Food and Drink

   

In Season: Sweet Potato

Posted by Robert Clark

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Sweet potatoes, so named because they are a tuber like the common potato only much sweeter, come in various skin colors. They range from brown, beige,  yellow, orange, red to purple. Generally speaking the paler the flesh the less sweet and moist they are when cooked. North Americans miscall it ‘yam’. Although they are similar in appearance, yams and taro are different vegetables.

Sweet potatoes have been cultivated in Central America for as long as 8,000 years, and eventually found their way right through Polynesia to New Zealand, where they are known by the  Maori as kumara. They were widely cultivated in the islands  of the Pacific as a staple able to cope with typhoon floods which caused devastation to other crops. It also became an important staple on the African continent, especially in Uganda.

A study comparing the overall nutritional value of vegetables rated the sweet potato highest, giving it a comparative score of 184, the next on the list being the common potato on 84. Preliminary studies have indicated it can be of value in stabilising blood sugar levels in diabetics.

Traditionally the favoured cookery methods are roasting/baking and boiling/steaming for mash, while deep frying as chips is becoming increasingly popular.

I find they combine well with onions, pumpkin, parsnip, carrots, taro, yams and unripe paw paw. A combination of any of these make a great soup or vegetable curry. Flavourings that go well include chilli, sambals, curry spice mixes, coconut milk, brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon, ketjap manis.

A favourite curry in our family is with onions, pumpkin, parsnip and carrots, diced and cooked with green curry paste and coconut milk. There’s also a great ‘Sweet potato cornbread’ in Stephanie Alexander’s ‘Cook’s Companion’ that I use a lot, and while you’re there try her ‘Jamaican sweet potato pudding’.

Here’s an idea for a warming winter accompaniment. It’s very easy to make and goes really well with roasted or grilled meat, or as part of a vegetarian dish.

SWEET POTATO GRATIN
2 x Medium sized sweet potatoes(peeled and sliced)
2 cloves Garlic (crushed)
500ml Cream
50g Parmesan cheese (freshly grated)
1 Onion (sliced)
50g Breadcrumbs
1 tab Butter (melted)

Simmer the cream with the garlic over a low heat until it reduces by half, stirring occasionally so that it does not ‘catch’ on the bottom. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Gently sauté the sliced onions in some butter until they are soft.

Combine the sliced sweet potato and onions with the cream, and arrange in a baking dish. You want then to be about three to five cm deep.

Bake at 150° for around one hour until tender.

Scatter with breadcrumbs and parmesan, drizzle with melted butter, and bake at 180° for another 15 minutes until the top is golden and crisp.


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