Chile-Glazed Sweet Potatoes with Cinnamon and Orange

Ancho (Ahn-cho) Chile (Capsicum Annum) means Wide Chile Pepper. This chile ranges from 3 – 4 on a heat scale of 1 to 10. An Ancho is the dried form of a Poblano Pepper and often is mislabeled as a Pasilla or Mulato Pepper. Anchos have sweet fruity flavor with hints of cherry, prune, and fig. Anchos, combined with the Pasilla and Guajillo, form the Holy Trinity of chiles used to prepare the traditional mole sauces. Scoville heat units are 1,000 to 3,000.

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For the Sweet-and-Spicy Ancho Chile Seasoning Paste:
5 garlic cloves, unpeeled
6 medium-to-small (a scant 3 oz total) dried ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
1 tsp dried oregano, preferably Mexican
1/2 tsp cinnamon, preferably freshly ground Mexican canela
A generous 1/4 tsp black pepper, preferably freshly ground
A generous 1/8 tsp cloves, preferably freshly ground
1/2 cup chicken broth or water

For the potatoes:
3 lbs (about 5 medium) sweet potatoes, unpeeled
1 Tbsp finely chopped orange zest (orange rind only), plus some thinly-slivered zest for garnish
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
2 Tbsp honey
Salt, a generous tsp
2 Tbsp melted butter or olive oil (optional), plus a little extra for the pan
A few tablespoons of chopped cilantro, for garnish
1 or 2 Tbsp Mexican Thick Cream, creme fraiche, or sour cream thinned with a little milk, for garnish


Making the Sweet-and-Spicy Ancho Chile Seasoning Paste: Roast the unpeeled garlic on an ungreased griddle or heavy skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally, until soft (they’ll blacken in spots), about 15 minutes cool and peel. While the garlic is roasting, toast the chiles on another side of the griddle or skillet: 1 or 2 at a time, open them flat and press down firmly on the hot surface with a spatula in a few seconds, when they crackle, even send up a wisp of smoke, flip them and press down to toast the other side. In a small bowl, cover the chiles with hot water and let rehydrate for 30 minutes, stirring regularly to insure even soaking. Drain and discard the water.

Combine the oregano, cinnamon, black pepper and cloves in a food processor or blender, along with the chiles, garlic and broth or water. Process to a smooth puree, scraping and stirring every few seconds. (If the mixture just won’t go through the blender blades, add a little more liquid.) Press through a medium-mesh strainer into a small bowl.

Assembling the dish: Slice each of the sweet potatoes into 4 lengthwise wedges. Lightly butter or oil a 13×9-inch baking dish, and lay in the sweet potatoes in a single layer. Combine the chile seasoning paste with the orange zest, orange juice and honey. Taste and season with salt (it should taste salty, since this is the seasoning for the potatoes). Spoon evenly over the sweet potatoes.

Baking the potatoes: Turn on the oven to 350 degrees. Drizzle the sweet potatoes with the (optional) butter or oil, cover with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes or until the potatoes are almost fork-tender.

Raise the oven temperature to 425 degrees, uncover the potatoes, baste with the juices and bake until the potatoes are nicely glazed and the sauce reduced to a medium-thickness, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with slivers of orange zest, chopped cilantro and a drizzle of cream if you wish, and it’s ready to serve.

Advance Preparation—The seasoning paste may be made a week or so ahead. The potatoes can be assembled through Step 2 several hours in advance, or they can even be baked and reheated. Garnish right before serving.

Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish.

Recipe excerpted from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen: Capturing the vibrant flavors of a world-class cuisine