Sweet potatoes are popular this time of year. They make a star appearance on our holiday buffet tables in the oh-so-famous sweet potato casserole. Don’t ignore this starchy, yet naturally sweet, vegetable packs a nutritious punch for the remaining 11 months of the year!
Sweet Potato: The Oldest Vegetable Known to Man?
The sweet potato is a root vegetable belonging to the morning glory family, Convolvulacae. It is surprisingly only distantly related to the traditional white potato. Sweet potatoes date back nearly five thousand years ago to their domestication in Central America. That makes them one of the oldest vegetables known to mankind. It is now the most commonly grown root crop in developing countries due to its hardiness and adaptability.
Though yams and sweet potatoes are both tuberous root vegetables, they are not the same! Yams are native to Africa and are a member of the Dioscoreaceae family. They are related to lilies and are much drier and starchier than a sweet potato. We don’t typically find true yams in grocery stores in the United States unless we shop at an international or specialty foods market.
Sweet potatoes grow best in warm, humid climates in nutrient rich soil. They are sensitive to cold temperatures. So, we usually plant them about a month after the last spring frost. These tropical plants take at least 100 days to mature. Sweet potatoes require a 10-day “curing” period after we dig them up from the ground. This allows the skin to heal from any scratches, while the flesh becomes sweeter in taste and more nutritious. Once cured, sweet potatoes stay good for up to six months. Store them in a humid environment around 60° F, such as a basement or pantry.
The Many Varieties of Sweet Potato
There are many varieties of these sweet spuds available, ranging in different colors, textures and flavors, all of which are important to consider when making your favorite dish.
The most common and widely grown variety is the Beauregard with its reddish colored skin. It has a very similar appearance and flavor to the Jewel variety. When you see sweet potatoes advertised at the grocery store, you can bet it is either a Beauregard or Jewel. Both of these are very versatile and good for roasting, baking, boiling or baking.
The Garnet, or red sweet potato has an orange-yellow flesh that is firm and moist enclosed by a rough red -purple skin, with a sweet and savory flavor. Their pumpkin-like quality makes them optimal for baking, especially in sweet potato pies due to high sugar and starch content.
Similar to the Garnet, Japanese sweet potatoes have a purple-red skin, but have a distinct white yellow flesh which deepens in color when cooked. Small to medium in size, they are long and slender and have a unique nutty flavor, sometimes described as chestnut-like. The Japanese use this variety to make noodles and sweets or as a thickener in soups. They also make shochu, a popular distilled beverage, with this variety, along with rice, barley, buckwheat or brown sugar. We see them commonly used with their skin on in tempura, curries, stews and soups.
Marshmallows, butter and pecans aside, when served simply steamed or roasted, one medium sweet potato with its skin on has about 110 calories and 26 grams of complex carbohydrates. It contains nearly four grams of fiber and close to three times your daily recommended value of Vitamin A in the form of beta carotene which is critical for eye health, immune function and cell development. It is a good source of Vitamin C which supports immune function and potassium which is important for blood pressure control.
This Month’s Featured Recipe
This month’s featured recipe shows off the sweet potatoes versatility and is a great alternative to traditional potato salad. The sweet potatoes, along with the other vegetables are briefly roasted which gives them a rich, smoky flavor but allows them to maintain their integrity and not get mushy. This salad can be served either cold or warm alongside any protein or with scrambled eggs or just simply by itself for a flavor packed meal.
Black Bean & Sweet Potato Salad
- 1/4cupwheat berries
- 1/2lbsweet potatoes, 1/4 inch cubes
- 1/4lbfresh corn kernels, cut off the cob
- 1/4lbred peppers, small diced
- 1/2small red onion, diced
- 2tspVermont sunflower oil
- 1/8tspfresh oregano
- 1/8tspkosher salt
- 1/8tspblack pepper
- 10ozVermont black beans, cooked
- 2Tbspfresh cilantro leaves, chopped
- 2Tbspcider vinegar
- 4TbspVermont sunflower oil
- 1TbspVermont maple syrup
- Cook wheat berries in water for one hour. Drain off excess water and let cool.
- Combine sweet potatoes, corn, peppers and onion with 2 teaspoons of oil, oregano, salt and pepper. Spread evenly on a sheet pan and cook in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Cool.
- In a large bowl, combine roasted vegetables, beans and cilantro.
- In a small bowl, combine vinegar, maple syrup and 4 tablespoons of oil. Whisk until combined.
- Add dressing to bean mixture and mix well. Keep cold for use as a cold side dish or heat in the oven at 300 degrees for 20 minutes or until an internal temperature of 135 degrees has been reached.