Sweeten up your meals with sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes, a vegetable with a strong nutritional profile, are easy to prepare and make a colorful addition to your dinner plate. Many people associate sweet potatoes with Thanksgiving and other holiday meals although on those special occasions, sweet potatoes often make it to the table as a casserole made from canned sweet potatoes. Nothing is more delicious than a fresh sweet potato, regardless of how it is cooked, at least on my list of favorite foods.

Sweet potatoes, a member of the morning glory family, are edible roots, not tubers like regular white potatoes. They are classified as dry-fleshed or moist-fleshed. The starchier dry-fleshed type has a tan skin and lighter-colored flesh ranging from white to light yellow. Moist-fleshed sweet potatoes have a dark, red-brown skin with orange to deep orange-colored flesh and are the most popular type of sweet potato on the market. They’re also sweeter.

A four ounce serving of sweet potatoes has about 145 calories and contains 22 percent of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of vitamin B-6, 28 percent of vitamin C, 27 percent of iron and 458 milligrams (mg) of potassium. A four-ounce serving of sweet potato has 34 grams (g) of carbohydrate, 3.7 g of fiber and less than a gram of fat.

Sweet potatoes are naturally high in vitamin E with a four-ounce potato providing more than one-quarter of the daily requirement for this vitamin. The orange-colored flesh indicates the presence of carotenoids, a class of phytochemicals.

When buying sweet potatoes, look for ones that are heavy for their size. Purchase similar-sized potatoes of the same variety if you will be cooking them whole so that they will cook evenly. They should be smooth, hard and free of decay or bruises.

Store at home in a cool, dry place. Don’t store sweet potatoes in the refrigerator because will develop a hard core and an off-taste, an indication that the natural sugars have turned to starch.

Because they are rich in flavor and full of natural sweetness, sweet potatoes don’t have to be candied or buttered to taste good. Try them grilled, boiled, baked, steamed or micro-waved.

When baked, the high oven temperature concentrates their natural sweetness. You can quickly bake a sweet potato in a microwave oven in about five minutes, depending on the size. Be sure to prick the potato a few times so it won’t explode in the oven. And you don’t need to peel. The skin is edible and delicious, too.

Source: University of Vermont


Cranberry Walnut Sweet Potatoes

4 large sweet potatoes

¼ cup onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries

1/3 cup maple syrup

¼ cup water

¼ cup cranberry juice

¼ teaspoon salt, divided

½ cup chopped walnuts, toasted

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

¼ teaspoon pepper

Scrub and pierce sweet potatoes. Bake at 400 degrees for 1 hour or until tender.

In a small saucepan, saute onion in butter until tender. Add the cranberries, syrup, water, cranberry juice and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes or until berries pop, stirring occasionally.

Stir in walnuts and mustard. Heat through.

Cut potatoes in half lengthwise. Sprinkle with pepper and remaining salt. Top each with 2 tablespoons cranberry mixture.

Sandra R. Cain is the Bladen County Extension director. She can be reached at sandra_cain@ncsu.edu or 910-862-4591.