- 1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes
- Salt, preferably sea salt
- 1 large red onion, halved and thinly sliced, or 1 bunch scallions, sliced
- 2 bunches fresh arugula, trimmed and coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup Greek extra virgin olive oil
- 3 to 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar (to taste)
- 1 cup crumbled Greek feta cheese or goat cheese (optional)
- In a large pot, cover the sweet potatoes with 2 inches (5 cm) cold salted water. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until fork-tender but al dente, about 15 minutes. Remove, cool slightly, peel, and cut into 11/2-inch (4 cm) chunks. (Alternatively, you can either roast or grill the sweet potatoes, peeled, sliced, salted, and tossed with 1/2 cup olive oil under the broiler.)
- Transfer the sweet potatoes to a serving bowl. Add the onion (or scallions) and arugula to the bowl. Season to taste with salt and toss with the olive oil and vinegar. If desired, add the crumbled feta cheese (or goat cheese) and serve.
About the recipe: Several farmers on Ikaria mentioned to me the sweet potatoes they remember as children, in the 1940s and '50s, and that most were grown on the terraced steps in the windswept southern town of Manganitis. My neighbor Titika, for example, recalled the simplest and most desired "dessert" of her youth: "We had sweet potatoes. That's it. With nothing on them. Just baked under the ashes in the fireplace. What a treat."
Sweet potatoes were also the tuber of choice for a salad, recounted to me by Myrsina Roussou, native of Manganitis. The addition of goat cheese or feta is mine, and totally optional. The original version is typical of the simple, pared-down dishes that nourished the generation that today is reaching triple-digit ages uniquely sound of mind and body. But the combination of dense, creamy sweet potatoes and sharp, peppery arugula seemed surprisingly sophisticated to me, even though this was the food of dire poverty.