Sweet potatoes make me happy. Maybe it’s their sophisticated orange hue, or the natural sweetness that satisfies more than most vegetables, or a power-packed nutritional profile that includes the antioxidants beta-carotene and good amounts of vitamin C and fiber. But mostly it’s discovering just how phenomenally versatile they are, full of delicious possibilities way beyond the cloying “candied” dishes I knew as a kid.
Despite its comfort-food connotations, this humble tuber’s origins are a bit of a puzzle: Is it a potato? Is it a yam? The answer to both is no. Sweets are actually a member of the morning glory family and not closely related to regular potatoes or the tropical tubers known as true yams.
That said, sweet potatoes have similar cooking qualities to regular potatoes. So that takes some of the mystery out of preparing them: Most techniques you know for roasting, baking, boiling and mashing can be used on either potato.
Sweet potato varieties can vary in appearance, with flesh from deep orange to yellow to ivory and skins that can be brown to orange to purple. They can also vary greatly in size; with some specimens weighing in at up to two pounds while others are about the size of a russet potato. Stick to small and medium ones for the best texture; oversized tubers can be dried out inside.
A revelation to me a few years ago was how wonderfully sweet potatoes go with coconut. Coconut Roasted Sweet Potatoes are a terrific introduction to this phenomenal pairing and make a great side dish for pork or salmon. And if you gotta have marshmallows on your sweets, Coconut-Marshmallow Mashed Sweet Potatoes are a true crowd pleaser that could steal the show on Thanksgiving.
See if this shocks you: Sweet potatoes are excellent eaten raw! They’re crunchy and sweet, not unlike raw carrots. You can give them a try in this holiday-ready Raw Sweet Potato and Cranberry Salad. Or start the party conversation with Creamy Olive Dip with Raw Sweet Potato Chips, a recipe that pairs thinly sliced sweets with a healthful vegan spread.
Back to cooking, oven fries are one of my very favorite weeknight indulgences, and they’re terrifically nutritious when made with sweets. Try Baked Sweet Potato Fries for a recipe that’s so good you’re unlikely to have leftovers. I vary the recipe by tossing the fries with some spice before baking. Everything from chili powder to smoked paprika to cinnamon and ginger works terrifically and can play off the other flavors in your meal.
For a sweeter Hanukkah, you can’t beat Pear and Sweet Potato Latkes, a wonderful combination of two autumn produce favorites. The recipe suggests serving them with Greek yogurt, but you might want to have sour cream and applesauce on hand as well to win over traditionalists.
And finally, if you’re not familiar with sweet potato pie you should be. I think it’s a classic for the holidays, a silky, richly flavored pie that’s got all the color and spice of the season. Make it your year to give it a try! The recipe for Sweet Potato Apple Pie is a winner, and this handy how-to video makes baking one super-accessible.
Love sweet potatoes? Tell us about your go-to recipes.