If you're not cooking with sweet potatoes on a regular basis, you really should give this humble ingredient a second look. Not only are they versatile and delicious, they pack a lot of nutritional value as well.
Sweet Potatoes vs. Yams
Sweet potatoes are part of the morning glory family and come in both “dry flesh” and “moist flesh” varieties.
Although many people think sweet potatoes and yams are the same thing, true yams are not even in the same family of plants.
A large percentage of US sweet potatoes are grown in North Carolina and California, but the plant is actually native to Central America and Peru.
Yams, on the other hand, are native to Africa. The two terms became interchangeable because some sweet potato growers have long been using the term “yam” to market their moist, orange fleshed sweet potatoes.
Sweet potatoes are definitely a healthy alternative to white and red potatoes. They contain high amounts of beta carotene (aka Vitamin A) and Vitamin E, as well as vitamins B6 and C.
They also provide potassium, iron, calcium and fiber, and although they're named “sweet,” these potatoes actually help stabilize blood sugar levels and are great for people with diabetes or insulin resistance.
When shopping, select smaller sweet potatoes that are firm, evenly colored and free from bruises. Store them in a cool, dark, dry area (do not refrigerate) and use them within a week.
How To Cook Sweet Potatoes
In general, you can do anything with a sweet potato that you would with any other potato. Sweet potatoes lend themselves well to baking, mashing, frying and steaming. Their subtle, sweet flavor makes a great complement to a wide variety of meats and like pumpkin, they can also be puréed and used in baked goods.
Basic Baked Sweet Potatoes
Scrub the sweet potatoes thoroughly and prick the skin all over with a fork. Bake at 400°F for about 50 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a knife. Serve with a pat of butter and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.
Sweet Potato Oven-Fries
Pre-heat the oven to 425°F. Scrub and slice your sweet potatoes (as many as you want) into 1/2″ thick slices. Cut each slice crosswise into “french-fry” style strips.
Place in a bowl, sprinkle with a dusting of cornstarch and drizzle with a small amount of vegetable oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss until the fries are thoroughly coated with the mixture.
Spread the fries in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake until crisp and golden on the outside, tender on the inside, 18 to 20 minutes. Turn them once about halfway through the cooking time to ensure even cooking.