“I don’t like sweet potatoes,” is a line I’ve heard from more than one friend, and I’ve managed to convert every single one of them. Sweet potatoes deserve so much better than the overcooked, mashed, marshmallow-fluff-smothered mess so many of us grew up with at Thanksgiving dinner.
Here on the farm, I have a habit of dreaming out loud about all of the things I’m going to do with a particular vegetable. I don’t wait until we harvest, though—the musings generally start when we’re planting. Others planting with me now know to expect this—and sometimes even come prepared with ideas of their own—and soon we all get excited about the harvest to come. In the case of sweet potatoes, I have about 160 days to wait between starting our sweet potato slips and eating. This seems like an interminably long period of time for what could be my favorite vegetable on the planet.
According to Texas A&M University, a 3½-ounce serving of sweet potato has twice the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A, plus vitamin C, calcium, iron, thiamine, beta carotene and fiber. It’s only 141 calories, and it’s low in sodium. Even if they didn’t taste so good, I think I’d want to eat sweet potatoes for their health benefits.
Sweet potatoes are readily grown in home gardens and sold at farmer’s markets across the U.S., so you have no excuse for not exercising at least a few of these ideas for using sweet potatoes.
1. In Place of Spuds
While potatoes and sweet potatoes are entirely different vegetables from entirely different plant families, there are few instances I can think of where sweet potatoes wouldn’t nicely sub in for regular potatoes. Consider sweet potato gnocchi, baked and loaded sweet potatoes, sweet potato salad, or sweet potato hash browns.
2. In Quick Bread
Hobby Farms’ Sweet Potato Quick Bread remains one of my favorite recipes. I can’t even explain how moist this bread is. However, one change I suggest is to replace the vegetable oil with applesauce. I know. You’re welcome.
3. In Biscuits
I’m not going to pretend like I know what I’m doing when it comes to making biscuits, but I do know people who know what they’re doing in the biscuit department. They also know their way around a sweet potato biscuit, and this makes me want to learn. You might want to, as well. BackToHerRoots.com’s sweet-potato biscuit recipe includes instructions for including them in a pot pie.
4. In Tacos
Oh, hello, delicious and quick Mexican-inspired meal! Cut some sweet potatoes into small cubes, and toss them with cumin, salt and cinnamon. Bake them at 350 degrees F for 25 or so minutes, depending the size of the cubes, and serve them in a taco shell with all of your favorite taco fixins. They’re especially good with garlicky black beans.
5. In Stir-Fry
I always hesitated to put sweet potatoes in a stir-fry because they took the longest of all of the ingredients to cook. This was before I realized I could shred the sweet potatoes. Duh! I love, love, love shredded sweet potatoes, quartered Brussels sprouts and thinly sliced tempeh stir-fried in sesame oil and topped with sesame seeds.
6. For Dessert
A lot of sweet potato desserts are out there, but you don’t need to go all-out fancy to make sweet potatoes … well … sweet. Cube your sweet potatoes and roast them with cubed apples, oil, maple syrup (or sorghum!) and cinnamon. Serve this with homemade maple whipped cream. Y-u-m.
7. To Save Water
The water that you use to boil your sweet potatoes can be reused for other cooking purposes. Reserve your water as the liquid for bread, as a base for soup or to cook pasta. You’ll be conserving water, of course, and you’ll also be using those water-soluble vitamins that are lost when boiling sweet potatoes.
8. As An Alternative Green
Sweet potato vine leaves are not my favorite greens in the garden, but if I were jonesing for greens and those were my only option, I wouldn’t hesitate. Cook them just like any other greens: sautéed with garlic, steamed and dressed with lemon, or added to a soup. They’re a bit less delicate than other greens and have a stronger, earthy flavor.
9. To Start Next Year’s Crop
Baby sweet potatoes are born from big sweet potatoes. You have to set some sweet potatoes aside—preferably those from the plants with the best yield. These are known as seed potatoes. In the spring, bury your seed potatoes in a hot bed. Layer the following from bottom to top:
- fresh horse manure
- sweet potatoes
- a 1-inch wire-mesh screen
- plastic sheet, if it’s really cold
An alternative is to let a few float in water so they send up sweet potato slips. Pull these slips when they’re 6 to 8 inches long, and plant them in the garden. Use your own seed potatoes or certified disease-free sweet potatoes for this project to give you the best chance at the best crop.
10. To Eat All Winter
As if you’re going to have any sweet potatoes left over, these root vegetables keep beautifully for months. After harvest, cure them by putting them in a warm place for 10 days, and then store them in a 55- to 60-degree-F area, such as a basement or root cellar.