Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Yam on Sweet Potatoes.

Besides pumpkin, another popular food item often seen during the holiday season is the Sweet Potato.  Side dishes of mashed or cut up orange colored potatoes, covered in a gooey marshmallow topping; or sweet potato pie for dessert, so good warm and served with whipped and ice creams.  This brightly colored root vegetable has earned its place, not just at the holiday table, but in restaurants with sweet potato fries, or baked and loaded with butter, cinnamon and brown sugar.   Oh, I remember the times my neighbor, David Prudhomme (nephew of Chef Paul Prudhomme) would make up recipes for his Cajun style restaurant in Pennsylvania.  I was so a willing guinea pig, and munching on sweet potato sticks was heavenly.  Mashed sweet potatoes encased in a bread coating, then deep fried; oh I never said no to those!

Two questions often asked, “Why are sweet potatoes better than regular potatoes?” and “Aren’t sweet potatoes and yams the same thing?”  Let me address the second question outright with a definitive, “No, they are not the same”.   While they are both root vegetables that is where the similarity ends.  Sweet potatoes are part of the morning glory family, grown within the United States, and primarily two varieties are sold in supermarkets.  Garnet Sweet Potatoes (these are marketed as yams) have deep, red skin and bright orange flesh. Moisture content is much higher, so the cooked flesh becomes creamy and fluffy and are best for pies and mashed side dishes.  Jersey Sweet Potatoes have tan skin and yellow flesh.  These are a firmer sweet potato; staying slightly firm and drier after cooking, they are best used for creating quick breads.

Yams are native to Africa and Asia, but they have been coming into the United States to be sold as specialty items in the international sections of markets.  Yams are part of the lily family, can grow as small as a regular russet potato, or up to 5 feet in length!  Cylindrical shaped with blackish or brown, bark-like skin and white, purple, or reddish flesh; this root vegetable is starchier and drier.  Mashing them up requires much added liquid, and lots of elbow grease.

So, when purchasing sweet potatoes (fresh or canned) for holiday recipe creations; don’t pay more if the label says “yams”.  It’s just a marketing ploy and in this instance, Popeye will not be stating, “I yam what I yam”.  Nope, just your normal, everyday, USA grown sweet potatoes.
Now to the first question, nutritionally, a sweet potato has: Total Fat 9g, Saturated Fat 1g, Sodium 71mg, Potassium 438mg, Total Carbohydrates 26g, Dietary Fiber 3g, Sugars 5g, Protein 2g , Vitamin A 368.9%, Vitamin C 3.8%, Calcium 3.9%, Iron 4.4%.  It makes a perfect little meal in itself, but it’s the addition of butter and/or sugar/brown sugar that brings up the fat and carb values.

There you have it, the story of sweet potatoes and yams.  Now besides the holiday season coming up, deer and elk hunting seasons have just finished up.  Hunters, how about a baked sweet potato to go with that main meat dish?  By the way, the recipe I am giving is geared to higher elevation cooking in San Juan County; adjust accordingly for your area if necessary.

Baked Sweet Potato

1 average sized sweet potato (9-12 oz.)


Preheat oven to 400F (65-75 minutes to bake) or 425F (60-70 minutes to bake); line a small baking pan with aluminum foil.

Gently wash the potato, prick the side to face upwards several times with a fork (allow steam to be released); rub with olive oil and sprinkle coarse sea or Kosher salt over the skin.  Place into baking pan and then oven; do not wrap sweet potato in aluminum foil, this will cause the encased steam to make the potato extremely soggy.

After 60 or 65 minutes, gently squeeze the sides of the potato; it’s done if it gives easily and feels soft.  Remove from oven, cut lengthwise to expose flesh and mash up slightly with fork.  Eat as is, or add desired toppings such as: butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, chopped pecans, raisins. 
Of course you can eat the skin with all that delicious olive oil and coarse salt baked on!

…and for the Hunters.

Country Fried Elk Steak and Gravy...

Half hour into the baking of the sweet potato (es), using two pounds of deer (marinate overnight in red wine vinegar) or elk steak; first rinse the steak pieces in cold water.  Lightly dredge in flour which contains a mixture of seasonings: onion powder, garlic powder, salt, ground black pepper, paprika and brown sugar.  The proportions are: 2 cups flour, 1 tsp. each of all the seasonings, 2 Tbsp. brown sugar; mix all together thoroughly.

In a large skillet, at medium-high heat, heat ½ cup of canola oil and begin cooking the meat. Let the first side of the steaks lay in the pan till blood begins to show, about 2 minutes, then flip them and do the other side the same way; drain the cooked meat on paper towels till all are done.

Gravy preparation; there will be about ¼ cup of oil (infused with the seasonings) remaining, add a ½ cup each of sliced mushrooms and onions, allow to cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add ¼ cup of flour and began whisking till a roux is formed.  Add to this, and continue whisking, 1 cup of warmed heavy cream; when fully incorporated, whisk in 1 and ½ cups of beef broth.  Let the mixture come to a full boil before turning off the heat.

The sweet potatoes, meat and gravy will all be ready at the same time, just sit down, eat and enjoy!

Mary Cokenour

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