All About The Sweet Potato

What’s not to like in a sweet potato? Besides being a must-have side dish on Thanksgiving, nutritionally, sweet potatoes pack a wallop: ample vitamin A, potassium and vitamin C, B6, riboflavin, copper, pantothetic acid and folic acid. Sweet potato is also a good food for diabetics, as it helps lowering blood sugar levels.

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Sweet potatoes, botanically known as Ipomoea batatas, are the root of a vine in the morning glory family and native to the New World tropics. Its history dates back to 750 B.C. in Peruvian records. Columbus brought the sweet potato to the New World from the island of Saint Thomas.

Depending upon the variety, of which we know there are about 400, the skin and flesh of the sweet potato may be almost white, cream, yellow, orange, pink, or deep purple.
Personally, I like them roasted in chunks, a little olive oil, some salt & pepper with a sprinkle of fresh thyme and I’m happy. Or cut into thin strips and roasted like French fries. Either way it plugs the gap, it’s delicious, fast and incredibly cheap to produce.

Yin & Yam:

Sweet potatoes are often mistakenly referred to as yams. When African people came to North America, they called sweet potatoes “yams”. That’s because back home in Africa, they had eaten a similar tuber that was a lot like sweet potatoes, which in Africa was called “nyami” or “anyinam”. They aren’t really the same plant, but they look and taste a lot alike, so the African people called sweet potatoes yams.

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This is a winner for both the carnivore and the vegetarian: if you must include flesh, I suggest adding either peeled shrimps or diced chicken breast, but, in my opinion, it is the sort of facile curry that does not need strong, meaty flavors.

Thai Sweet Potato & Lentil Curry:

You can make your own paste, it’s easy: here is a recipe, so stolen from that ass, Asinus Asinum Fricat!

For the paste: 1 stalk lemon grass, sliced, 2/4 yellow chilies (or 6 Thai green ones if you can’t find them), 2 shallots, 1 knob of galangal (or its close cousin, ginger), 6 cloves garlic, peeled, 1 tbsp ground coriander, 1 tbsp mustard seeds, 1 tbsp turmeric, 4 tbsp fish sauce, 1 tbsp palm sugar, 4 kaffir lime leaves, a pinch of nutmeg, ½ a tin of coconut milk, a dash of soy sauce. To make the paste, place all ingredients except the coconut milk into the processor and give it a whirl, just for a second. Then begin to add the coconut milk as you go, until you get a smooth paste. Voila, wasn’t hard was it?

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For 4 to 6 persons: 4 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in half inch cubes, 12 ounces green lentils, (soaked overnight and thoroughly rinsed), 2 red onions, chopped up, 4 garlic cloves, finely minced, 2 knobs of fresh ginger, also finely minced, 16 ounces of coconut milk (roughly 1 can), 1 pint vegetable stock, 4 Thai chilies, cut into strips, 2 tablespoons of toasted sesame oil, salt & pepper to taste plus a little bunch of cilantro for garnish. If you haven’t made the curry paste then use 2 tablespoon of green curry paste, and 4 tablespoons of nam plah (fish sauce). If you can get some fresh Bok Choy or spinach, it’s a great add-on, but optional.

In a cooking pot, pour the sesame oil and add the onions, garlic and ginger. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes then add the cubed sweet potatoes followed by the drained lentils. Add the curry paste, the coconut milk, the chillies and finally the stock. Stir well and simmer over a low to medium heat for 30 to 35 minutes. Add the cilantro when serving.

Those of you familiar with Tagines will love this dish. It’s basically a stew with plenty of attitude, cooked really slowly in an earthenware dish (don’t panic if you don’t own one, a Dutch oven or a cast-iron pot with lid will do.)

