Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I Yam What I Yam: A Short Sweet Potato Story

Sweet Potatoes called "Garnet Yams"
Common name: Sweet Potato, Garnet Yam, Purple Sweet Potato
Plant Family: Convulvulaceae
Genus/species: Ipomoea batatas

It was love at first sight and first bite. I was about four years old and a food fussy. As I glanced up at the Thanksgiving table dressed with a dozen different dishes, a deep clear glass casserole dish caught my eye. It had marshmallows mounded over the top of some pumpkin-colored orangey stuff. The white creamy puffs were slightly golden on top just the way I like to toast my marshmallows over the campfire in summer. My curiosity got the best of me and I stuck my finger into the goop.  When I tasted the sweet orange whatever doused in melted marshmallows, I thought it was heaven. This was my first introduction to a sweet potato casserole my mom made for Thanksgiving. You may make fun of this child-friendly dish but this casserole is a way to get kids to eat one of the healthiest vegetables in the new world. If a “spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down” for Mary, then Lee, my mom, could make this vegetable go down with melted marshmallows.

Simply irresistible - Sweet potato & marshmallow casserole
Listed as one of the top ten of “super foods,” sweet potatoes pack a powerful nutritional punch. My favorite sweet potato, which is found in our local markets, is named the “Garnet Yam and it really is not a yam at all, which is a bit confusing.  True yams, of the genus Dioscorea, are natives to Asia and Africa and are a different vegetable altogether; they have starchy white flesh and are not as nutritious. However, Garnet Yam is the name this deep salmon-colored sweet potato was given, nonetheless, and we must go with it. This special sweet potato, as with other deeply colored fruits or vegetables, promises and delivers amazing health benefits. 

While reading the Self Nutritional Data One information for one (1) cup of a baked sweet potato, I was quite impressed. They are a huge source of Vitamin A with 38,433 IU (769% daily value or DV), included in this Vitamin A figure are the Retinol Activity Equivalent of 1922 mcg and Beta Carotene of 23,017 mcg. Can you say “good for your skin” food?  In addition, they have 39.2 mg of Vitamin C (65% DV), 12.0 mcg of Vitamin B6 (which is 29% DV), along with modest percentages of Vitamin K, Vitamin E, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Pantothenic Acid, and Folate. The minerals present in sweet potatoes include calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus potassium, copper, and manganese. As sweet as they are they have only 13.0 grams of actual sugars and contain 6.6 grams of dietary fiber (26% DV). Finally, they are low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Can you say super vegetable? Well, they taste more like a dessert than a vegetable. I believe they are the best darn tootin' tubers out there.

Recipe for Marshmallow Sweet Potato Casserole
1 bag marshmallows
4-5 Garnet Yams cut in half or in thirds (depending on the size)
1 cup milk or half and half
2-4 T. butter
1 T. real maple syrup
Pinch of salt

Steam or boil sweet potatoes in their skins until very soft and tender. Drain and let cool for a few minutes until you can hold them with a towel and remove the skins. Skin should slide off easily. Put them back in the pot over very low heat and mash with potato masher (or use a ricer). Next, add butter, maple syrup, and a pinch of salt. Slowly add in the milk whipping and mashing until you get the consistency similar to icing. Place mixture in oven-proof casserole dish (glass is pretty). Top with all the marshmallows. Bake 350° for about 15 minutes until marshmallows turn a light golden color and melt to form a thick icing-like topping. Serve to children who hate vegetables (and grown children).


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