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story.lead_photo.caption Sweet Potato Dinner Rolls - Photo by John Sykes Jr.

Sweet potatoes. They're supporting players on Thanksgiving dinner tables across America. But beyond sweet potato fries and the holiday spread of pies and casseroles, these super tubers tend to get ignored and overlooked. At least by many American cooks.

That's a real shame.

Sweet potatoes are delicious and nutritious. And they're a staple in soul food and many other cuisines around the globe. And they should be in your kitchen, too.

The nutritional powerhouse -- 1 medium sweet potato contains about 120 calories, 2 g protein, 27 g carbohydrate (9 g sugar; 4 g fiber), 347 mg potassium, 400 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A and 15 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin B6 -- originated in Central or South America, but made its way across the Pacific to Polynesia long before Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic in search of a water route from Europe to Asia.

Archaeological and plant DNA evidence shows sweet potatoes were part of the Polynesian diet as early as A.D. 1000 to 1100, according to a paper by Caroline Roullier, Laure Benoit, Doyle B. McKey and Vincent Lebot published in 2012 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. (As you'll recall from grade school, Columbus didn't sail the ocean blue until 1492.)

Botanically speaking, despite our tendency to call sweet potatoes yams, they are completely different foods. They're also completely different from their other namesake, the potato.

Sweet potatoes and regular potatoes originated in the Americas. Yams are native to Africa and Asia.

Regular potatoes are members of the nightshade family, genus Solanum.

Sweet potatoes are members of the morning glory family, genus Ipomea.

Yams are members of the um, yam family, genus Dioscorea.

YAMS VS. SWEET POTATOES

So how do you know if what you're buying is a yam or a sweet potato?

Despite what the sign says at the grocery store, unless you're shopping at a store that specializes in imported and exotic food, it's a sweet potato.

How can you tell the difference?

Yams have rough, bark-like skin.

Sweet potatoes have smooth(ish) skin like a potato.

Yams have brown skin and white flesh.

Sweet potatoes can have amber, tan, brown, reddish or even purple skin and flesh that ranges in color from white to orange or even purple.

Yams range in size from that of a lemon to several feet and usually have blunt ends.

Sweet potatoes are typically 3 to 8 inches long and have tapered, pointy ends.

Yams are generally not grown in the United States.

Sweet potatoes of all varieties are grown in the United States.

Mary-Frances Heck, in her book Sweet Potatoes, explains sweet potatoes come in three basic flesh colors: orange, white and purple. And each color cooks somewhat differently:

For moist, soft-cooked sweet potatoes look for orange fleshed varieties including Beauregard, garnet and jewel. Most farmers markets, grocery stores and supermarkets carry orange-fleshed sweet potatoes.

For dry, firm-cooked sweet potatoes opt for a white-fleshed variety such as Hannah, O'Henry or Japanese.

For dry, flaky (or fluffy) flesh, pick a purple-fleshed sweet potato such as Stokes purple or Okinawan/Hawaiian. Look for these varieties at farmers markets, specialty stores and international markets.

In addition to differences in color and texture, varieties differ in flavor, too. Orange-fleshed varieties are most robustly flavored. While some white-fleshed varieties are milder, sweeter or even nutty.

Any of the following recipes would be welcome additions to a Thanksgiving menu, but we think you'll want to enjoy them more often than just once a year.

These soft, slightly sweet rolls can be mixed by hand or by using a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.

Sweet Potato Dinner Rolls

1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast

3 teaspoons granulated sugar, divided use

2 tablespoons milk

1/4 cup very warm water (about 115 degrees)

1 egg

3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more for sprinkling (I used Diamond Crystals kosher salt)

3 tablespoons melted butter PLUS 2 tablespoons softened butter, divided use

1/2 cup cooked mashed sweet potato

2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided use

Vegetable oil, for coating

1 tablespoon honey, optional

Ground cinnamon, optional

In a small bowl, combine the yeast, 1 teaspoon of the sugar, the milk and warm water; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, using a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the remaining sugar, egg, salt, 3 tablespoons melted butter, the mashed sweet potato and 2 cups of the flour. Mix 2 minutes or until combined, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Pour in the yeast mixture and continue mixing until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. If using a stand mixer, continue mixing, adding 1/4 cup of the remaining flour a little a time, until mixture forms a smooth, soft dough, about 10 minutes. If mixing by hand, turn mixture out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding 1/4 cup of the remaining flour until dough is smooth, about 10 minutes. If dough is still tacky after 10 minutes of kneading (by hand or with the mixer) add as much of the remaining flour as necessary.

