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Okinawan Sweet Sweet Potato
Sweet potatoes are one of those delightful foods that are nutritious as well as enticing. They are an excellent source of vitamin A, and they contain vitamins C and B6 as well. And, with more exotic varieties becoming widely available, they can be wonders to behold.
Recently I saw a sweet potato that stopped me in my tracks -- an Okinawan yam. The yam's vivid purple hue and sweet, almost floral flavor reminded me of ube, a purple yam loved by Filipinos in jams, puddings and sweet pastry fillings.
If you're looking for purple sweet potatoes, go to a major Asian market. Usually they have cream-colored skins. Filipinos always use them in sweets, but I also like them simply boiled or microwaved. The really good ones taste almost like dessert even without the addition of sugar or butter.
Another striking sweet potato is the baby garnet yam, a miniature version of the familiar reddish-purple-skinned, orange-fleshed sweet potato. These small, sweet yams bake and cook faster than their larger cousins and make a tempting accompaniment for roast chicken or grilled steak.
A word on terminology: True yams are large, starchy tropical tubers -- not sweet. But in U.S. markets the term yam is used interchangeably with sweet potato. At some produce shops, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are labeled yams, and white ones, which have a sweet, whitish yellow flesh with a drier texture than the orange ones, are labeled sweet potatoes.
American cooks like to prepare sweet potatoes with sweet ingredients such as marshmallows, honey and maple syrup, but savory flavors also make tasty partners for the tubers as well. Toppings such as mint butter, orange vinaigrette and tangy-creamy yogurt-garlic dressing complement their sweetness. Sweet potatoes are also good simmered in stews such as the beef in ginger-scented red wine sauce below.
The peak season for sweet potatoes lasts from September to January, but you can find them year round. Choose sweet potatoes that are firm and fairly smooth. Check the ends to be sure they are not soft or damaged.
Robert Schueller of Melissa's
SWEET POTATO TIPS
-- Before cooking sweet potatoes, scrub them under cold, running water.
-- To bake sweet potatoes:
Pierce each sweet potato several times with a fork. Arrange in a single layer in a pan; line it with foil if you like for easier cleanup. Bake uncovered at 400 F for about 45 minutes or until they are soft when squeezed.
-- Microwaving Sweet Potatoes:
For orange-fleshed sweet potatoes: Pierce several times with a fork and microwave it on a paper towel until tender; check with a fork.
For white- or yellow-fleshed sweet potatoes: Cut them in a few chunks and microwave them with a few tablespoons water in a covered container until tender.
THREE EASY TOPPINGS FOR SWEET POTATOES
-- Mint Butter: Thoroughly mix 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves with 3 tablespoons softened butter and salt and pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature. Makes 3 tablespoons.
-- Orange Vinaigrette: In a bowl, combine 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil or canola oil with 1 tablespoon orange juice, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest. Whisk to combine. Season to taste with salt, pepper and cayenne. Makes about 1/3 cup.
-- Yogurt-Garlic Dressing: Mix 1 cup plain yogurt with 2 small, very finely minced garlic cloves and 1/2 teaspoon dried mint leaves. Season to taste with salt and cayenne pepper. Makes 1 cup.
Sweet Potato Latkes With Apple Apricot Sauce
These potato latkes have a lovely orange color and a subtle sweet flavor and make a pleasing change from the usual Hanukkah potato latkes. Serve them according to tradition with applesauce and sour cream -- or, for something a little different, with apple apricot sauce.
You can make the latkes ahead and refrigerate them. Reheat them on a cookie sheet in a 400 F oven for about 7 minutes; watch them carefully so their edges don't burn.
Makes about 4 servings.
1 1/2 pounds orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, peeled
1 medium onion, preferably sweet
2 large eggs
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
5 tablespoons all purpose flour
About 1/2 cup vegetable oil (for frying)
Apple Apricot Sauce (see recipe below)
Grate sweet potatoes and onion, using grating disc of a food processor or large holes of a grater. Transfer them to a large bowl. Beat eggs with salt and pepper, and add to potato mixture. Add flour and mix well.
Heat 1/4 cup oil in a heavy 10- to 12-inch skillet, preferably nonstick. Fill a 1/4-cup measure with mixture, pressing to compact it, and turn it out in a mound into skillet. Quickly form 3 more mounds. Flatten each with back of a spoon so each cake is about 2 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter, pressing to compact it. Fry over medium heat 3 minutes; turn carefully with 2 pancake turners and fry second side about 2 1/2 minutes or until golden brown and crisp. Drain on paper towels. Stir potato mixture before frying each new batch and add a little more oil to pan. Serve latkes hot, accompanied by the sauce.
APPLE APRICOT SAUCE
Dried apricots contribute a delicious, slightly tangy taste and a pleasing texture to applesauce.
Makes about 4 servings.
