Are you sweet for sweet potatoes?

Barbara Wilson

At this time of year, many of us rely on root veggies in casserole, soups and stews to keep out the winter chills. But if you aren’t content with carrots and turnips just don’t turn you on, there is another root vegetable in the shops that might just hit the spot for you - scrumptious sweet potatoes are in season and on the shelves! Here are some facts on this not-so-humble spud:

- Sweet potatoes are very versatile – they work equally well in sweet or savoury dishes. Sweet flavours like maple syrup and nuts, especially pecans work well, while for a savoury side dish, try mashing boiled sweet potatoes with nutmeg, rosemary or parmesan cheese.

- sweet potatoes can be either moist or dry. Moist sweet potatoes have orange flesh that becomes soft when cooked, while dry ones have yellow flesh, that stays firm when cooked. The orange-fleshed variety is sweeter and more common.

- moist sweet potatoes are often called ‘yam’ but this is incorrect, as yam and sweet potatoes are not even related

- sweet potatoes and regular potatoes are also not related!

- when choosing sweet potatoes, go for firm vegetables without cracks, bruises, soft spots or mould. They should have a uniformly bright skin and be heavy for their size. But be careful! A decayed spot can spoil an entire sweet potato, as you can't simply cut away these spots.

- shape is not a quality indicator - they can be round or knobby. But if you are baking them whole, try to select ones with similar sizes to ensure even cooking.

- store sweet potatoes in a cool, dry place for up to a month but try to use within a week of purchase if stored at room temperature.

- do not store sweet potatoes in the refrigerator, as it will cause the starch to turn to sugar, producing an off-taste.

- scrub sweet potatoes well before cooking and keep the skins on when baking or boiling. This will keep in flavour and colour and they will be much easier to peel after cooking.

- pierce whole sweet potatoes before baking and line your baking tin with foil, as they tend to ooze juice while baking.

- sweet potatoes can be cooked just like regular potatoes but take a little less time to cook – they can be baked (around 45 minutes), boiled (15-20 minutes), roasted (30-40 minutes) and even made into chips!

- sweet potatoes are very low in fat and calories (0.4g of fat and just 100 cals in an average serving) but are a great source of vitamins A and C

Sweet potatoes can be used in sweet or savoury meals and here are some recipes which show just how versatile these vegetables really are!

Sweet Potato Soup

Scrub 2 large sweet potatoes and bake at 220 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until cooked through. Once cooked, slit open and set aside to cool.

Heat 1 tbs olive oil in a large saucepan and gently cook 1 large chopped onion. Peel 4 regular potatoes, cut into large chunks, add to the onions and cook for a couple of minutes. Stir in 1 heaped tbs of plain flour, stir well and gradually add 2 pints of vegetable or chicken stock. Add the flesh from the baked sweet potatoes, 1 tsp each of grated nutmeg, ground ginger, white pepper, thyme and ½ tsp cumin. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Blend using a food processor or hand mixer, return to the pan and gently re-heat. Stir in a tbs very low fat fromage frais before serving.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutritional information: 1½ totals or 155 calories, 3g fat and 30g carbs.

Spiced Chicken with Potatoes

Mix together a 400g tin of tomatoes, 1 tbs each of fresh coriander and fresh parsley, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 tsp each of cumin, ground coriander and paprika, ½ tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste) and the juice of a lime. Peel 2 large sweet potatoes and cut into large chunks. Scrub 2 large regular potatoes and cut into pieces slightly smaller than the sweet potatoes. Place the potato chunks and 4 chicken fillets (without skin) into an ovenproof bowl and cover with the tomato mixture. Cover and marinade for at least one hour but overnight, in the fridge, if possible. Cook at 180 degrees for 40 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Serve with a green salad and cous cous.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutritional information: 2½ totals or 230 calories, 4.5g fat and 18g carbs.

Sweet Potato Pie

Sweet potato pie is an all-American favourite, especially around Thanksgiving but this sweet dish shows just how versatile these vegetables really are!

Preheat oven to 180 degrees and spray a casserole dish with cooking spray. Peel and cut 2 large sweet potatoes into chunks and boil for 20 minutes or until tender. Drain and mash. In a large bowl, beat together the mashed sweet potatoes, 50g of butter, 100g muscavado sugar, 2 eggs, the juice and zest from an orange and 2 tsp vanilla essence until smooth. Pour into the prepared dish and bake in for 40 minutes.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutritional information: 3½ totals or 270 calories, 13g fat and 37g carbs.

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