February is National Sweet Potato Month — let’s celebrate!
In 1760 the French settled the town of Opelousas, Louisiana where they discovered the local Indian tribes eating sweet potatoes. The settlers quickly grew to love them and, as fate would have it, there ensued a long, sweet history of cultivation in my home state.
Today, North Carolina leads the US in sweet potato production and China leads the world.
Sweet potatoes are a sweet, starchy root vegetable we call a tuber. Although sharing the name, sweet potatoes are only distant cousins to the actual potato. Around the world, sweet potatoes are baked, sautéed, made into soups and desserts, fried, steamed, boiled and fermented.
Growing up, we loved sweet “patata” (pronounced quickly as pa-tate-a) covered in marshmallows and brown sugar for Thanksgiving and baked up into one of my grandmother’s sweet-“patata” pie recipes, of which she had more than a few.
Here are a few updated ways to enjoy sweet potatoes:
- Bake and eat: Wash and pierce sweet potatoes with the tines of a fork. Place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet (for easy clean up) and bake at 375°F until fork tender, about an hour or so. The longer they bake the sweeter they become.
- Here’s a delicious recipe for Herb-Roasted Sweet Potato Skins and here is a recipe for Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Macadamia Nuts that I created in my kitchen in honor of my two favorite states: Louisiana and Hawaii.
- If you love pie, you’ll love this tropical Coconut-Gingersnap Sweet Potato Pie.
- We love colorful, tasty dishes. Sweet Potatoes with Collards and Aduki Beans is a healthy and good-looking recipe.
- Sweet potatoes can be used in many recipes that call for plain potatoes such as potato salad, Sweet Potato Pancakes, and Baked Sweet Potato Fries.
- Enjoy a side dish of roasted or steamed sweet potatoes with salmon, roast chicken or turkey, pork chops, or baked or grilled tempeh.
- Roast apples or pears with sweet potatoes for a hearty winter dish.
- Roasted Spiced Sweet Potatoes and Pears adds natural, warm, seasonal “aroma” to your home while baking!
- Mash sweet potatoes and add to cookies, muffins and quick breads.
- Use interchangeably in recipes calling for butternut squash or pumpkin.
- Try equal amounts of sweet potato in place of pumpkin in these Cornmeal Muffins and these Millet Muffins.
- Make traditional ethnic dishes with sweet potatoes.
- Here is a recipe for Turkey and Sweet Potato Curry.
- Consider adding sweet potatoes to soups or a favorite vegetable or meat stew.
- Here’s an idea for Split Pea-Sweet Potato Soup.
If you are wondering about sweet potato vs. yam, here’s the deal: The two are often confused but, in reality, they are hardly related.
Yams are larger than sweet potatoes and are grown in Africa and Asia. Did you know a yam can grow up to 100 pounds? Probably not, because they are rarely seen in the US.
Because sweet potatoes are often referred to as yams, it’s common and acceptable to use either name.
When shopping, always choose firm sweet potatoes with no soft, decaying spots. The skin should be smooth with no wrinkling.
To keep them fresh, store in a cool dry location such as a pantry or cellar. Sweet potatoes don’t like humidity, so keep them out of the refrigerator.
When stored properly, (around 50 to 60°F), they will last a month or so. If you plan to use within a week, keep them on the kitchen counter. Remember: Don’t wash until ready to use.
Got a sweet tooth for sweet potatoes? What about a favorite recipe? Let me know!