The sweet potato is a distant relative of the potato; so distant that technically they aren’t even in the same family that being the Nightshade. Chronologically, these earth bound, tuberous vegetables appear to have originated around the same time. Evidence indicates that humans started cultivating them some 5000 to 8000 years ago. Give or take of course. Geographically, the potato originated in South America alternately the sweet potato’s origins lay somewhere in Central America. So they’re kind of like kissing-cousins who only come together at family gatherings around the dinner table.
There are many varieties of sweet potatoes whose smooth skin or starchy interior can be any hue of yellow, orange, red, pink, purple, or beige. For the most part we only see two types of sweet potatoes in supermarkets; the more common copper skinned variety with its Halloween orange flesh and the other almost looks like a gold skinned potato with a creamy white flesh. To keep these two varieties of sweet potato distinct The United States Department of Agriculture made it mandatory that the orange flesh variety be labelled as yams, which has also has seen them labelled as sweet yams.
This labeling practice has caused consumer confusion for almost two centuries as the yams are native to Africa, are starchy tubers that have an almost black bark-like skin with a white or purplish blue flesh and have higher sugar content than sweet potatoes. Oh and what really sets yams and sweet potatoes apart is that a yam can grow to between 5 and six feet in length. Yams are prized as a pantry staple in many parts of the world. They can be stored for up to six months without refrigeration and can be prepared in a variety of ways.
If this discussion has left you confused about sweet potatoes I recommend you pick some up and add this versatile vegetable into your diet by simply adding them into your soup or stew recipes. They also can be cut and fried like chips or fries as an alternative to regular potatoes. However you choose to call them, Ontario grown sweet potatoes are abundantly available year round at Farmer’s Markets or at our local grocers and can be spiced up in the following recipe for simply roasted sweet potatoes or the second recipe for Sweet Potato Skins
Spicy Herb Roasted Sweet Potatoes
4 medium sized sweet potatoes
4 tbsp. cooking oil
2 tbsp. fresh garlic, minced
2 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tsp. crushed chillies or red pepper flakes
½ lemon cut into wedges
Rinse any excess soil off of the sweet potatoes. Peel and cut the sweet potatoes into one-inch-thick coins. In large mixing bowl, combine the sweet potatoes with all of the ingredients except the lemon and toss them together until they are evenly incorporated. Lay the sweet potato slices out in single layer on a parchment lined baking pan. Roast the sweet potatoes for about 40 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 450°F or until they have softened and started to turn brown. Season with salt and pepper, then serve them immediately with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Yields 6-8 portions
Sweet Potato Skins
2 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed and dried
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon bourbon
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon butter, melted
2 tablespoons pecans, chopped
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pierce the sweet potatoes a few times with a fork, bake in a preheated 400F oven until tender, about 45-60 minutes and let cool.
Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise, scoop out the flesh leaving 1.4 inch on the skin.
Mix the sweet potatoes with the butter, brown sugar, maple syrup, bourbon and cinnamon and spoon it back into the kins.
Mix the brown sugar, flour, butter, pecans and cinnamon until it starts to form crumbs and sprinkle it onto the stuffed potatoes.
Bake in a preheated 350F oven until the topping is a light golden brown, about 20 minutes.