They may be called yams — but don’t you believe it. They’re all sweet potatoes!
The “yams” we see at the market were, in a way, invented by Louisiana farmers back in the 1930s, adopting a word to differentiate the sweeter, darker orange vegetable that had come from the yellow-fleshed sweet potato grown in the east. The word came from the African nyami, another plant entirely. The true yam requires 8 to 11 months of warm weather to reach maturity and is seldom seen outside of Latin markets. In the cities you might be able to locate a batata, a boniato, or even a Cuban Sweet Potato.
In an Asian store you might find a Japanese yam, but what you really want at this time of the year is a few fresh, unblemished sweet potatoes, at their best right now.
I’ve located a few mouth-watering sweet potato recipes, good enough to be repeated. The first one, perhaps the simplest, came from Martha Stewart’s “Living.”
Baked Sweet Potatoes with Sour Cream & Brown Sugar
- 4 medium sweet potatoes (about 1½ lbs.)
- 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- ½ cup sour cream
- 4 tsps. dark brown sugar
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Rub the potatoes with the oil and place on the prepared baking sheet; bake until the potatoes can be easily pierced. 40-45 minutes.
Slit the potatoes open lengthwise and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top with a spoonful of the sour cream and sprinkle with the dark brown sugar. Serve immediately.
Sweet potatoes for breakfast? Think of them with fried or scrambled eggs and buttered toast. (Cook some extra sweet potatoes and keep them chilled in the refrigerator. This keeps them from falling apart when sautéed, and also gives you a head start on the morning.)
Sweet Potato Hashed Browns
- 2 large sweet potatoes cut into ¾-inch dice
- 6 Tbsps. olive oil
- 1 medium onion, cut in ½-inch dice
- 2 Tbsps. fresh parsley, chopped
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
To cook these diced sweet potatoes, 3 or 4 minutes in boiling salted water will produce potatoes that can be easily pierced with a fork. Drain, cool under running water, then refrigerate.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onions, sauté about 20 minutes until golden brown and tender. Remove to a plate. Pour the remaining olive oil into the skillet and add the cooked diced potatoes, stirring until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Add the onions, cook 2 minutes, and then the chopped parsley. Adjust the seasoning and serve immediately.
In the following recipe we have sweet potatoes spiced with good things — orange juice, maple syrup, cinnamon and nutmeg — serving to counterbalance the ingredient that’s often disliked: Brussels sprouts.
A little chili pepper is added and the whole thing is hash- browned in a cast iron skillet.
In this case, the sweet potatoes are boiled with the good things and the Brussels sprouts are blanched for 1 minute in a separate pot.
It’s vegetarian all the way.
Spiced Sweet Potato-Brussels Sprouts Hash
Yields 6 servings
- 2 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled & quartered
- 4 cups orange juice
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- 1 stick cinnamon
- Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ½ lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed, halved & sliced
- 3 Tbsps. unsalted butter
- 2 medium red onions, thinly sliced
- 1 chipotle chili pepper from a can, rinsed & chopped
Combine the sweet potatoes, orange juice, maple syrup, cinnamon and nutmeg, 2 teaspoons of salt and freshly ground black pepper with 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer about 30 minutes until potatoes are tender.
Drain, reserving a cup or two of the cooking liquid.
Boil 4 cups of water, add the sprouts. Blanch for 1 minute. Drain and set aside. In a large, nonstick skillet, melt the butter and add onions. Sauté, stirring, until they are wilted and browned, about 15 minutes. Add the blanched sprouts and sauté about 5 minutes.
Add the drained sweet potatoes and the chili pepper to the skillet. Mix well with a spatula. Allow the hash to brown lightly on one side, then turn. Continue until it is evenly browned, about 15 minutes. Adjust seasonings. If the hash appears too dry, add a little of the reserved cooking liquid.
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