One of my favorites is sweet potato. I have them at least once a week at my house and I would never leave them off the Thanksgiving Day menu. The sweet potato is an American vegetable that native Americans have been growing since before the days of Columbus and we all should rediscover this great source of vitamin A, beta carotene, fiber and minerals.

This very versatile and nutritious vegetable lends itself to both sweet and savory dishes – bake it, mash it, grill it, candy it, scallop it or even put marshmallows on top of it or make a pie with it.

The word yam and sweet potato are used interchangeably although the true yam is a very distant relative to the orange fleshed sweet potato that we know. Yams belong to a different genus, are drier and starchier, have a growing season almost twice as long and need a tropical or subtropical climate to thrive. The word yam comes from the African ‘nyami’ and is an important food source in many parts of the world.

Some of my favorite recipes for sweet potato are:

Plain Baked – Rub on a little olive oil and bake in the oven.

Charcoal Broiled – Cut into ¼ inch rounds, brush with olive oil and grill outside. When done sprinkle with a little salt, pepper and sugar to serve.

Soup – There are several sublime soups I make with sweet potatoes. One uses curry (Indian), one is spicy hot with rum (Caribbean) and one is with maple syrup (New England), but that is another column.

Do not refrigerate sweet potatoes. It creates a hard core and gives an off flavor to them when cooked.

The following recipes are examples of the versatility of this vegetable.

Scalloped Sweet Potatoes

It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without this dish on the lavish buffet that we serve every year.

Ingredients

  • 8 to12 cups sweet potato - sliced cross-wide into thin round pieces
  • 2 large onions - peeled and chopped into small dice
  • 1 small onion cut into thin slices
  • 1-2 sticks softened butter - almost melted
  • 1-quart heavy cream (don’t worry you won’t use it all)
  • 1 cup cider
  • 1 cup flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • Salt and pepper
  • ½ cup bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Put a layer of the sweet potato slices in the dish and brush with the almost melted butter. Put some of the chopped onions on top. Sprinkle some of the salt, pepper and sugar over them (just enough to flavor the layer). Sprinkle with some flour and pour a little cream and cider on top. Repeat this process (sweet potato, butter, onions, salt, pepper, sugar, flour and cream) until the dish is filled. Butter the top of the casserole, lightly, and sprinkle a thin layer of bread crumbs on top. Dot with butter and a few of the thinly sliced onions. Pour a little of the cream over the crumbs and onions.

There should be liquid about ¾ up the side of the pan – if there is not, add a little stock or cider to bring it up to snuff.

Bake in the oven for approximately one hour. I usually cover this dish to start – about 30 minutes and then uncovered for the rest of the time. The sweet potato should be tender and the casserole bubbling. I have had this take almost 1 ½ hours to cook – so check it. It is done when a knife inserted into the sweet potatoes finds no resistance.

Let set for about 1 hour before serving. The ingredients must meld together and set.

Everyone is going to love this dish.

Sweet Potato Oven Fries

I use my large cast iron skillet for this recipe. It really makes a crispy oven fry. When I make oven fries with white potatoes all I have to do is put the cut potatoes in the pan, toss with olive oil, sprinkle with salt or any other spice I might use and put in a very hot oven. This technique never worked well for sweet potatoes – they were not as crispy. Then I found a recipe that coated the sweet potatoes with corn starch before oiling them and it created a crispy oven fried sweet potato. I will outline a few of the rules you have to use when making oven fries. It’s really easy and a nice alternative to the deep fryer.

Rules for Making Oven Fries:

A preheated, hot oven is essential. I usually set the temperature at 415 degrees.

Make them not more than 1 hour before service

The potato slices should be all roughly the same size for consistency in cooking.

The slices should be in a flat layer in your pan. Do not stack them up or you will not get fries but roasted potatoes. If you don’t have a large tray, then use 2 trays.

Try to flip them once through the cooking process.

When they come out of the oven it is best to take them out of the tray or skillet, immediately, so they don’t soak up any of the oil in the bottom.

Ingredients

  • 4 medium sweet potatoes – peeled and cut into small to medium fry shaped wedges
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch (can use potato starch or tapioca starch)
  • ¼ to ½ cup olive oil or any vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup Sea or Kosher Salt

Place the wedges in a large bowl and toss with the starch until they are evenly coated, and the starch has absorbed into the wedges. Add the oil and toss until evenly coated. Add the salt and toss again. Lay the sweet potato flat on the tray or trays you are using in a single layer. Put in your preheated 415-degree oven. Cook about 20 minutes and then using a flat-bottomed spatula flip the potatoes over and put back in the oven. They will probably take another 20 minutes. Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn. When done take out of the oven and sprinkle a little salt and pepper on them. Place them in a bowl with the spatula. They will crisp up as they sit a short amount of time. Serve with a dipping sauce – ketchup doesn’t really do it for sweet potatoes. I make a Thai sweet red chili and sour cream sauce for dipping. It takes only a minute and is nice to have if you are serving your fries with hamburgers or the like.

Thai Sweet Red Chili Dipping Sauce

I use this sweet red chili sauce to in many dishes. It has the perfect combination of sweet and tangy flavors with just a hint of heat. Brush it on meat before you pan fry or barbecue. Find it in the supermarket along with the soy and teriyaki sauces.

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup mayonnaise
  • ¾ cup sour cream
  • ¼ cup sweet red chili sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all the ingredients and stir it up! You are not going to find an easier recipe.