A Sweet Potato Bar Is One Of The Easiest Ways To Feed A Crowd

Feeding a crowd (whether it’s your family on a weeknight or friends for a weekend gathering) can be tricky—or expensive—but it doesn’t have to be. Large format dishes like casseroles or big pots of pasta are a popular solution, but if you’re looking for something more interactive Erin Gleeson has a genius idea up her sleeve: a sweet potato bar.

Gleeson is a bestselling author, illustrator and photographer who recently released what she describes as a visual culinary journal. Of The Forest Feast Road Trip: Simple Vegetarian Recipes Inspired by My Travels through California you’ll find 100 vegetarian recipes, travel photos and watercolor illustrations, all inspired by her family’s road trips across the Golden State over the course of a year and a half. “The recipes are inspired by produce we saw growing along the way, things we picked at farms and ranches and meals we tasted on the road,” she said. “Some of the recipes are great for weeknights, others are perfect for entertaining and some are just what you need to pack for a road trip. My goal is that this book will inspire people to eat more vegetables, feel creative in the kitchen and explore a new place within driving distance.”

There are recipes for a taco bar and veggie calzone bar, but the one that caught my eye was the sweet potato bar. “I love serving bar-style meals for weeknight dinner with my family and also when entertaining,” Gleeson said. “Riffing on the idea of ​​a baked potato bar, I like that sweet potatoes are a bit more nutrient-rich and also more colorful! I’m always looking for ways to add as much color to the table as possible; it makes meals more fun.” Her favorite toppings are cannellini beans, sautéed greens, BBQ sauce or chimichurri, and sour cream. Her kids, if given the option, go for sweet toppings like Nutella (“if I’m feeling generous!”) Or butter and cinnamon.

As far as actual setup goes, Gleeson recommends having your buffet table away from any walls so that guests can access the bar from both sides—this will help to speed things up. She places the ingredients in an order that makes sense for people to build their plates. “A stack of plates tells people where to start, potatoes next, toppings last,” Gleeson said. “You can put toppings in small bowls or in piles on a big cutting board. I like to put sauces in small bowls with spoons rather than their usual containers if I have time.”

For decor, if Gleeson is feeling fancy she stacks cookbooks on the table to hold larger bowls or platters. “It creates height on the table and looks cute!” Gleeson said. “And guests like seeing what some of your favorite cookbooks are.” A colorful tablecloth, a few small vases of flowers, clusters of fresh citrus and small potted plants are simple ways to further decorate the table.

Recipe excerpt from The Forest Feast Road Trip: Simple Vegetarian Recipes Inspired by My Travels through California by Erin Gleeson, published by Abrams. Text and photos copyright © 2022 by Erin Gleeson.

Sweet Potato Bar

Serves 4-6

This is a fun and healthy way to accommodate different dietary preferences and can be made ahead. The potatoes are gluten-free, and with the right toppings these can easily be vegan. I eat them with savory toppings but my kids like them sweet. Below are some of my favorite combinations for a weeknight or when entertaining. Choose one or make them all! Look for medium sweet potatoes and serve one per person (kids may only need a half).

Place the sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and poke them with a knife a few times before baking. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 1 hour or until a fork goes in easily.

sweet

Nutella

agave

Chopped pecans

Dried coconut chips

spring

Asparagus, chopped & sautéed

Crème fraîche or sour cream

Crumbled feta

capers

lemon zest

red pepper flakes

Tofu

Sauteed snow peas

Cubed marinated tofu

Chopped scallions

Chopped peanuts

Cilantro

Peanut Sauce

BBQ

Cannellini beans

Diced cherry tomato

Sauteed chard

Sunflower seeds

BBQ sauce

.

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