Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sweet Potatoes: There's Nothing Finer In All The Land!

Image courtesy of ecosalon.com
My paternal grandparents are excellent cooks. They're what you call 'old school'. I remember going to visit and waking up to the smell of biscuits wafting through the air. These weren't just any old biscuits either. These were the made-from-scratch variety, topped with strawberry jam that Big John had canned himself. To this day, no biscuit has ever held a candle to the ones from my childhood. Big John also grew a lavish garden in the backyard, with everything from muscadine grapes to fresh tomatoes, green beans and squash. As I child, I didn't appreciate the easy access to locally grown vegetables because it meant I had to eat more vegetables (boo), but now I find myself dreaming of having fresh garden picks so readily available (mmm).

Big John and Grandma (over 60 years ago)
Because veggies weren't at the top of my wishlist at the time, my grandparents had a deliciously sneaky way of tricking me into eating them. They'd serve me sweet potatoes, souffle style. Now, we could easily make a list of reasons why you shouldn't eat sweet potato souffle (with the excessive sugar content taking the #1 spot), but I'd like to argue that I could have been eating worse things - like a bag of Doritos or a slice of pizza. Eating sweet potato souffle made me open to the idea of sweet potatoes in general, and by golly, I liked them!

Sweet potatoes are a superfood, and while not quite 'as super' with sugar piled on them, they still have amazing health benefits and should be a part of your diet! Let's take a look at why sweet potatoes should be at the top of your shopping list...

COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES - Sweet potatoes are packed with complex carbs, which your body uses for energy. The energy in complex carbohydrates is released at a steady pace, making this a great vegetable for those with blood sugar issues.

BETA CAROTENE & VITAMIN A - If you eat a medium sized sweet potato (with the skin), you're consuming 4x the recommended daily value for beta carotene. Beta carotene is your body's main source of vitamin A, which plays a huge role in immune system function and healthy skin, eyes and bones.

FIBER - Sweet potatoes are packed with fiber (even more so when the skin is left on). Fiber keeps your digestive system working properly and can help prevent constipation and colon cancer.

POTASSIUM - The potassium in sweet potatoes works to prevent heart disease, maintain fluid and electrolyte balance, prevent muscle cramps and injuries, and keep the body balanced under stressful conditions.

ANTIOXIDANTS - Sweet potatoes are extremely rich in antioxidants, which fight cancer-causing free radicals and prevent inflammatory problems within the body.

FOLATE - Pregnant women especially need folate to ensure proper development of the fetus. Sweet potatoes are a great way to satisfy that need and indulge in something sweet that's healthy too!

VITAMIN C - A medium sweet potato fulfill's 1/3 of your daily value for Vitamin C, which helps keep your immune system strong and assists in iron absorption.

Image courtesy of midajyf.comze.com
Now I'll spare you the image of me in a sombrero dancing to the Macarena. Instead, I'll act like my age and tell you that I was silently ecstatic when my friend Katie Chabalko introduced me to this recipe combining my first love Mexican with my second love sweet potatoes. Also worth noting: Adam (the meat eater in this relationship) scarfed them down like they were filled with steak. I consider that a small success on my part!

Many thanks to Naturally Ella for this amazing recipe - Chipotle Sweet Potato, Black Bean & Guac Tacos. Once you get through the process of chopping, this is easy to throw together in a flash!

Here's my step-by-step photo version (because I'm not one to measure, you should reference the original recipe for exact measurements)...

Start with the guacamole (this can be prepared ahead of time to speed up things after work). Scoop out the inside
of the avocado and mash in a mixing bowl until it's the consistency you like. Chop the onion and garlic and add
to your avocado mixture.
For a little kick, dice the serrano pepper (or leave this step out if you can't handle the heat). 
Dice the tomato.
Wash and chop the fresh cilantro. Set some whole cilantro leaves aside to garnish the tacos later.
Add the lime juice and salt and pepper to taste. Sea salt gives it a little something extra!
My best guac attempt to date! Now put in the refrigerator for later. Onto the taco filling...
Peel your sweet potatoes (or be awesome and go all in with the skin). Then cut them into small 1/2" squares.
(Apparently, I can't judge measurements and mine were too big. The smaller the better so they'll cook faster).
In a nonstick skillet over medium heat, saute the onions in a little olive oil until they start to soften.
Next, add the sweet potatoes and saute 3-4 minutes on medium-high heat until they begin to soften.
While the sweet potatoes are cooking, grab your sauce ingredients...
...and combine them in a separate bowl.
Pour the sauce over the sweet potato mixture...
...and then pour in the black beans. Turn the heat down to low-medium and continue to cook until the
potatoes are soft and ready to eat.
Fill the taco shells with a generous helping of guacamole, add the sweet potato mixture and garnish with cilantro.
No hot sauce or salsa needed... these things pack a surprising flavor punch!

If you're not keen on the idea of a sweet potato taco, here are a few more recipes to get you going...

Sweet Potato Cream Pasta with Crispy Kale

Healthy Baked Sweet Potato Fries

1 comment:

  1. A quick note on the difference between sweet potatoes and yams. Yams are not related to sweet potatoes at all. Totally different vegetables. Yams are white inside, starchier, dryer and usually have less flavor. They're also very hairy on the outside. Yams were originally grown in Africa and Asia. Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, can range from white to purple inside. When you see the label yam in US grocery stores, it's really a sweet potato. When the orange-fleshed variety of sweet potatoes was introduced to the Southern United States from South America back in the day, producers and shippers needed a way to differentiate the new orange variety from the traditional white-fleshed sweet potato that was more prevalent at the time, so they adopted the name 'yam' and started using it to describe the orange-fleshed sweet potatoes.