Fall for Sweet Potatoes
As the weather turns cooler, the days shorten, and leaves begin to fall, like many people, I am drawn to the earthy warmth of hearth, home, and a warm, spiced beverage. Actually, it seems like more than 20 million people a season are drawn to certain warm, spiced beverages served up by Starbucks. Now in its 14th year, the Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) has sold in the tens of millions of cups. As a Washington native, I'm delighted that our home-grown darling has done so well and, like so many others, would like to participate in the pumpkin spice gig.
Like Starbucks, I like to use pumpkin pie spice in non-pumpkin delights, such as baked apples, acorn squash, and sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes, as their name implies, are sweet, which makes them a winner in lots of households with kids. Whether you grew up calling them yams or sweet potatoes, this gem of the earth is worth it's place on your grocery list. But before I go on, let's clear up some potential confusion: though often labeled as yams, what is typically sold in US markets is a variety of sweet potatoes. Yams and sweet potatoes are not related, even though they are both starchy, tuberous vegetables. Yams are native to Africa and Asia, so unless you are shopping in an international or specialty market, what you are buying is likely a variety of sweet potatoes. So why the name-game confusion? Essentially, it boils down to a history lesson that involves grocers differentiating the softer, more orange-fleshed sweet potato ("yam") from the firmer, lighter-fleshed sweet potato ("sweet potato") when the former became commercially produced. To sum it up, this piece is about sweet potatoes, and I will focus on the softer, orange-fleshed type often labeled as "yams" (though they aren't) at your local produce palace.
One of the things I love about sweet potatoes is their versatility; they can be prepared to be savory or sweet. At our house we eat them roasted, mashed, and sliced. Sweet potato puree finds its way stirred into soups and pancake batter. I've used sweet potato puree in Mason jar oatmeal, muffins, quick breads, and cookies. And here's the deal: because it is naturally sweet (it has about 1.5 times more naturally occurring sugar than pumpkin), it can be added to a number of recipes, and in the process, satisfy a craving for sweet, while packing a nutritional punch. All this without a lot of processed sugars! When we team sweet potatoes with pumpkin pie spice, our minds associate the creamy, spicy-sweet goodness with the flavors of fall, flavors of comfort, holidays, and home. This makes for a very satisfying food.
What could be better than a satisfying dish? One that is nourishing. Sweet potatoes are rich in complex carbohydrates and despite their sweetness, still rank low on the Glycemic Index with a score of 11. They are exceptionally high in vitamin A, and provide a healthy dose of B6, potassium, and manganese, as well as other vitamins and minerals. In honor of the PSL that inspired this article, here is a recipe to add to your fall line-up.
Mashed Sweet Potatoes
This is a "to taste" recipe. The ingredient amounts can be adjusted up or down, as you please, and to compliment the rest of your meal. I like to serve this dish with roasted chicken and a Brussels sprout salad.
2 or more sweet potatoes (you can reserve extras to make a sweet potato puree)
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
~1/2 cup orange juice or milk
salt and pepper to taste
Heat oven to 400 degrees F
Wash and dry two large sweet potatoes and pierce several times with a fork or sharp knife
Place the sweet potatoes on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake until soft, 45-60 minutes
When the sweet potatoes are very soft, even oozing a sugary syrup, remove from the oven. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the skin and place the soft flesh into a mixing bowl. Add the pumpkin pie spice, salt and pepper, and enough of the juice or milk to attain a desired consistency: less for a thicker end product. Using a masher, hand mixer, or submergible blender, mix the ingredients together. Give it a taste and if it needs more pumpkin pie spice, go for it! Return to the oven or microwave to increase heat to a serving temperature. Serve with butter for extra richness, if desired.