1/4 pound dried apricots
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds Golden Delicious, Pippin or Granny Smith apples
1 to 2 tablespoons butter or vegetable oil
1 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 to 4 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
Soak apricots in hot water to cover for about 10 minutes or until tender. Remove from water and cut in small dice.
Peel, halve and core apples. Cut them in thin wedges.
Melt butter in a saute pan. Add apples and saute over medium heat, turning pieces over often, for 2 minutes. Add lemon juice. Cover tightly and cook over low heat, stirring often, for 10 minutes. Add apricots and 2 tablespoons water. Cover and cook for 10 minutes or until apples are very tender, adding water by tablespoons if needed.
Stir in 2 tablespoons sugar. Cook sauce over low heat, stirring, for 1 minute or until sugar dissolves. Taste and add more sugar if desired; heat briefly to dissolve it. Serve warm or cold.
Beef and Sweet Potatoes in Red Wine and Ginger Sauce
Fresh ginger is a great complement to the sweet potatoes and lends a pleasing accent to the red wine sauce. Bake it in the oven, as in the recipe below, or cook it over low heat; the cooking time will be the same. Serve the stew with rice, rice noodles or orzo and with green beans or a green salad.
Makes 4 servings.
1 1/2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds boneless lean beef chuck, cut in 1-inch pieces, trimmed of fat and patted dry
2 medium onions, chopped
3 tablespoons minced peeled gingerroot
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
3/4 cup dry red wine
1 1/4 cups water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Salt (optional) and freshly ground pepper
1 1/4 pounds sweet potatoes, either orange- or white-fleshed
1 pound slim carrots, peeled and cut in 1-inch chunks
1 to 2 tablespoons sliced chives (optional, for sprinkling)
Preheat oven to 325 F. Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in a large heavy stew pan over medium-high heat. Add beef in batches and brown it on all sides. Using slotted spatula, transfer each batch to a plate as it browns. Add a little oil if pan is dry.
Add onion to pan and saute over medium-low heat until light brown, about 7 minutes. Add ginger and saute 1/2 minute. Return meat to pan with tongs, reserving any juices on plate, and sprinkle meat with flour. Toss lightly to coat meat with flour. Cook over low heat, stirring often, 5 minutes.
Stir in wine, water, meat juices from plate and soy sauce. Add pepper and bring to a boil, stirring often. Cover and bake in oven for 1 1/4 hours.
Peel sweet potatoes, cut in large dice (about 1 inch) and add to casserole. Add carrots. Mix well to moisten vegetables with sauce. Cover and bake for 45 minutes or until beef is very tender; check with point of a knife. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve stew sprinkled with chives.
Honey-Glazed Sweet and White Potatoes With Dried Fruit
This sweet and white potato medley flavored with citrus juice and sweet spices is perfect with roast chicken, braised meat or baked tofu. Roasted almonds provide a festive accent. You can substitute maple syrup for the honey and add a pinch of cayenne pepper for a touch of heat.
You can prepare this dish several hours ahead and keep it at room temperature; reheat it in a covered dish in a 300 F oven.
Makes 4 servings.
3/4 cup pitted dried plums or halved dried figs
2/3 cup dried apricots
4 or 5 tablespoons butter, melted
1 large orange-fleshed sweet potato (about 1 1/2 pounds)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 long white boiling potatoes (about 1 pound)
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of ground cloves
1/4 cup whole blanched almonds or slivered almonds, toasted
Put dried plums and apricots in separate bowls and pour boiling water over them. Let soak for 20 to 30 minutes or until nearly tender.
Preheat oven to 400 F. Pour 2 or 3 tablespoons melted butter into 2-quart baking dish. Peel sweet potato, halve lengthwise and cut in 1/2-inch slices. Put in baking dish, add salt and pepper and toss to coat slices with butter. Bake uncovered, stirring occasionally, until barely tender, about 25 minutes.
Peel white potatoes and cut in 1/2-inch slices crosswise. Put in medium saucepan with water to cover and pinch of salt. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes or until barely tender. Drain well.
For glaze: Combine honey, 2 tablespoons butter, orange juice, lemon juice, cinnamon and cloves in small saucepan.
Drain dried fruit and add to sweet potatoes. Add white potatoes and mix very gently. Bring glaze to simmer, stirring, and pour evenly over mixture. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Bake uncovered, basting a few times, for 15 minutes. Remove from oven. Using rubber spatula, stir very gently to bring ingredients from bottom to top. Bake, basting a few times, until most of liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Serve garnished with almonds.
Faye Levy is the author of the award-winning "Faye Levy's International Vegetable Cookbook: Over 300 Sensational Recipes from Argentina to Zaire and Artichokes to Zucchini."
Sweet Potatoes: 3 Sweet Potato Recipes - Faye Levy Recipes
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