Pass the sweet potatoes, please

November 17, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

During the Thanksgiving season and beyond, sweet potatoes can add flavor and nutrition to cakes and casseroles, breads, pies, salads and soups.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest - at on the Web - has ranked sweet potatoes as the No. 1 most nutritional vegetable. Sweet potatoes are fat- and cholesterol-free, high in fiber and rich in antioxidants, potassium, iron and other nutrients. And one medium sweet potato contains only about 130 calories, according to information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Sweet potatoes will score high with carb counters because the vegetables boast the lowest glycemic index (GI) rating of all the root vegetables, according to the Louisiana Sweet Potato Commission at on the Web. Highly glycemic carbohydrates enter the bloodstream quickly and are readily available for fueling exercising muscles. Low glycemic carbohydrates enter the bloodstream slowly and are best eaten before exercise. They provide sustained longer-term energy, and help maintain stable blood sugar levels during extended exercise periods.

Yams vs. sweet potatoes

Yams are a moist, orange-colored variety of sweet potato. To distinguish this variety from the more traditional white flesh types, U.S. sweet potato producers and shippers adopted the English form of the African word "nyami" - which refers to the starchy, edible root of the Dioscorea genus of plants, according to information from Texas A&M University's Aggie Horticulture Network at on the Web.

More than 40 percent of the nation's sweet potatoes are grown in North Carolina, according to information from the North Carolina SweetPotato Commission at on the Web. The organization gives the following sweet potato cooking tips:

· To bake, prick several times with a fork and bake at 400 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes or until tender.

· To microwave, prick several times with a fork and microwave on high power for four to six minutes or until tender. Increase cooking time for more than one potato. Turn halfway through cooking time.

· To steam, bring 1 1/2 inches of water to boil in a steamer. Place whole, unpeeled sweet potatoes in steamer basket; cover; and steam for 40 to 50 minutes or until tender. Shorten cooking time by peeling and dicing potatoes into 1-inch cubes.

· To boil, place whole sweet potatoes in boiling water and cook until tender, about 35 to 45 minutes.

· To saut, peel and cut potatoes into 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick slices or 1-inch cubes. Place pieces and 2 tablespoons butter or oil in a large skillet and cook, stirring frequently, over medium-high heat until tender.

· To fry, peel and cut potatoes into lengthwise strips about 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick. Place strips in oil that has been heated to 365 degrees. Fry until brown and tender. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels.

· To grill: Slice potatoes lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices. Place on grill. Turn once. Remove when tender.

Sweet potatoes also can be served fresh and raw by peeling, cutting into strips and serving with your favorite dip. Or add color and nutrients to salads with some grated sweet potato.

To prevent sweet potatoes from browning after cut, immediately rinse pieces in cold water. Then place sweet potato pieces in ice water or in a plastic bag with ice and refrigerate for up to four days, according to the North Carolina SweetPotato Commission.

Do not store uncooked sweet potatoes in the fridge because cold temperatures can cause them to taste bitter. Instead, store the potatoes in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area for up to two weeks.

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