With the fall and winter holidays fast approaching, questions about traditional ingredients will begin sometime soon: How long should you cook a turkey? Is it OK to stuff the cavity or is it safer to make the dressing in a container? Should I serve yams or sweet potatoes?
The last question is easy to answer, without any additional information. In the United States, sweet potatoes are yams and yams are sweet potatoes.
A true yam is a large tuber grown in Asia and Africa; a single one can weigh up to 100 pounds. When you see, for example, yam noodles in Asian markets, they are made from true yams. Botanically, they are a member of the Dioscoreaceae family, a group of flowering plants with over 700 species. The yam is the best known of them all.
Sweet potatoes and what are often called yams in the U.S., are related to morning glories and belong in the Convolvulaceae family. The two are the same species, Ipomoea batatas.
The confusion began as a marketing ploy sometime in the first half of the 20th century, when producers of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes wanted to increase sales by distinguishing their colorful crops from the white ones. They chose “yam.”
There is a difference between the two, but it is mostly in taste; the orange ones tend to have fuller flavor than the white ones and tend to be a tad sweeter, too. Nutritionally, they are nearly identical, with generous amounts of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, along with plenty of dietary fiber and trace minerals.
Sweet potatoes are currently in favor with health aficionados. They are considered a so-called superfood. Many Americans are familiar with them primarily in sweet potato pie and the marshmallow-covered mashed sweet potatoes that grace countless Thanksgiving tables.
Things open up for this delicious vegetable when you begin to explore its savory possibilities. For more recipes, including beef and sweet potato soup and beef with anchovies and sweet potatoes, visit “Eat This Now” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.
If you find yourself craving sweet potato fries, you can get excellent ones at local restaurants such as D’s Diner (7260 Healdsburg Ave., Sebastopol) and Werowocomo (located at Virginia Dare Winery, 22281 Chianti Rd., Geyserville).
If you want to enjoy something similar at home, I recommend roasted wedges.
Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges
Serves 4 to 6
2 large or 3 small/medium orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, washed and cut into lengthwise wedges (see Note below)
— Olive oil
— Kosher salt
1 bunch Italian parsley, cleaned
— Black pepper in a mill
— Dijon mustard or honey mustard
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Pour a little olive oil onto a baking sheet, add the sweet potatoes, and turn them to coat them evenly with olive oil. Set them skin side down, sprinkle lightly with salt, and bake until they are tender when pierced with a bamboo skewer or fork.
Remove from the oven, cover lightly and let rest briefly.
Pull off a small handful of parsley leaves and chop them coarsely. Spread the remaining parsley over a serving plate and set the sweet potatoes on top, with their skin sides down. Put the mustard into a small bowl and set it in the center of the platter.