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Sweet potatoes: the perfect food?! March 25, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. While our friend Ben and I were vacationing in Asheville, North Carolina, our friend Kathy mentioned that she’d read that sweet potatoes were the perfect food. Sweet potatoes?!

OFB and I love sweet potatoes in (almost) all their forms: baked with butter and salt, sliced and roasted with olive oil and herbs, as sweet potato fries, in sweet potato souffle, as sweet potato chips. (We can’t abide the nasty, marshmallow-covered casserole, however; for us, the natural sweetness of sweet potatoes is plenty sweet enough without sugar added and glop on top. This is a vegetable, not dessert, folks.) But the perfect food?! I’d have thought it would be eggs.

Determined to get to the bottom of this, I headed to my good friend Google. I already knew that, besides being naturally low-cal, sweet potatoes contain significant amounts of fiber and vitamins A (as beta carotene) and C. But plenty of veggies are low-cal and high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. And while we love sweet potatoes’ luscious flavor and naturally rich, creamy texture (the secret is cooking them long enough to bring the texture out), plenty of other veggies can claim “delicious” as part of their job description.

I found plenty of good press for sweet potatoes. They were listed as high in antioxidants and rate the lowest of the root veggies on the glycemic index, making them an excellent “anti-diabetic” vegetable and putting them on the “good carbs” list on carb-restricted diets like South Beach, Atkins, and Sugar Busters. In addition to being high in vitamins A and C, they contain significant amounts of vitamin B6 and the minerals manganese, copper, iron, potassium, and calcium. They’re recommended to protect smokers from emphysema and those at risk from heart failure and stroke from the onset of symptoms, thanks to their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich properties.

I’m still not convinced about the “perfect food” business, but we love sweet potatoes and try to incorporate them in our meals at least once or twice a week. We don’t eat the skins when we bake sweet potatoes—our black German shepherd, Shiloh, Amazon parrot, Plutarch, and chickens are all lined up for their share—but we do eat the skins when we roast thick slices of sweet potatoes, and find them tender and delicious (not to mention an excellent source of added fiber).

Okay, great. Sweet potatoes have wonderful flavor, are high-fiber, low-cal, and packed with vitamins and minerals. But what about protein? A super-vegetable, sure. But as for the “perfect food,” what about dried beans, soy and soy derivatives like tofu, brown rice, whole grains—those staples that have supported human life since the dawn of the agricultural age—not to mention yogurt, cheese, and those eggs?

I’d have said sweet potatoes, like dark, leafy greens, tomatoes, and the like, are excellent eat-withs in terms of promoting optimal health and well-being. So I was relieved to finally find that the whole “perfect food” business originated with a 1992 Center for Science in the Public Interest report that ranked sweet potatoes as highest in nutritional value compared to other vegetables. That I’m very happy to believe! (Note that the #2 vegetable was the much-maligned true potato, but it came in a distant second to the unrelated sweet potato.)

To enjoy sweet potatoes as much as we do, it pays to follow a few simple tips:

* Buy deep orange sweet potatoes, which have the highest nutrient value. Choose long, relatively thin sweet potatoes that have smooth, blemish-free skins. Avoid thick, lumpy sweet potatoes or those with sunken, dark spots. Long, thin sweet potatoes cook fastest and most evenly, so you’re sure to end up with delicious, melt-in-the-mouth sweet potatoes rather than hard, underdone, unappetizing specimens.

* Sort out the sweet potato/yam confusion. Yams are basically long, whitish Polynesian roots, not the orange, red, or whitish tubers (specialized swollen underground stems) that characterize sweet potatoes, an entirely different species. You’ll often see the words used interchangeably, especially in the South and on cans (“candied yams” and etc.), but these are almost always sweet potatoes. True yams are all but unobtainable in the U.S., and their starchy, flavorless, unappealing nature (think poi) makes them undesirable in any case, except for those who’ve been raised on them and thus love them.

* Bake washed whole sweet potatoes at 350 degrees F. for about an hour and a half. Your goal is to bake them until the flesh literally separates from the skin and begins to caramelize, bringing out their inherent sweetness. To keep sweet potatoes from exploding in the oven, you need to punch holes at 1-inch intervals in the top with a fork so the steam can escape. When you see thick brown fluid oozing from the holes, it’s a good indication that the sweet potatoes are ready to serve. Another way to make sure you’re not serving them before they reach their peak of creamy goodness is to remove one from the aluminum-foil-lined cooking sheet, wearing an oven mitt, of course,  and squeeze it to see if it’s really, really soft. If so, it’s good to go!

* Roasted sweet potato slices are easier to time; put them in the oven at 350, topped with olive oil, salt (we like RealSalt) or Trocamare, lemon pepper or fresh-ground black pepper, and a mix of herbs, including dried oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, and marjoram. Yum! Start checking for doneness after 1/2 hour; when a fork easily penetrates the flesh, the slices are done.

* Store raw sweet potatoes in a cool dry place, not in the fridge. They prefer temps of 55-65 degrees F. Our mudroom’s the perfect place for sweet potato (and potato, squash, cabbage, apple, and citrus) storage. The veggie crisper in your fridge will make them miserable and cause them to rot.

* In our experience, sweet potatoes don’t keep nearly as well as true potatoes. It’s not long before those dark, sunken spots start to appear, even if you’ve bought beautiful tubers and stored them properly. So I suggest that you decide how many sweet potatoes you’re likely to cook each week, and buy exactly that many. Sound sweet potatoes will keep perfectly for at least a week, as long as you don’t put them in the fridge.

Now that you’ve mastered the basics, let’s move on to a truly gourmet form of sweet potatoes: sweet potato souffle. We first encountered this luscious, decadent dish at our favorite high-end restaurant, the Landis Store Hotel. Given our financial circumstances, we rarely find ourselves at Landis Store these days, but if we do happen to go there, we can never resist their sweet potato souffle and corn cakes. Yum!!! Landis Store is also the only place where I’ll actually order dessert: Their fresh blueberry tart, loaded with whipped cream, is more than I can resist. But I can’t manage it and a meal, so I order it to go and indulge in the most decadent breakfast imaginable the following day.

But I digress. Fortunately for all of us who enjoy sweet potatoes, Landis Store has posted its sweet potato souffle recipe on its website, along with its delicious corn cakes (fritters). Check out the recipes for yourself by Googling Landis Store Hotel. You won’t be sorry!

              ‘Til next time,




1. Dave - March 25, 2011

Sweet potatoes the perfect food? I concur! It’s like eating dessert for dinner!

Ha! So true, Dave!

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