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Load baked sweet potatoes for hearty one-dish meals

A recent spread on sweet potatoes in the newspaper’s weekly food section upheld their appeal mainly as side dishes to the main event.

Excepting, sweet potato chili, recipes included roasted sweet potatoes, Parmesan sweet potatoes and sweet potato oven fries (see the e-edition). While those are all well and good, it’s worth noting that sweet potatoes can provide the base for hearty, one-dish meals.

My family loves to transfer the “loaded baked potato” concept onto sweet potatoes, topping them with crisped bacon, sauteed mushrooms, pickled peppers and onions, cheeses, herbs and other items that provide a savory-salty contrast to the tubers’ sweetness.

It’s apparently an approach that other food writers favor, particularly given a more cohesive theme, such as “Buffalo chicken” sweet potatoes, suggested by Chicago Tribune writer JeanMarie Brownson. She says she also likes popcorn shrimp in this context. Or make the dish meatless by crumbling on some browned tempeh.

Baked Sweet Potatoes With Hot Sauce, Blue Cheese and Crispy Chicken

2 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed clean, about 1 1/2 pounds total

1/2 package (8 ounces) breaded chicken breast nuggets

1/4 cup thick red hot sauce, such as Frank’s

1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese

3 to 4 tablespoons chunky blue cheese salad dressing (or sour cream or plain Greek yogurt)

1 or 2 small inner ribs celery, finely diced

2 or 3 tablespoons chopped chives or scallions

Heat oven to 425 F. While oven heats, pierce the potatoes in several spots with tip of a knife. Microwave potatoes on high (100% power), turning them over occasionally, until they are easily pierced with a knife, for 10 to 12 minutes.

Put the chicken nuggets in a single layer in a lightly oiled cast-iron skillet or baking pan. Place potatoes alongside nuggets. Bake, turning potatoes and nuggets once, until outsides are crisped, for 12 to 13 minutes.

Put each potato on a serving plate. Cut an X in center of potato and then squeeze potato to expose flesh under X. Fill each potato with half of the hot chicken, spoonsful of the hot sauce and the blue cheese. Top with a dollop of the dressing, diced celery and chives. Serve.

Makes 2 servings.

Tribune News Service photo