Cooking and recipe lesson: Exploring sweet potatoes

Photo courtesy of RunningBlogs.com

Years ago, while I was still living in Portland, Oregon, I remember meeting a friend at Mint/820 on the city’s eastside for a bite to eat. It was one of those days where I decided a splurge was in order so I ordered the venue’s burger that came with a side of sweet potato fries. Added to that, they were served with a side of house-made aioli. These tasty tidbits were amazing, and ever since then, I’ve noticed sweet potato fries popping up as an alternative to the standard white russet.

But that’s not the only alternative way to eat  a sweet potato. And it doesn’t have to include a fryer or a burger and bun, but does include a great adventure for your taste buds.

Some people are a little unsure about sweet potatoes. They have quite a different shape than an ordinary spud, and aren’t they really, really sweet? Well, the sweetness level I can’t decide for you, but I would suggest letting go of any intimidation about their unique look, grabbing a few and trying them out for a change. They can easily be used in place of regular potatoes for just about any use, except they’ll bring a slightly different flavor and vibrant color to your dish.

A few more things about sweet potatoes:

Some people are a little unsure about sweet potatoes. They have quite a different shape than an ordinary spud, and aren’t they really, really sweet? Well, the sweetness level I can’t decide for you, but I would suggest letting go of any intimidation about their unique look, grabbing a few and trying them out for a change. They can easily be used in place of regular potatoes for just about any use, except they’ll bring a slightly different flavor and vibrant color to your dish.

A few more things about sweet potatoes:

  • Sweet potatoes are not the same as yams. In fact, they’re biologically unrelated plants. The main distinguishing factor is that a sweet potato tends to have ends which taper to a point and yams tend to have rough scaly skin.
  • Sweets potatoes come in two varieties: lighter skinned with a pale, yellow flesh that has a texture similar to a white baked potato, and a darker-skinned variety that has a deep orange flesh with a moist texture. The latter is the more ‘sweet’ choice in terms of flavor.
  • The orange-fleshed variety contains unsurpassed amounts of beta-carotene, which converts into Vitamin A in our bodies and is an excellent antioxidant.
  • Sweet potatoes contain anti-inflammatory and blood sugar-regulating nutrients.

You can actually enjoy the great flavor of sweet potatoes in a variety of ways, and also reap the health benefits. Below are a few recipes to help you get started.

The following recipe was inspired/adapted from Ellie Krieger’s Honey Roasted Sweet Potatoes. Instead of following her recipe verbatim, I used agave for the honey and balsamic vinegar instead of the lemon.

Agave Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Servings about 6 (3/4 cup servings)

Ingredients:

2 Pounds red-skinned sweet potatoes
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons light agave nectar
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
½ Teaspoon fine sea salt

Instructions:

1. Set oven to 350 degrees F
2. Peel potatoes and cut into 1-inch pieces. Place the pieces into a 9 x 13 baking dish.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, agave and balsamic. Pour the mixed contents evenly over the potatoes. Sprinkle the potatoes with the sea salt.
4. Bake, stirring occasionally, for about 1 hour, or until potatoes are tender.

Serving suggestions:

• Sprinkle with some crumbled goat cheese to add a creamy texture
• Drizzle with fresh pesto
• As a left-over, add to a sauté pan with chopped onions and/or peppers and serve underneath a fried egg for delicious breakfast

And we can’t forget the sweet potato fries — the wonder that started my love affair with the bright orange tuber. Here’s a recipe for baked fries. True, this means they’re not fried fries, but they’re a bit healthier, just as delectable, and a cinch to make.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries
Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

5 Sweet potatoes
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 Tablespoons fine sea salt

Instructions:

1. Set oven to 350 degrees F
2. Peel and cut sweet potatoes lengthwise in ¾-1-inch size strips. Place sweet potato strips in a large bowl, drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with the salt. Toss to coat well.
3. Place the sweet potato strips on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake, stirring part-way through, for 45 minutes, or until they begin to turn golden brown.

Serving suggestions:

• If aioli (garlic-flavored mayonnaise) sounds up your ally, combine ¾ cup of mayonnaise, 1 freshly minced garlic clove and 1 tablespoon of lemon and serve alongside your fries.
• Dust with a few dashes of ground cayenne pepper for a heat kick
• Sprinkle with some fresh chopped herbs, such as thyme, basil or cilantro to add a bit of color and brightness

See below for some additional links to other recipes you can try. The sky is really the limit, so go explore those sweet potatoes and let me know what you think.

Recipes:
Grilled Sweet Potatoes
Sweet Potato Fritters with Chinese Sausage
African Sweet Potato Peanut Soup
Yukon Gold and Sweet Potato Gratin

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5 comments to Cooking and recipe lesson: Exploring sweet potatoes

  • Karina

    I’m in love with sweet potato fries! It is naturally sweet and is merely addicting! I must try the baked potato fries over the weekend and will let you know how it goes. I’m sure it’ll turn out great! This is a wonderful healthy alternative to deep fry.

  • That’s great, Karina! I look forward to reading about how you enjoy the baked version. I enjoy sweet potato fries for the same reason.

    Cheers,
    Jennifer

  • Karina

    I will definitely let you know how that goes! Thank you for sharing with us. 🙂

  • Karina

    I had the chance to make it this weekend! It was fantastic. I didn’t have any sweet potatoes, by the time I was craving to make this, it was already too late. I used purple yams instead and it was delicious! I have yet to try sweet potatoes next.

  • Karina,

    I’m so glad you enjoyed them, even if it was with yams. That’s great! 🙂 Thanks for writing back and letting me know!

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