Sweet Potato Nuggets

Leftovers have their own life cycle in my kitchen. Always presented with grand enthusiasm, usually received with mild disappointment, they shuffle from refrigerator to table and back again until the rules of food safety and family harmony deliver them to the dumpster. Baked sweet potatoes take zero effort, but they become particularly sad when left over. Desperate to make a more tempting second day dish, I sought inspiration from the food group that’s highest on my personal pyramid: hors d’oeuvres.

My fondness for finger foods began in childhood, when I thought chicken nuggets were as great as the toy that accompanied them. If I could make healthier, chicken-free nuggets using leftover veggies, I’d have a cycle-breaking option that cuts down on waste and is worthy of the fancy food name, croquettes.

Sweet potatoes are a little gummy when mashed, so I threw in breadcrumbs, corn and diced carrot for texture. A tablespoon of fresh jalapeno adds kick, but if that’s not your thing, feel free to substitute generous amounts of freshly ground black pepper or red pepper flakes. To keep the sweet potato from tasting exactly the same as the night before, I added ras al-hanout, a North African spice blend with warm cinnamon, black pepper and cloves. You can also try garam masala or your favorite curry powder instead.

Next, I needed to ensure my croquettes would hold their shape when dipped in a crusty coating and cooked. Beaten raw egg makes excellent glue, unless you happen to be vegan or someone put the empty egg carton back in the fridge. I tried ground flax seeds and egg replacer, both of which failed to hold the ingredients together. Instead, the best non-egg binder turned out to be an overnight stay in the refrigerator.

Test batches that were deep-fried yielded a delightful combination of crispy outside and tender inside, but it isn’t particularly healthy and left my hair smelling like cooking oil. Baking the patties reduced their calorie count, but made them very dry. My Goldilocks solution was to pan-fry the croquettes, which meant using slightly more oil than sauteeing, but less than an all-out deep-fry. The result: fun, flavorful sweet potato bites that will leave nothing left over for the next day.

Sweet Potato Croquettes

2 dozen

1 Tbsp. canola oil, plus more for cooking
¼ cup finely diced carrots
½ cup finely diced white onion
1 Tbsp. finely diced fresh jalapeno, seeds and pith removed
1 tsp. coriander
1 tsp. minced garlic
1½ tsp. kosher salt, divided
¼ tsp. ras al-hanout spice blend, plus more to taste
¼ tsp. turmeric
2 packed cups baked sweet potato, skins removed (about 1½ lbs. potatoes)
½ cup cooked white corn kernels
¼ cup plain breadcrumbs
½ cup flour
½ cup whole milk or soy milk
½ cup cornmeal
½ cup panko breadcrumbs
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 cup creme fraiche or vegan sour cream
2 Tbsp. fresh dill, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

• In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, warm 1 tablespoon canola oil and saute the carrots 2 minutes. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the jalapeno and saute 1 minute. Reduce the heat to low and add the coriander, garlic, ½ teaspoon salt, ras al-hanout and turmeric. Saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool to room temperature.
• Add the sweet potato, corn and plain breadcrumbs to the bowl and mix until well-combined. Taste and adjust seasonings, cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.
• Line up 3 small bowls; add the flour to the first, the milk to the second, and combine the cornmeal, panko, black pepper and remaining 1 teaspoon salt in the third. Form a 1-inch ball of cold sweet potato mixture, then lightly flatten to create a patty. Dredge the patty in the flour, dip it in the milk, then coat it with the cornmeal mixture and move it to a plate. Repeat with the remaining sweet potato mixture.
• In a skillet over medium-high heat, warm 2 tablespoons canola oil. Working in batches, arrange the patties in a single layer and cook 3 to 4 minutes, until browned on the bottom. Flip, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook another 2 to 3 minutes, until the other side is browned. Transfer the croquettes to a paper towel-lined plate. Wipe out the skillet with another paper towel, add another 2 tablespoons canola oil and repeat the process until all the croquettes are cooked.
• In a small bowl, combine the creme fraiche, dill and lemon juice. Serve on the side as a dip.