Ash-roasted sweet potatoes

Now, I know you’re thinking, “Why go through the trouble of roasting sweet potatoes in ash when I can cook them in the oven?” I get it—lighting up coals just to have them burn to ash so you can cook food is a lot of effort. But guess what? You can feed two birds with one scone (wink, wink) by grilling something over charcoal (like the Whole Charcoal-Roasted Kohlrabi and then cooking sweet potatoes in the residual ash. After her first bite of these luscious sweet potatoes, my wife described their flavor as “primal”—explaining that she imagined our long-ago ancestors enjoying a similar sweet-smoky essence back when they chiefly cooked over open fires. Making a recipe like this is an extreme form of home cooking, and it puts our convenience-obsessed food culture in perspective. You can wrap the sweet potatoes in aluminum foil and bake them at 425°F until they are soft, 45 minutes to 1 hour, if you prefer. But if you want the rich, complexly flavored sweet potatoes shown here, you have to earn them.

Ingredients:

spicy tamarind sauce

1 cup boiling water

2 heaping tablespoons tamarind pulp

¼ cup pitted Medjool dates

2 tablespoons coconut palm sugar

¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon minced fresh ginger

½ teaspoon fine sea salt

sweet potatoes

4 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed and pierced all over with a fork

1 cup pecan halves, toasted

Flaky sea salt, for finishing

Directions

Make the tamarind sauce: In a small bowl, combine the boiling water and tamarind pulp. Set aside to soak for 20 minutes.

Strain the tamarind mixture into a small saucepan and discard the solids. Bring the liquid to a simmer over medium heat. Stir in the dates, sugar, cayenne, ginger, and salt and simmer, stirring, until all the spices have dissolved. Carefully transfer to a blender and puree until smooth.

Check the consistency of the sauce; if it is thick, like ketchup, transfer it to a bowl for serving. If it is on the thinner side, return it to the saucepan and simmer until it thickens up, 3 to 4 minutes, then transfer it to a serving bowl.

Make the sweet potatoes: Using lump charcoal, light a fire in a grill and let the coals burn down to embers.

Burrow the sweet potatoes in the embers and cook, using tongs to rotate them a quarter turn every 10 minutes or so, until they are fork-tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. With the tongs, transfer the sweet potatoes to a plate and set aside to cool.

In a food processor, pulse the pecans until finely ground, about 1 minute. Scrape into a small bowl and set aside until ready to serve.

To serve, cut each sweet potato in half lengthwise and sprinkle with ¼ cup of the pecan meal and a few pinches of  flaky salt. Serve the sweet potatoes with the bowl of tamarind sauce alongside.