tips & tricks
Have a holiday helping of Sacramento sweet potatoes.
Written by Madison Lisle
Photo by Raoul Ortega
Suzanne Ashworth, owner of Del Rio Botanical in West Sacramento shows off a freshly sliced sweet potato
Sweet potato or yam? That is the question — especially during the fall and winter months. From sweet potato casseroles gooey with marshmallows to sliced yams on hearty winter salads, it can be tough to discern the differences between these two root vegetables. Sweet potato season is in full swing here in Greater Sacramento. California’s sweet potato production is the second-highest in the U.S. (just behind North Carolina), so we are spoiled by choice. And when you find the right sweet potato recipe for your seasonal table, you’ll fill your home with the delicious scent of roasting, caramelized goodness that truly epitomizes the holidays. Yam or sweet potato? So what’s the difference between a sweet potato and a yam? Are they interchangeable? Though sweet potatoes have a complex identity, in the U.S., yams and sweet potatoes are almost interchangeable, since when you see canned yams those are most likely just sweet potatoes. A true yam is a rare find in most grocery stores, and it doesn’t have the sweet orange flesh of a true sweet potato. True yams have dark, rough skin and white flesh. They are starchier than the classic sweet potato and not as sweet. But the plot thickens when you introduce Korean sweet potatoes. These purple potatoes have starchy white flesh as well, but they’re more common. Korean sweet potatoes are a slightly more savory substitute for the classic orange potato. Suzanne Ashworth, owner of Del Rio Botanical farm in West Sacramento, has been farming for 20 years and growing sweet potatoes for seven years. She maintains that sweet potatoes and yams are close enough to being the same that any grocer would know what you meant if you said one or the other. Generally, both names refer to the classic orange sweet potato we all know and love. But when it comes to buying them, she has some advice. “Good sweet potatoes don’t have bruises or spots and are firm to touch,” Ashworth says. Dru Rivers, co-owner of Full Belly Farm in Guinda, can attest to the labor of love it takes to grow a delicious and good-looking sweet potato. “They require very sandy, loose soil to grow straight and plump,” Rivers says. “We have grown them, and they tasted delicious but were pretty ugly due to our soil structure.”So why add sweet potatoes to your table this year? Other than their vibrant color and rich texture that begs to be paired with other winter veggies, sweet potatoes are high in vitamin A, vitamins B5 and B6, thiamin, and niacin — the last two of which are great for kicking the winter blues. Winter is prime time for sweet potatoes, so take advantage of the colder months and craft a hearty fry-up with pork belly from these orange beauties. Madison Lisle is a writer and journalist who loves a good research project. She loves buying local, meeting artists anywhere she goes, and seeking out local vegan food. Read more of her work and talk to her on Citrusandsugar.com. Del Rio Botanical’s produce is available through Produce Express. For details, visit Delriobotanical.com. Full Belly Farm’s produce can be purchased through its CSA box program. For details, visit Fullbellyfarm.com. SIDEBAR Sweet Potato Fries (courtesy of Suzanne Ashworth, owner, Del Rio Botanical farm in West Sacramento. Serves 3 to 5) 3 to 5 large sweet potatoes Grapeseed oil 1 tablespoon chili powder or sweet paprika Salt and pepper, to taste Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut potatoes into large fries. Lightly toss with oil, and dredge in salt, pepper, and either chili powder or sweet paprika, or shake in a plastic bag. Spread on a cookie sheet. Bake in oven for about 20 minutes. Fries will be crispy and golden brown when done. Baked Sweet Potatoes (courtesy of Suzanne Ashworth, owner, Del Rio Botanical farm in West Sacramento. Serves 2) 2 large sweet potatoes Butter, salt, and pepper, to taste Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Prick whole sweet potatoes all over with fork. Bake sweet potatoes until tender, about 45 to 50 minutes. Add butter, salt, and freshly ground black pepper, to taste, to each potato. Add chopped green onions, curry powder, black beans, tahini, and lemon dressing, or anything else you wish. The options are endless! To make re-stuffed sweet potatoes 2 tablespoons butter ½ cup sour cream 2 teaspoons salt 2 teaspoons pepper Bake sweet potatoes as instructed above, but remove just before done, at about 40 to 45 minutes. Remove and slice lengthwise in half. Mix together butter, sour cream, salt, and pepper in small bowl. Scoop out insides of sweet potatoes and combine with sour cream mixture. Re-stuff sweet potato shells with mix and serve. Sweet Potato and Pork Belly Fry-Up(courtesy of Campbell Tyer, local brewer and caterer in Sacramento. Serves 3 to 5) 1 pound pork belly 4 sweet potatoes (unpeeled), diced 1 serving miso butter (recipe below) Green onions, roughly chopped for garnish To adjust servings, use ¼ pound pork belly per sweet potato. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Bake diced sweet potatoes on sheet for 15 minutes to soften. In bare pan, gently render fat from pork belly. Remove sweet potatoes from oven, then lightly salt and add to hot pan. Do not cover. Cook 5 more minutes, then add miso butter. Serve with roughly chopped green onions. For miso butter 1 stick butter 1 garlic clove, minced 1 tablespoon miso paste (yellow is best) Salt, as needed Melt butter in saucepan. Smash garlic with flat of a knife, remove peel, and toss in pan. Stir in remaining ingredients and let sit 3 minutes. Transfer to heat-proof bowl and chill until cool. Cover and chill until needed.