Chef Rick Bayless

Chef and author Rick Bayless shows us how to make an American classic with a twist on Chicago Tonight at 7:00 pm. View a recipe from his cookbook, Mexican Everyday, and a behind-the-scenes photo gallery of Bayless preparing the recipe.

Sweet Potato Salad with Caramelized Onions, Watercress and Guajillo Dressing

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Ensalada de Camote con Cebollas Caramelizadas, Berros y Chile Guajillo

Think “potato salad.” Then go to “sweet potato salad.” Then replace the mayo with a rustic red chile vinaigrette sweetened with caramelized onions and balsamic vinegar. It’s really delicious, if a little unconventional. The nests of spicy watercress make the whole thing a little more salady, though they’re not essential (or could easily be replaced with the likes of mache, arugula or sliced romaine). If you seek out the white-fleshed, purple-skin Mexican sweet potato—camote morado—you’ll experience a sweetness and texture that’s lighter than our orange-flesh sweet potatoes. Feel free to sprinkle the finished salad with a little blue cheese.

     Serves 8

For the Guajillo Chile Dressing:

¾ cup vegetable oil, olive oil or a mixture of the two

2 medium (1/2 ounce total) dried guajillo (or New Mexico) chiles, stemmed and seeded

2 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in quarters

¼ cup sherry vinegar (balsamic adds sweetness, champagne or white wine vinegar adds lightness, but the richness of sherry is my favorite)


1 large red onion, cut into ½-inch cubes

3 medium (about 2 pounds) sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes

2 very large bunches watercress

Pour the oil into a very large (12-inch) skillet and set over medium heat. When warm, add the chiles and garlic. Turn and stir until the insides of the chiles have lightened in color and they are toasty smelling, about 30 seconds if the oil isn’t too hot. Remove from the heat. Transfer the chiles to a blender jar (leave the oil and garlic in the pan). Add the vinegar and 1 scant teaspoon salt, then blend 30 seconds. When the oil and garlic are cool (5 to 10 minutes) add to the blender. Blend until smooth—it may take a minute or more.  (Set the skillet aside without washing.) Pour into a jar and secure the lid.

Return the skillet (it will have a light coating of oil) to medium heat and add the onion. Cook, stirring regularly, until richly browned, about 9 to 10 minutes. Add the cubed sweet potatoes, ½ cup of the well-mixed dressing and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir well. Cover and simmer until the sweet potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes (a little longer for the white-flesh Mexican sweet potatoes). Uncover, remove from the heat and let cool. Taste and season with additional salt if appropriate.

Break the large stems off the watercress (you should have 8 loosely packed cups total). Divide between 8 plates, forming it into “nests.” Scoop a portion of the sweet potato mixture into each of the watercress “nests.” Drizzle a little dressing over the watercress. (Cover and refrigerate the remaining dressing for another salad.) Serve right away.

Simple Riffs: Substitute Chorizo Dressing, Chipotle Dressing, Creamy Queso Añejo Dressing or Roasted Garlic Dressing. If you are adventurous, make this salad from malanga or yuca (both of which are hard to peel and will take a little longer to cook than regular sweet potato). Easier, but perhaps no less adventurous, is to replace the sweet potato with parsnips or small sweet turnips.

Roasted Eggplant Salad: Slice 2 medium (2 pounds total) unpeeled eggplants crosswise into 1-inch rounds. Brush with oil and sprinkle with salt. Lay in a single layer on a baking sheet. Brown 4 inches below a preheated broiler—about 3 minutes per side. Cool and cut into 1-inch pieces. Follow the Sweet Potato Salad recipe, adding the eggplant where sweet potato is called for. Toss everything together, remove from the heat after a minute or so and let cool.

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