Ha! Look who followed me home over the weekend, the Yam Man. He persuaded me to finally figure out how sweet potatoes and yams are different -- and the same.
The Yam Man's 'Eyes' - are Purple Potatoes - which have creamy-colored smooth skins that hide gorgeous deep purple flesh (also called an Okinawan yam and Okinawan purple potato)
His 'Left Ear' is - a Boniato - which has red-tinged papery skin with white flesh that discolors nearly instantly when exposed to air (also called a tropical sweet potato, Cuban sweet potato, white sweet potato, white-fleshed sweet potato, batiste, batata, batata dulce, camote)
His 'Nose' is - a Ghana Yam - which was very large (what's pictured is 1/3 a small one, see just how big a ghana yam is) with fibrous skin like a coconut and a creamy white interior flesh
His 'Right Ear' is - a gnarly specimen but what let's call an American "sweet potato", the typical ones in American supermarkets
His 'Left Moustache' is - a Red Garnet Yam, my favorite of the bunch and a variety of sweet potato with smooth red-cast skin with deep orange-colored flesh (a long-ish one is pictured, others were shaped like the 'American' sweet potato)
His 'Right Moustache' is - a Japanese Yam, which had a thin red skin and a pretty yellow interior flesh and I think, prepared well, that this one has promise (also called satsumaimo potato)
His 'Mouth' - was labelled 'Costa Rica Yam' but it's likely a Tropical Yam that has a rough skin and (also called true yam, greater yam, cush-cush, mapuey, yampi, namé, name, nyami, igname)
TASTE TESTING For simplicity, I cubed all of these, tossed them in olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted them for 90 minutes at 375F for a taste test. The only one that was truly delicious (and gobbled up in seconds!) was the Red Garnet Yam -- do look for this variety, it's like a sweet potato on steroid, extra flavorful, extra creamy, way better even, than the 'American' sweet potato.
The notes on all the other varieties read, "dry" and "starchy" and "not much flavor" and "cracker-ish" and "no flavor", etc. If I'd consulted Vegetable Love by Barbara Kafka ahead of time, I'd have known beforehand that roasting yams is a mistake. "Do not roast yams," she says, very plainly and directly. Her expansive book warns that real yams nearly always are much starchier than 'American' sweet potatoes (and yes, the Red Garnet yam which of course is a sweet potato). Her recipe for the boniato calls for 12 tablespoons of butter and a half cup of cream for just one pound of the yam. YIKES, that makes a sweet potato casserole look positively healthful.
You can too buy 'real yams', the ones from Africa in the United States. Just visit Kirkwood, Missouri. That said, my new pal the produce manager at Global Foods Market says that most of this stuff comes from either southern California or Mexico.
Don't let excitement take over your shopping cart. It's fine to try one or two brand-new things at a time, but more than that, it's overwhelming. Each one of these yams is probably delicious, prepared in a way that best suits it. But because I had so many, I just couldn't deal with figuring that out, one by one.
My new very very favorite sweet potato is the 'red garnett yam'. That's the root vegetable that had me raving over Fresh Candied Yams last fall. The skin was different so I thought it was, indeed, a yam. Oops. It wasn't a yam, it was just a variety of sweet potato.
~ Sweet Potato recipes ~
~ one year ago this week, Carrots with African Spices, paprika, cumin, coriander and citrus juice ~
~ two years ago today, Turkey, Tortellini & Watercress Soup, a simple soup and a good way to use up leftover turkey ~
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