As I mentioned in my last column, my husband George and I challenged ourselves to a Whole30 this month: 30 days of no sugar, booze, legumes, or dairy. We’ve spent the last 20-odd days chowing down on sauteed greens, limiting ourselves to minimal fruit, preparing meat and fish in every possible manner, and trying to ignore our ice cream cravings.
It was difficult at the beginning, and though our cravings are loosening their grip, they’re still there.
Since such a strict diet makes it more difficult to go out and be social (no booze! no butter!), we have been staying home and making our way through all of the shows and movies that we missed in 2019 as a result of having a newborn. (A newborn, who then became a crawling baby, who is now moments from taking his first steps, and is about to turn 1! Where does the time go?)
All of this movie-watching has led to a lot of hunger-induced conversations about “movie food:” popcorn, candy, cheap nachos with bright orange cheese … all of the classics from a youth spent going to the local theater with friends on the weekends. And you know what talking about those foods leads to? Craving them.
We had nachos on our minds for a few days before I decided I had to do something about it, and I knew that something had to involve the 10-pound bag of organic sweet potatoes that George picked up at Costco and was taking up all of the counter space in our kitchen.
Attempting to make chips from sweet potatoes was going to take way too long (each individual chip would have to be laid out on a wire rack to really achieve the crispiness I’m after), so I decided on a fry situation.
Loaded sweet potato nacho fries, to be exact.
Crispy, oven-baked sweet potato fries are topped with spicy beef taco meat, which is cooked on the stovetop at the same time that the fries are baking. Then they’re finished off with all of your favorite toppings—salsa, avocado, cheese, sour cream, pickled red onions, you name it— piled on top as high as you can go.
Split It Up
First, I tackle the sweet potato chopping. (Cutting up any tough vegetable, like a sweet potato or winter squash, really freaks George out, despite all my coaching.)
The trick is to first wedge your knife into the sweet potato, and then, with one hand on the knife handle and one hand on the top (non-sharp) side of the blade, carefully coax it downwards. To make “fries,” I cut the sweet potato in half lengthwise, then cut each half lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Then, I cut each of those slabs in half lengthwise again to create long, skinny fries. (Really, though, any shape will do.)
I tossed my sweet potato in a simple mix of oil, salt, and garlic powder, but you could also add paprika, chili powder, turmeric, cumin—whatever your little nacho-loving heart desires. While the fries go in the oven to roast, someone can get started on the spicy taco meat, which is far and away the best part of this recipe—even for this hardcore sweet potato-lover.
I usually hate it when a recipe allegedly scaled for two eaters ends up with a massive amount of leftovers, but I’m giving you plenty of extra taco meat on purpose here. It is just so dang good, and so incredibly versatile.
Use it to make a beef quesadilla, some simple beef tacos, or a taco salad with all of the ingredients listed below as toppings from this recipe, plus beans and cheese, perhaps. It would also be delicious served on a bun, like a spicy Mexican sloppy Joe—or even, I don’t know, eaten with a spoon straight out of the Tupperware, standing in front of the refrigerator. Just ask George.
By now, your sweet potato fries will be ready. If the fries haven’t crisped up to your liking, don’t fret! There’s an easy solution: just throw them under the broiler for a minute or two.
(By the way, this trick works in a lot of other cases when you’re unhappy with how a dish is looking. Chicken skin looking soggy? Throw it under the broiler! Carrots looking limp? You know what to do! Just do me a favor and watch them the entire time—I have burnt far too many a dish at the very last minute by seeking a browner, crispier crust and getting distracted while it’s under the broiler.)
The final step is a simple one: throw those fries on a serving platter, scatter the taco meat on top, and decorate plentifully with your preferred toppings (I usually like lots of sour cream, but abstained given my current dairy-free situation). Then, grab a fork—these fries are not for eating with your hands—and dig into your cravings.
Loaded Sweet Potato Nacho Fries
Serves 2, with leftover taco meat
For the fries:
- 1 pound sweet potatoes, scrubbed clean, cut into 1/4-inch-thick fries
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
For the taco meat:
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 packet taco seasoning (most are about 1–1.25 ounces)
- 1/2 cup tomato-based salsa of choice
- 1 avocado, cubed
- 2 tablespoons minced cilantro
- Tomato-based salsa, of course
- 1/4 cup sour cream or yogurt
- Hot sauce, optional
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Toss sweet potatoes, oil, garlic powder, and salt together on a large rimmed baking sheet. Spread evenly so that they are not touching. Bake for 30 minutes, flipping halfway through. If at the end of the 30 minutes they are not browned to your liking, place them directly under the broiler, turn your oven to broil, and broil for 1–2 minutes. Watch them the entire time; they burn quickly!
Meanwhile, cook your taco meat. Add the beef, salt, and taco seasoning to a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until beef is browned. Drain off the grease. Stir in salsa, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until thickened, about 5 minutes.
Transfer sweet potato fries to a serving platter and top with half (or more or less, depending on what you prefer) of the beef, avocado, cilantro, salsa, sour cream, and hot sauce if desired.
There’s a plethora of sweet potato varieties out there, and they’ll all work here. I challenge you to use my favorite: purple Japanese sweet potatoes! White potatoes will also work.
The same goes for the meat—use whatever you like! Ground turkey would lighten things up a bit, as would pork or chicken.
Want to really shortcut this recipe? Instead of making sweet potato fries, buy sweet potato chips at the grocery store, top them with the taco meat, and other toppings, and dig in.
If you’re going to add cheese to your nacho fries, I recommend building your nachos on a rimmed baking sheet, topping them with the taco meat and cheese, then broiling for a couple of minutes to melt the cheese before adding the rest of the toppings.
Caroline Chambers is a recipe developer, food writer, and author of “Just Married: A Cookbook for Newlyweds.” She currently lives in Carmel, Calif., with her husband, George, and baby boy, Mattis. Follow her on Instagram for cooking tips and snippets from her life in Northern California @carochambers