what they put in the cocktail as a special treat for me and my readers -- thank you for sharing!
SWEET POTATO MARGARITA
Sweet potatoes, baked then pureed
Cinnamon bark simple syrup
Black Strap rum
Fresh pineapple and lime juices
Cinnamon sugar and sea salt rim
For our entree, Mike and I each ordered the special Fried Sweet Potato and Grilled Flank Steak Tostada with Roasted Garlic Aioli. Y'all. From the first bite I was hooked! I love a good savory dish and this hit the spot. The flank steak was perfectly cooked and the sweet potatoes were salty-sweet...but you wanna know what really set it over the top? The Manchego cheese crumbles! I've never eaten Manchego on anything but a cheese plate until now and y'all wouldn't believe how excited I got when Chef Kyle told me what the crumbles were made from.
It's such a thrill discovering new ways to use foods and flavors you've never thought of before. Both the sweet potato margarita and tostada incorporated ingredients that made each dish feel fresh, fun and fall-ish! The food and the service at Mountain Madre was top notch, and they were very sweet to Harlow. It's not always easy knowing which posh downtown restaurants will be family-friendly, but they were incredibly accommodating and thoughtful. I highly recommend it to locals and visitors both!
Thank you to both Neo Burrito and Mountain Madre for two amazing meals my family and I could share together! And thank you for taking part in the celebration of the Fiesta de Camotes to give our lovely town a fresh take on a fall food staple like the sweet potato.
“Fiesta de Camotes” and this post are a promotion of the NC SweetPotato Commission and was funded through the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. For recipe ideas featuring sweet potatoes in hispanic cuisine, check out this wonderful recipe index!