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Moroccan Beef & Sweet Potato Tagine:

For 4 to 6 persons: allow 6 ounces of stewing beef per person, preferably from the shoulder and cut into 1 inch cubes, 4 medium-sized sweet potatoes, cut in 2 inch chunks, 2 red onions, chopped up in quarters, 6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced, 1 (12 ounces) tin of garbanzo beans, 8 medium-sized tomatoes, cut in quarters, 2 pints of vegetable stock (or chicken if you have it), 4 tablespoons of olive oil, a handful of flaked almonds (though this is optional), salt & pepper to taste, and 2 tablespoons of Ras el hanout which you either buy or make yourself. In fact it is so easy to make I would suggest you make some and properly sealed it will last for several tagines over a couple of years:

Ras el hanout mix: mix well in a bowl and transfer to a small jar.

1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
I teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (optional)

First place the beef chunks into a large bowl, use your hands and rub the chunks with the spices, then cover with a cloth and put into the refrigerator for a couple of hours for the spices to penetrate and flavor the meat.

In a tagine (or in a Dutch oven), over medium to low heat, pour a little olive oil and throw in the onions, cook for 2 or 3 minutes then add the cubed beef and sear for a couple of minutes then add your chopped onion and coriander stalks and fry for another 5 minutes. Tip in the chickpeas, the sweet potato chunks and tomatoes, then pour in 400ml of stock and stir. Bring to the boil slowly, then put the lid on the pan or cover with foil and reduce to a simmer for 1½hours. You can also cook this into an oven if you wish. Preheat at 220 C (428 F) and bake for 70 minutes or until the beef chunks melt in your mouth! This is great served with steamed couscous or amaranth.

Shortcuts:

For those who like to eat but are in a great hurry: the world’s fastest soup, sweet potato patties, and sweet potato with apricot gateau.

Sweet Potato & Walnut Soup:

For 4 to 6 servings (though I have to confess I rarely measure anything, except for complicated patisserie stuff) you will need a pound of peeled & cubed sweet potatoes, 12 ounces of shelled walnuts, 1 pint and a half of vegetable stock, a pinch of grated nutmeg and a pinch of cinnamon, salt & pepper to taste and a few basil leaves for garnishing.

In a cooking pot throw all the above ingredients at once and bring it to a slow boil, then use the processor. Garnish with basil leaves. That’s it. There are countless variations to this soup but you get the idea.

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Sweet Potato Patties:

Good for breakfast or a light meal, and a great snack as well! All you need is -love- err…1 pound of cooked and mashed sweet potatoes, a knob of butter mixed with a little sunflower oil for frying, 1 cup of whole milk, salt & pepper to taste and a handful of coarse maize in which you dip the patties in before frying, and if you feel fancy, add 2 tablespoons of finely grated for garnish.

You know the drill: in a mixing bowl work the mash with the milk, add the salt & pepper and when thoroughly mixed, make patties with your hands, some 2 inches in width and 1 inch in thickness. Roll them in a dish filled with coarse maize (semolina) and fry them to your liking. A variation of this is adding a few tablespoons of pureed garbanzo beans to it….for nuttiness.

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Sweet Potato & Apricot Gateau, with Dark Rum:

The trick for this amazingly yummy dessert is to buy a good pastry shell (unless you want to make it yourself but that takes time, damn it!), 1 pound of peeled and cubed sweet potatoes, 4 whole eggs, 4 tablespoons melted butter, 10 ounces of dried apricots, 1/2 cup of heavy (double) cream, 1/2 cup light brown sugar, a pinch of nutmeg, a pinch of cinnamon and a pinch of ground ginger, and a good shot of dark rum, in fact, make it two, it’s all good and soak the apricots in it.

Peel and cube the sweet potatoes and parboil them. Remove, drain and set aside. In a large bowl, mix in the potato chunks, the cream, the dried apricots soaked with the rum, the sugar, the spices and lay the mix into the pastry shell, and bake for 60 minutes in medium heat, 200C or 390F. Sometimes I add a handful of slivered almonds to this easy pie!

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Happy Thanksgiving!

This entry was posted in Food, Fun, Health, Recipes and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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