Sweet potatoes, with all their natural sugary goodness, are hard not to love. They come in a variety of colors - from white to deep orange. There is a lot of confusion about sweet potatoes and yams. Although they look similar, they are not at all botanically related. Yams are native to (and grown in) Africa and Asia - with 95% of yams grown in Africa. For all you science nerds, sweet potatoes and yams developed in completely different parts of the world, so are a good example of convergent evolution. Unless you are shopping at a specialty store that sources from Africa, you have probably never eaten a yam. The confusion came about because there are hard and soft varieties of sweet potatoes. To distinguish between the two, the soft varieties are often referred to as yams in the grocery store. Whatever you call them, they are versatile and tasty. Since they like warm weather, they can be a challenge to grow in Pennsylvania. Some summers aren't warm enough to produce a large root, while other years they do rather well. Voles can also decimate a good crop by eating the center of the tubers. I can't say I blame them!
Do not put sweet potatoes in the refrigerator. If you do they will never soften no matter how long you cook them. (Strange, but true.) Store in a cool, dry, dark spot for only a few weeks.
- No need to peel - scrub well to remove any dirt.
- Bake sweet potatoes whole at 375 for 40-60 minutes or longer depending on the size. They should be very soft to ensure a great sugary flavor. Pierce the skins with a fork or knife before baking to prevent pressure build up or they might explode in your oven. (Not fun to clean up.)
- Cut in cubes and steam for 20-30 minutes until very soft.
- Add to soups and stews.
- Grate and use to replace all or some of the meat in your favorite chili recipe. Just add the raw grated root when you would the meat and treat it the same way.
- Put cooked sweet potatoes and black beans in a tortilla shell with your favorite salsa and toppings for a burrito.