Coat a large bowl with vegetable oil. Add dough ball, turn to coat. Cover and let rise in a warm spot until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Generously grease a cast-iron skillet with vegetable oil.

Divide dough into 2-ounce portions and roll into balls. Place dough balls in the prepared skillet. Cover and let rise for 1 hour.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake rolls for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown and rolls have reached an internal temperature of 200 degrees.

In a small dish, combine the remaining butter, honey and cinnamon. Spread over hot rolls and sprinkle with salt. Serve warm.

Makes 10 to 12 rolls.

Recipe adapted from Cast-Iron Gourmet: 77 Amazing Recipes With Less Fuss and Fewer Dishes by Megan Keno

Chipotle Sweet Potato Bisque

2 tablespoons butter

1 yellow onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

Salt and ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon cumin seed

1 canned chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (or less to taste)

2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

4 cups chicken stock or vegetable broth

1/2 cup half-and-half

1 cup milk

Sour cream or creme fraiche, for serving, optional

Crushed red pepper flakes or Aleppo pepper flakes, optional

Melt butter in a soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute until beginning to soften. Stir in garlic and ginger and cook 1 minute more. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in cinnamon and cumin. Add chipotle pepper and saute for 1 minute longer while breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Add sweet potatoes and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add stock or broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 25 minutes or until sweet potatoes are very tender.

Puree the soup using an immersion blender until smooth and velvety. Stir in half-and-half. If soup is too thick, add milk to thin to desired consistency. Serve garnished with sour cream or creme fraiche and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, if desired.

Makes about 6 servings.

Recipe inspired by Down Home With the Neelys on Food Network

You could top these simply roasted sweet potatoes with a drizzle of maple syrup or a sprinkle of brown sugar-pecans or make them savory with a dusting of black pepper and chives or serve them as is. They're delicious either way.

For a vegan version, coconut oil can be substituted for the butter.

Butter Roasted Sweet Potatoes

2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled

4 tablespoons butter, melted

Coarse salt

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line a roasting pan or 1 inch-rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper.

Cut sweet potatoes into 1-inch thick rounds. In a large bowl, toss sweet potatoes with melted butter and about 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Arrange sweet potatoes slices in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Roast, flipping potatoes every 20 minutes for 40 minutes to 1 hour or until sweet potatoes are deep golden brown and very tender.

Makes about 4 servings.

Recipe adapted from thekitchn.com

When done right this cake bakes into three layers: a rich fudgelike layer on the bottom, a custard layer in the middle and a light and airy sponge cake layer on top. But no worries if you overbake it, you'll still have a delicious cake with two layers, creamy-fudgy on bottom and light on top.

Cardamom Sweet Potato Magic Cake With Chantilly Cream

4 eggs, separated

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup butter, melted

1 cup cooked mashed sweet potato

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest (we used a Microplane brand zester for very fine zest)

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk

1/4 cup lukewarm whole milk OR half-and-half (about 90 degrees)

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Chantilly Cream (recipe follows)

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Generously grease a 9-inch springform pan with butter or coconut oil.

In a mixing bowl, beat egg yolks and sugar on high until pale yellow, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add the butter, sweet potato, vanilla and orange zest. Beat until well combined, scraping sides of bowl as necessary. Add the flour and cardamom, mixing until no white streaks remain. Gradually add both milks, beating until combined. Batter will be very thin.

In a separate bowl, with clean beaters (if using the same beaters, wash them well and rub with vinegar or lemon juice to remove any residual fat) beat egg whites until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and continue beating until stiff peaks form.

Gently stir about 1/3 of the beaten egg whites into the batter, then fold in the remaining egg whites. Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake 45 minutes or until center is set, but still slightly jiggly. The cake will rise and puff like a souffle, but will fall as it cools. This is normal. Cool on a wire rack at room temperature for 1 hour, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Remove sides from pan. Serve cake topped with Chantilly Cream.

Makes about 10 servings.

Chantilly Cream

1 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar

1 to 2 tablespoons bourbon

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

In a medium bowl, beat cream with sugar until thickened; add the bourbon and cardamom and continue beating to medium-soft peaks.

Recipe adapted from Magic Cakes: Easy-Mix Batters that Transform into Amazing Layered Cakes! by Kathleen Royal Phillips

Photo by John Sykes Jr.
Chipotle Sweet Potato Bisque
Photo by John Sykes Jr.
Butter Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Photo by John Sykes Jr.
Cardamom Sweet Potato Magic Cake With Chantilly Cream

Food on 11/01/2017

Print Headline: The super tuber

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