Grabbing the Gusto

Deirdre Reid – Freelance Writer & Home Cook

November is Sweet Potato Month! Go ahead, whoop it up a bit. Did you know that the farmers of North Carolina grow nearly half the sweet potatoes in the U.S.? That makes my state the top producer in the country.

Growing up in Massachusetts, winter squash was more likely to be part of our Thanksgiving meal than sweet potatoes. I’ve always been the only one who brings butternut squash to Thanksgiving, no matter what state I’m feasting in — Virginia, Maryland, California, Washington or North Carolina. I’ve converted a few over to the squash side but I’ve accepted that sweet potatoes are more popular.

It’s hard to compete with the Maple-Glazed Sweet Potatoes and Apples that my friend Jasper makes for Thanksgiving. When my brother Ed makes it, he first tosses the sweet potato slices with olive oil, salt and pepper and roasts them until half done. He adds a bit of nutmeg to the dish too.

Yam vs. sweet potato, what’s the real story? Who’s the imposter? The true yam isn’t found in our markets. Yams are native to Africa and Asia. They’re a different vegetable family than sweet potatoes. We have two types of sweet potatoes here in the U.S. — the white dry hard sweet potato and the orange moist soft sweet potato. Long ago the name ‘yam’ was given to the softer orange variety to distinguish it from the harder white one because they reminded African slaves of the real yams they knew in Africa. It’s just a name thing. Unless your market is selling real yams, I don’t think there’s any reason to get too picky about it.

sweet potatoes recipe

photo by Natalie Maynor (flickr)

I went to a brewpub yesterday and had sweet potato fries on the side instead of regular fries. Attention restaurants, we love that option. Sweet potatoes, besides being more flavorful, are a superfood. In addition to fiber and potassium (great for those with high blood pressure), they’re full of Vitamins A and C and beta-carotene.

Trying to find more ways to get sweet potatoes in your diet? How about drinking them? Fullsteam Brewery, based in Durham NC, makes Carver Sweet Potato Beer, an amber beer honoring Doctor George Washington Carver, who, I learned from Fullsteam, was passionate about sweet potatoes. Besides traditional styles, the brewers at Fullsteam also create recipes that feature local ingredients — paw paws, basil, scuppernong grapes, persimmons and more.

Here are some sweet potato recipes that caught my eye recently and are on my list to make:

  • Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes with Chipotle Pecan Streusel (enough said) from Cookin’ Canuck
  • Spicy Crockpot Sweet Potatoes from Kalyn’s Kitchen — Crockpot dishes are portable and don’t take up space in someone’s oven.
  • Sweet Potato and Sage Gratin from The Kitchn
  • Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Maple Cinnamon Sage Brown Butter from Giada De Laurentiis at the Food Network
  • Sweet Potato (and maple!) Pie with Pecan Topping from Simply Recipes
  • Sweet Morning Potato, baked and topped for breakfast, from The Kitchn

Time to go shopping for sweet potatoes, I’ve got some cooking to do!

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