You know that you’re a grown-up when you fall in love with foods you disliked as a child. I never liked sweet potatoes, but we were raised to eat what was on our plates without complaint. My mother usually served them in the wintertime, so I had to endure them only a few months out of the year. Now that my job is researching, writing and cooking all types of foods, I’ve often revisited eating sweet potatoes.
I challenged myself to try sweet potatoes in a variety of ways, including baked and topped with roasted peanuts and peanut butter (a la Dr. George Washington Carver); as sweet potato fries; mashed and used as a topping for shephard’s pie, and as a flavorful addition to soups and stews. Best of all, there are a multitude of health benefits in this beautiful tuber.
The sweet potato is an excellent source of vitamin A, which supports good vision, the immune system and bone growth. Sweet potatoes are a good source of vitamin B-6, magnesium and vitamin C, along with iron, potassium and fiber. They also are great for the complexion.
Sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene. A high intake of beta carotene-rich vegetables like sweet potatoes can significantly reduce the risks for certain types of cancer. Those that are a pretty, bright-orange color are richest in beta-carotene.
When it comes to nutritional value, the sweet potato ranks far ahead of the baked Idaho potato, spinach or broccoli, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. High in fiber and low in fat and calories, this root vegetable is a healthful alternative to snack foods when prepared without added butter, sugar or salt.
Unlike other potatoes, sweet potatoes like long, hot growing seasons. This might explain why it is the state vegetable of North Carolina. There is a difference between sweet potatoes grown in northern states and those grown in Louisiana. Sweet potatoes produced in the north are mostly “firm” and tend to be drier, with a mealier texture and yellow flesh.
Folks in Louisiana enjoy the second type of sweet potato, which is “soft” and higher in natural sugar. Most often, it is the “soft” type that is referred to as a yam. Louisiana sweet potatoes are moister, and also have a bright-orange flesh color.
Sweet potatoes are stored in temperature- and humidity-controlled warehouses that extend their shelf life for the entire year. So, the “season” for fresh yams is 12 months. Canned yams also are available year-round.
Here’s some great information about how to select, store and prepare sweet potatoes:
— Select fresh sweet potatoes that are smooth, plump, dry and clean.
— Sweet potatoes should not be refrigerated unless cooked. Store in a dark place at 55 to 65 F.
— Use a stainless-steel knife when cutting a sweet potato. Using a carbon blade will cause them to darken.
— One cup of canned sweet potatoes equals one medium-sized, cooked fresh sweet potato.
— When using canned yams, add them at the end of the recipe because they are already pre-cooked.
This recipe for Three-Bean Chili showcases the flavors of the sweet potato in a spicy and healthy new way.
THREE-BEAN SWEET POTATO CHILI
1 1/4 pound sweet potatoes, about 2 or 3 large potatoes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 chipotle chilies in adobo, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
2 cans (15-ounce) diced tomatoes
1 can (15-ounce) pureed tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
2 cups frozen shelled edamame
1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added pinto beans
1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added black beans
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese, optional
1/2 cup sour cream, optional
1. In microwave-safe glass baking dish, combine sweet potatoes and 2 tablespoons water. Cover with vented plastic wrap and microwave on high 12 minutes, or until tender.
2. Meanwhile, in 5-quart saucepot, heat oil on medium. Add onion, chipotles, garlic, cumin, chili powder, cloves and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Add tomatoes, brown sugar and 2 cups water. Heat to simmering on high. Simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Add sweet potatoes to the pot along with the edamame, pinto beans, black beans and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook 2 to 5 minutes, or until beans are hot.
5. To serve, garnish with Cheddar cheese and sour cream, if desired. Serves 6.