IN SEASON: SWEET POTATO
By Wes Crandall
The versatility of the sweet potato makes it yummy for any season. And there are hundreds of cultures over thousands of years who would agree.
The sweet potato was first cultivated by the people of the tropical regions of America and is often confused with the white potato, which is actually a distant relative. In fact, the Spanish word for potato, patata, comes from two other words: the Quechua word pata, which means “potato”, and the Taino word batata, meaning “sweet potato.” (It is often called a “yam” across some parts of America, even though the yam is botanically different from the sweet potato, and originally comes from parts of Africa and Asia.)
Before European explorers helped with the spread of this now worldwide food, the sweet potato was grown in Polynesia. On the picturesque Cook Islands, sweet potatoes have been radiocarbon dated to 1000 A.D., and it is commonly believed that they were brought back from South America by Polynesians who visited the continent.
These jewels of the earth sit among some of the highest-ranking nutritional foods. They are a simple starch, and raw sweet potatoes contain complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and beta-carotene. They also contain several micronutrients, such as vitamin B5, B6, and manganese, and their vitamin C content is boosted during baking.
This tuberous root has several culinary uses that span the globe. The leaves and vines are often consumed as a vegetable in Uganda and some West African countries. In Kenya, mashed sweet potatoes are used as a wheat flour substitute. In East Asia, sweet potatoes are served in a variety of ways, such as in a winter soup. In Japan, it’s common for it to be included in vegetable tempura.
Where does the sweet potato fit in American cuisine? We generally see it during the holidays, where it’s often candied and served traditionally at Thanksgiving. It’s considered the state vegetable of North Carolina and is deliciously served up in the famed Southern staple of sweet potato pie.
Sweet enough to be used in desserts, and hearty enough to fulfill the role of a stable starch, this diversely used vegetable can show up in every sort of dish imaginable. From a warming soup base to a dulce de batata jelly, from pie to tempura, this nutritional powerhouse is sure to complement—or be the superstar— of any meal.
1½ pounds sweet potatoes, unpeeled, cut into ½-inch wedges
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, grated
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss sweet potatoes with oil on baking sheet and spread as a single layer. Season with salt and half amount of garlic. Roast until browned and tender; this should take about 35-40 minutes. Remove from oven, and while still hot, toss potatoes again with garlic. Season with salt again.
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1/2 sweet onion, diced
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper
4 cups peeled sweet potato cubes
2 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
2 green onions, thinly sliced for topping
Heat a large pot on medium to low heat and add coconut oil. Stir onion into mixture and cook, continuously stirring until it begins to caramelize. This should take about 15-20 minutes. Stir in garlic, ginger, salt, and pepper. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in sweet potatoes, and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sweet potatoes are soft and brown. Pour vegetable stock and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and let cook for 15-20 minutes. Once the potatoes are tender, turn off heat. Blend mixture until a smooth puree. Pour mixture back into pot; season to taste. Heat over medium to low heat until fully warmed.