by Eric Wharton
My Recipe Book, constantly being added to
My dream is to become a farmer. Just a Bohemian guy pulling up his own sweet potatoes for dinner.
— Lenny Kravitz, American singer-songwriter
Sweet potatoes have been an important part of the diet in the United States for most of its history, especially in the Southeast. Most Americans don't eat them year round. They are mostly served as a holiday side dish, making them an appropriate addition to Thanksgiving feasts.
The first thing to know when cooking sweet potatoes is to select the right kind of potato. Sweet potatoes and yams are definitely not the same thing, even though they are sometimes marketed as such. They are not even closely related—coming on two separate branches of the evolutionary tree that diverged hundreds of thousands of years ago. The yam is from the more archaic monocots (single seeded plants) and the sweet potato is from the more modern and complex dicots (multi-seeded plants). But you don't need to be a botanist to know the difference.
The yam is bigger, has dark scaly skin, with rounded ends. The sweet potato is smaller, has light yellow or orange-red smooth skin, with elongated pointy ends. There are also a couple varieties of sweet potatoes, but the one most often used in American cuisine has bright orange pulp. Don't be fooled by distributors or your grocery store displays that often confuse them all.
The yam originated in Africa and the sweet potato originated in Central and South America, which may well be the origin of the confusion. When African slaves were brought to the Americas, they began calling the indigenous one yams because it looked similar to what they had been used to eating. But while the sweet potato may have originated in Central or South America, Mississippi claims it today. The state grows more than 8,000 acres of sweet potatoes annually. Vardaman (Calhoun County) proclaims itself "The Sweet Potato Capital” of the world.
4 sweet potatoes
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup butter
1 cup water
Boil sweet potatoes for 10-15 minutes, or until just barely tender yet still firm. Pare and cut into large quarters, although some people prefer medallions. Set aside.
In a frying pan, melt butter, and then add brown sugar. Mix well and then add potatoes and cook them, turning occasionally, until they are tender and dark brown. Add water if needed while cooking. Result should be well-glazed potatoes in a thick sauce.
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