Most orange-colored vegetables that you see labeled as yams or sweet potatoes are actually sweet potatoes. To find a true yam, which is from the lily family and can be as large as your arm, you need to go to a specialty food store. So the whole argument as to which is better for you is a moot point, since most yams are sweet potatoes.
Like white potatoes, sweet potatoes should not be eaten raw. Even if you wash the skin, unless they are grown organically, I would not recommend that you eat the skin. You can treat them as you do any potato and boil it, but doing so may leech out some of the nutrients. Steaming them is an alternative. If you peel and then cut each one into half-inch pieces, you only need to steam them for about seven minutes. You may also choose to microwave one for 3-4 minutes after sticking it with a fork and wrapping it in a wet paper towel. Baking then at 375 degrees Fahrenheit may take longer, but it will warm the kitchen on a cold winter's day, and they may be finished in time with everything else or in about 35-40 minutes.
I make sweet potato chips in my fryer set to 390 degrees Fahrenheit. I cut them thinly with a mandoline and fry them for 8-10 minutes. Then I lightly salt them with a mix of baking (less coarse) salt and ground ginger. I can't seem to make enough of these, but usually slice up 3-4 of them to last a few days.
Sweet potatoes have lots of vitamin A, C and B6 and manganese, potassium and fiber. They can be treated as you would a pumpkin in terms of spicing them. In fact feel free to use pumpkin spice and a little butter on them. Any of the sweet baking spices are good, including cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice and ginger. Because of their sweet taste, they are perfect when combined with something spicy, like black pepper, cayenne or red pepper flakes. Even chili powder is a nice touch. Other spices to experiment with include fennel, coriander, coconut, rosemary, oregano and cumin. Stir-fry them in a little coconut oil with some 5-spice powder for a real treat. Those attending culinary schools in Ohio may have some additional ideas as to how to spice them up, too.
Make your own blend of sweet potato spice by mixing the following spices and keeping them in their own jar: 1 tablespoon fennel and chili powder, ¾ teaspoon coriander and black pepper, 1½ teaspoons cinnamon and ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, if you like it spicy. This with a teaspoon of salt will make about 1½ ounces or less than a quarter cup of your very own blend.
If you happen to have any left over, scoop them out of their skins in the morning and mix them with your favorite pancake mix. Wow, what could be better than maple syrup with sweet potato pancakes? Or if you are having eggs, make patties and fry them in a little butter or coconut oil. Sprinkle them with your special blend. For an easy soup mince an onion and sauté it in a little butter. Put the onion in a pot and add 3 cooked sweet potatoes, 2 cups of chicken or beef broth, 2 cups of milk and simmer for 5 minutes. Puree the mixture and add some of your special spice blend. As versatile as a potato, but with a lot more vitamins and nutrients, how can you resist anything so sweet?
- Editor's Note: Linda Murdock is the best-selling author of A Busy Cook's Guide to Spices, How to Introduce New Flavors to Everyday Meals. Unlike most spice books, you can turn to a food, whether meat, vegetable or starch, and find a list of spices that go well with that food. Recipes are also included. To learn more or sign up for more articles on spicing foods go to Bellwether Books.