Article and photo by Lisa Crockett
Ah, love is in the air. It’s the time to grab the scissors and construction paper to make a homemade card for the one who’s stolen our heart, and it’s also the perfect time to think about how best to keep that heart healthy and strong. February is American Heart Month, an occasion observed by health advocacy groups like the Centers for Disease Control and the American Heart Association. Those groups spend the month of February advising people to get out and take a walk, visit the doctor and be responsible about taking prescribed medications.
I am in favor of all of those things, but where February really shines for me is (of course) in the kitchen. Winter’s chill is in full effect, and the warmth and comfort of something delicious is a great way for me to show my love. And though I love it when someone makes me just about anything to eat, I do tend to want “treats” for special occasions like Valentine’s Day. This craving for treats can be tough to satisfy, however, since Valentine’s Day also falls early in the year when I’m often trying to get “back on track” or “slim down for swimsuit season” or “make those New Year’s resolutions really mean something.”
Several years ago, I participated in a local gym’s fitness challenge, which meant Valentine’s Day would be a day like any other. No sugar, no simple carbs, no fun – or so I thought. I was flipping through recipe ideas one day while getting ready to head to the grocery store and stumbled across a recipe for sweet potato hash. While white potatoes are usually on the list of forbidden foods, their orange counterparts tend to make the cut for even fairly stringent eating plans based on their high nutrient density (lots of vitamins A and C, plenty of fiber) and low calorie count (virtually no fat, just over 100 calories per cup). The hash was simple to make, and it tasted rich and delicious. I simply grated a large sweet potato and sautéed it with a little breakfast sausage. It was a lovely blend of sweet and savory, which filled me up and left me satisfied for several hours.
After falling in love with that recipe, I discovered that sweet potatoes make a wonderful addition to just about anything you can think of: chopped and tossed in rice bowls, roasted alongside chicken or turkey, even quickly cooked in the microwave and added to a spinach salad. I now make a fairly regular habit of roasting five or six sweet potatoes in the oven and keeping them on hand so I have them at the ready for quick lunch or dinner additions.
A few weeks ago, I was brainstorming ideas for ways to dress these heart-healthy darlings up for their big holiday this month, and I remembered that sweet potato hash. It saved me from utter food boredom and helped me reach some fairly ambitious fitness goals. The recipe below is a slightly tweaked, dressed-up version of that dish. I used baked potatoes instead of raw, which gave me a somewhat softer texture and allowed me to make the potatoes “twice baked” in-the-shell style. I used turkey sausage for less fat, but then sprinkled on just a tiny bit of cheese for flavor and texture. I served these beauties on mixed greens. The potatoes are so flavorful that the greens didn’t even need dressing.
A holiday feast that’s healthy, tasty and beautiful enough for a celebration. It’s enough to do a cook’s heart good.
Sausage stuffed sweet potatoes
5-6 small-to-medium sized sweet potatoes, scrubbed and pierced with a fork
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 pound lean turkey sausage, mild or hot according to your preference
½ cup colby-jack cheese, shredded
Salad greens (optional)
Preheat oven to 375, then roast potatoes for about 30 minutes, or until they can be easily pierced with a fork. Allow potatoes to cool until they can be easily handled and then carefully cut them in half lengthwise. Scoop out the flesh with a large spoon, taking care to keep the skin intact. Reserve skins and place flesh in a large bowl. Brown the sausage and onion on the stove over medium heat, breaking the sausage up as you cook. When the sausage is fully cooked and the onions are soft, add the sweet potato flesh and continue to cook and stir a few minutes more until the onions, sweet potato and sausage are well mixed. Scoop the mixture back into reserved potato skins and sprinkle the cheese on top. Place potato skins under the broiler for just a moment or two until cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve over salad greens, if desired.