Market Fresh: Sweet Potatoes

These sweet spuds are one of North America's tastiest traditions.
Sweet PotatoesMarket Fresh

There are few things more highly anticipated than the first ripe strawberry of spring or a crisp fall apple, just days off the tree. In our Market Fresh series we look at the produce in season this month and offer quick and easy suggestions for how to enjoy it.

One surefire sign of the autumn harvest season? The versatile sweet potato. Great as a main course, side dish, lunch or dessert, read on to see why sweet potatoes are one of North America's healthiest, most delicious traditions.

Do it for your health
Sweet potatoes, available in supermarkets year-round, are nutritional powerhouses. They are an excellent source of vitamins A and C, and a good source of potassium and fiber. The beta-carotene found in sweet potatoes is thought to have strong antioxidant powers that help the body fight disease. Sweet potatoes are filling yet fat-free, cholesterol-free and very low in calories.

Selection, preparation and storage
You'll find two different types of sweet potatoes in your supermarket: A yellow-fleshed potato with a dry skin, and a bright orange-fleshed potato with a moist skin. The orange-fleshed sweet potato is often referred to as a yam and is slightly sweeter in taste than the yellow variety.

When selecting, look for smooth, firm-feeling sweet potatoes. Avoid potatoes that have wrinkles, cracks, brown spots, bruises or decay, as well as those stored in the refrigerated section — the cold alters their taste. Sweet potatoes spoil more quickly than regular spuds, so if stored at room temperature, aim to cook them within a week. Or they can be stored for up to a month in a cool, dry place like a basement. Do not store sweet potatoes in the refrigerator.

How to use sweet potatoes
To cook, scrub potatoes lightly and rinse. Pierce with a fork and bake whole with skins on (most of the nutrients are stored near the skin, plus they're easier to remove after baking) at 400°F for about 45 minutes. You might want to spread a sheet of aluminum foil on the oven shelf below — the natural sugars can leak out and make a mess. You'll know they're done when a sharp knife inserted into the potato gives little resistance. For a quicker hot potato, zap in the microwave for 5 to 10 minutes on a paper towel. Another option is to steam potato quarters for about 20 to 30 minutes. If desired, remove skins after potato is cool enough to handle. If you do peel the potatoes before cooking, store them in a bowl of cold water until you cook them, as the air will cause a raw, peeled sweet potato to oxidize and turn brown.

Sweet potatoes are also delicious:

For breakfast
For a new twist on pancakes, try adding 1/2 cup of pureed sweet potatoes,3/4 cup of apple juice and 1 teaspoon of pumpkin spice to 3/4 cup of multigrain pancake mix. Then cook pancakes as usual. They taste great topped with pumpkin butter.

As a snack
In the mood for a good-for-you snack food? Bake your own sweet potato chips. Thinly slice a large sweet potato and arrange on a baking sheet. Brush lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt to taste. Bake at 400°F for about 15 minutes or until slightly brown.

On the grill
For a tropical twist, slice a sweet potato into eight spears and grill, cut-side down, on a lightly-oiled grill rack (use your outdoor grill or a grill pan on the stovetop). Cook for about eight minutes, or until grill marks are visible and the potatoes are cooked through (check with a sharp knife for doneness). Arrange the grilled sweet potatoes on a platter, sprinkle with the juice of half a lime, a few tablespoons of chopped cilantro and salt and pepper to taste.

Substitute sweet potatoes for regular spuds in your favorite mashed potato recipe for a burst of color, sweetness and added nutrients. Place in a serving bowl and sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg before serving. Optional: Top with a dollop of fat-free yogurt or drizzle with a tablespoon of maple syrup.

For more ideas, check out the recipes below:

Sweet Potato Pancakes

Creamy Sweet Potato Soup

Mexican-Style Pork and Sweet Potato Slow Cooker Stew

Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges

Nutty Sweet Potato Salad

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