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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.

Sprinkle a little salt over the sweet potatoes, season generously with black pepper, scatter parsley on top, and enjoy right away.

Note: You want the wedges to be about 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick at their widest point and no more than about 3 inches long, which means you will have to cut the sweet potatoes or the wedges themselves in half crosswise; this makes them more manageable.

Variation: To serve this as a simple salad, use arugula or small salad greens instead of parsley, top with warm bacon vinaigrette (see recipe, this page), and garnish with lemon wedges.

This dish is voluptuous, delicious, and healthy. You can enjoy it at any time of day, for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. For breakfast, you should parboil the sweet potatoes and refrigerate them, which will make finishing the dish go much more quickly.

Sweet Potato Sauté with Avocado, Poached Eggs & Bacon Vinaigrette

Serves 3 to 4

— Kosher salt

1 large, orange-fleshed sweet potato, peeled and cut into 3/8-inch dice

1 large white-fleshed sweet potato, peeled and cut into 3/8-inch dice

— Bacon Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

4 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

3-4 large farm eggs

1 firm-ripe avocado, cut, pitted, cut into thin diagonal slices, and scooped from its skin

— Hot sauce of choice

Fill a medium saucepan about half full with water, add a generous tablespoon of salt, add the sweet potatoes, and bring to a boil over high heat.

Reduce the heat and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, until the sweet potatoes have begun to soften a bit. Drain, rinse in cool water and spread out on a sheet pan to cool (this process will help keep them intact when fried).

While the sweet potatoes cook, make the vinaigrette and set it aside.

When the sweet potatoes have cooled, put the butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a heavy skillet, set over medium heat, and add the sweet potatoes.

Cool, turning occasionally with a thin metal spatula, until they pick up some color and are fully tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Be careful when turning, as you don’t want them to crumble or turn to mush.

Fill a small saucepan half full with water, add the vinegar, and bring to a boil over high heat. Break an egg into a small bowl and have the other eggs nearby.

When the sweet potatoes are done, remove them from the heat, divide among individual bowls, add avocado, placing it off center, and cover to keep warm.

Tip one of the eggs into a bowl and then into the boiling water, quickly break a second egg into the bowl, and tip it in, as well. Reduce the heat so they eggs simmer gently for exactly 2 minutes.

Use a slotted to spoon to remove the eggs, one at a time, and set in the center of the bowls. Repeat with the remaining two eggs.

Spoon vinaigrette over each serving and enjoy right away, with hot sauce alongside.

Bacon Vinaigrette

Makes about 1/2 to 2/3 cup

2-3 bacon slices, cut in half crosswise

1 shallot, minced

1 garlic clove, minced

— Kosher salt

— Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more to taste

Fry the bacon in a small sauté pan over medium heat until it is crisp; transfer the bacon to absorbent paper and pour off all but about a tablespoon of bacon fat.

Add the shallot to the pan, keep over a medium-low flame, and sauté until soft and fragrant, about 7 minutes; do not let it brown or burn. Add the garlic and sauté 90 seconds more. Season lightly with kosher salt.

Add the lemon, vinegar and parsley, heat through, taste, and correct for salt. Add the olive oil, swirl the pan, and remove from the heat. Taste again and correct for salt and acid balance.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “The BLT Cookbook”. Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com.

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