There are a few things we need to clear up regarding Sweet Potatoes. Sweet potatoes are not yams and yams are not sweet potatoes. A lot of folks seem to confuse this simple issue and interchange the two words, when in fact the two vegetables are from different families entirely and not even remotely related. Yams are native to South America; sweet potatoes are in fact natives of Central America. While you can find yams in the States, you are much more likely to find the moist, dense, yellowish-orange flesh of sweet potatoes misidentified as yams. Those sweet little treats are an excellent source of vitamins A, C, B6 and a great way to get your potassium and folic acid. You can use them anyway you would a white potato. Slice them and bake them like fries. Mash them up for a regular mashed potato alternative. But whatever you do, please, please, please try to stay away from the traditional preparation: doused in sickly sweet syrup and covered with marshmallows.
Let's explore two options that don't involve sugar, sugar, and more sugar: goat cheese and zucchini stuffed sweet potatoes and eggplant and sweet potato curry.
To make stuffed sweet potatoes, round up four medium sweet potatoes, about one-third of a cup of goat cheese crumbles, three to four scallions and three zucchini. You can either microwave or bake the sweet potatoes until they are done but firm inside. This is an important factor, as you will be scooping out the inside of the potatoes and then bake further. You want the potatoes to stand up and still be firm. If you are going to microwave them, I suggest microwaving them individually for about five to seven minutes.
Meanwhile, split the zucchini in half lengthwise and then thinly slice into half-moon shapes. Slice the scallions thinly as well and set aside. Sautee the zucchini in a little oil until tender and they start to turn golden. Toss in the scallions and sauté for two minutes longer.
Head back to the microwave and check on your spuds. If they are finished cooking, carefully split them in half lengthwise and scoop out the insides, leaving a wall about a quarter-inch thick. Mash the scooped-out potato innards until smooth. Add the zucchini and scallion mixture, a dash of salt and pepper, and then crumble in the goat cheese and combine thoroughly. Scoop the mixture generously into the potato boats. Pop them into a preheated 400-degree oven and bake them until they are warm throughout, about 20 minutes. This dish goes well with a simple green salad or lightly steamed spinach or other leafy green veggies.
If you have always wondered what sweet potatoes would be like in a curry, well hold on to your hat, I have the perfect recipe for you. At first glance the ingredient list looks a tad daunting, but most of the work is combining the spices for the curry base. It's worth the extra effort, so don't skimp here and just toss in some prepared curry powder -- this dish just won't be as good. Also, the key to success here is prep work. I like to combine the spices in a separate bowl and then start chopping the veggies, as you will be adding them to the spices to form the curry. To make the curry's spice base, combine all of the following in a small bowl, except for the mustard seeds:
1 tsp mustard seeds 1/2 tsp cayenne 1/2 tsp ground turmeric 2 tsp ground coriander 1 tsp ground cumin 1 T peeled and minced fresh ginger 2 T sliced garlic
Move on to chopping your veggies. You will need three large tomatoes, cored, peeled, seeded, and chopped. You can also use canned; if you do, don't bother draining the liquid. Peel and cut three large sweet potatoes. Also peel and cut two medium-to-large eggplants into half-inch cubes. You can salt the eggplant, however it isn't necessary. Salting eggplant removes excess liquid and tames the bitterness that is natural to the vegetable. If you decide to salt, keep in mind that the process takes about 30 minutes. Simply salt all sides of the eggplant cubes and place in a colander to drain. After half an hour, rinse the salt off and pat the cubes dry.
After you have chopped the vegetables, heat one tablespoon of oil in a three-quart pot. Add the mustard seeds and sauté until they are fragrant and begin to pop, about two minutes. Stir in the rest of the spices along with four tablespoons of butter and cook until both the garlic and ginger are soft. Then add the vegetables, one cup of water and a dash of salt. Cover, turn the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring once or twice, for about 30 minutes.
Remove cover and check the mixture -- add a little more water if the curry looks dry. Continue cooking, stirring the mixture until the eggplant and sweet potatoes are very tender, about 15 minutes longer. At this point add two tablespoons of freshly squeezed lime juice and adjust salt and pepper to taste. You can garnish with some cilantro if you would like.
If you want to starch things up a bit, you can serve this curry with rice. For a lighter meal, I suggest a green salad.
Armed with these two alternatives, you'll never think of slopping marshmallows onto sweet potatoes and calling it a side dish ever again.