Despite its name, the sweet potato isn’t related to potatoes at all. It’s the root tubers of a South American climbing plant that also has edible leaves. Sweet potatoes originate in Central America but are now grown across most of the world where the summers are warm and it rains a lot.
Like ordinary potatoes, sweet potatoes are rich in starch, but the flavor is ten times as sweet. This is why they go very well in desserts.
The shape is often oblong and the color white, pink or red-brown. The flesh can be white, yellow or orange. As well as sugar and starch, sweet potatoes are packed with beta-carotene, the same substance that makes carrots bright orange.
Sweet potatoes go very well with butter, garlic, chili, ginger, sesame, coconut, coriander, rosemary, thyme, allspice, cardamom, cinnamon and citrus.
Keep in mind
Look for sweet potatoes that are firm and haven’t started to shrink at the ends.
Sweet potatoes do best when it’s cold and dark, like ordinary potatoes. Keep in mind that they are sensitive to deep cold.
Peel the potatoes until you can see the orange/yellow/white flesh. Don’t leave them for too long once they’re peeled as they will oxidize and go brown.
How to cook sweet potatoes
You can cook and eat sweet potatoes the same way we eat ordinary potatoes but test them with a skewer to make sure they’re not too soggy. You’ll get even better results if you bake or deep fry them, or make a soup, or a purée – or a pie for dessert.
Oven-baked sweet potato: Peel the potato and slice it into wedges, thick slices or cubes. Spread them out on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and bake in the oven at 200°C for about 30 minutes until they have browned slightly and are soft all the way through.
Oven bake whole sweet potatoes:
- Choose slightly smaller sweet potatoes rather than the huge ones.
- (if you insist on huge ones, stick the in the microwave for a bit first.)
- Prick holes in the potatoes before putting them in the oven.
- Wrap in aluminum foil and bake at 225°C for up to an hour.
Make sweet potato chips: It’s not difficult, they’ll come out beautifully crisp, like a sweeter and more brittle variety of ordinary potato chips.
Make soup: Sweet potatoes can be a bit too sweet for soup on their own, but with carrots, ginger and a squeeze of lime, they make a filling soup with zing. Fry chopped onion, add grated sweet potatoes and carrots and cook them with vegetable stock for about 10 minutes. Blend to make a smooth soup and flavor with grated ginger and lime.
Make a purée: Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into cubes. Boil until they are soft all the way through. Remove the cubes from the water. Run through a food processor with olive oil, harissa/fresh chili lime/lemon and a little salt. Dilute with the cooking water if needed. Serve with everything from fried fish to falafel.
Make a classic dessert: Sweet potato pie with ginger and cinnamon, one of the most important dishes at Thanksgiving, is a perfect autumn pudding.
Hot and slightly dry oven-baked sweet potato wedges with a feta cheese purée.