Rooting for Sweet Potatoes

In my mind, sweet potatoes are inextricably linked with Thanksgiving dinners of yore.  We weren’t a family that served them covered in puffed marshmallows. Mom baked them with a glaze of sweet orange juice. For years, they were the one thing my brother would not eat. And for whatever reason, I took great pleasure in taunting him – trying to shove a forkful of the gooey disks covered in orange onto his plate. Today, I believe he has finally come to terms with this nutritious vegetable. And I am hoping the recipes I am featuring in this post only increase his acceptance of sweet potatoes as they are, without question, one of my top five favorite vegetables of all time.

Their placement on my top five list is not exclusively due to their health benefits, though they are one of the most nutritious vegetables around. Sweet potatoes are neck and neck with carrots as sources of beta-carotene – which means they are first-rate for fighting chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease, as well as diseases related to inflammation, such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. They are high in fiber and also rich in potassium and vitamin C; a small potato provides almost half the daily allowance.

My love for sweet potatoes centers on their versatility and comforting texture.  Whether I blend them into soup or roast them in the oven, their sweet, rich flavor never fails to bring solace during these dark winter months.  They are currently all over the local farmer’s markets so this time of year, I always have a few on hand. A favorite meal is an oven-baked sweet potato, covered with garlicky sautéed chard, roasted walnuts and a drizzle of balsamic reduction.  But when I’m feeling a bit more adventurous I turn to the following favorite recipes, which never fail to elicit sighs of satisfaction from whoever is joining me around the table.

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Thai Sweet Potato Soup

I have been making this for years. Even before I fell in love with vegetables and learned of the great nutritious benefits of the mighty sweet potato, this soup was a source of comfort. The sweetness of the sweet potatoes and coconut milk intertwines with the heat of the red curry and the zing of the fresh lime – resulting in a flavor profile that never fails to make me smile.

 Ingredients

  • 1 ½ tablespoons canola or olive oil
  • 1 ½ cups yellow onions – chopped (about 1 ½ large onions)
  • 5 cloves garlic – chopped
  • 2 tablespoons red curry paste (Mae Ploy is my favorite – can be found at Asian markets)
  • 6 cups peeled and chopped orange sweet potato—about three somewhat large sweet potatoes
  • 1 heaping tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  • 1 can coconut milk (Chaokoh is a great brand)
  • 6-7 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup chopped cilantro
  • Zest and juice of two medium limes

 Instructions

Heat oil in large pot or dutch oven. Add curry paste and cook on medium heat for about 2 minutes. Note that 2 tablespoons gives this soup some kick. If you like a bit less heat, adjust accordingly. Add onions and garlic and sauté until soft – about 5 minutes. Add chopped sweet potato and continue to cook over medium, stirring constantly, for another 5 minutes. Add ginger, cilantro (reserve a few sprigs for garnish) and coconut milk, stir well. Lower heat to medium low and cook another 5 minutes. Add 6 cups of stock, soy sauce and brown sugar. Cook over medium low for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure potatoes don’t stick to the bottom of the pot.

Check potatoes to ensure they are cooked by pressing a cube in a spoon. If it mashes easily – they are done. Allow mixture to cool for about 20 minutes.

 In batches, transfer soup into blender and blend until smooth. Return blended soup to pot and add lime juice and zest.  Add another cup of stock if it’s too thick. Bring back to a simmer and cook another 10 minutes. Taste and add additional soy sauce and/or brown sugar if needed. Garnish with cilantro and serve. This goes well with a serving of brown rice.

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Sweet Potato Oven “Fries”

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I have never been able to produce truly crispy sweet potato fries. I have done countless cook book and Internet searches for solutions and tried lowering and raising the oven temperature, par-boiling and soaking. Try as I might, however, a crunchy sweet potato fry eludes me. Regardless, the roasting lends a caramelized flavor and the plate is always emptied within minutes.  

 Ingredients

  • 2 medium-sized sweet potatoes
  • 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

 Instructions

 Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Peel sweet potatoes and cut into uniform matchstick size slices – approximately ¼ inch wide. Toss in bowl with olive oil, cumin and salt.

Once the oven is heated, place baking pan in oven for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and toss cut sweet potatoes onto pan in a single layer, ensuring there is room between all slices.

Turn sweet potatoes after 15 minutes. Bake another 20 minutes. They should be nicely browned at this point. For a bit of additional browning, turn on broiler and cook another minute or two – watching closely.

Salt liberally and serve immediately.

Note: try replacing the cumin with freshly chopped rosemary – delicious.

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End note: sweet potatoes have endless possibilities. I plan on trying sweet potato gnocchi in the not-too-distant future. And my foodie friend Caitlin has raved about whipped sweet potatoes and banana – which sounds heavenly. Stay tuned.

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2 Responses to “Rooting for Sweet Potatoes”

  1. Ooooh yumm. These look great! I love Thai food, and the fries have really minimum oil.

    I’m planning on a post for my blog, Practical Nutrition, on the health benefits of sweet potatoes. I will definitely refer back to these.

    Nour
    http://www.PracticalNutritionByDietitian.com

  2. Manja says:

    LOVE, love, love sweet potatoes and yams! And THAI food! And oven FRIES! I like to add a generous pinch of cayenne to the oven fries and dip them in mock sour cream (healthy homemade from sunflower seeds). YUM!

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