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Yams vs Sweet Potatoes


Katie Meadow
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Okay, here's what I think I know: Yams are completely different from sweet potatoes. True yams are not that commonly available in American markets but may be found in Asian markets. Many of the tuber-like objects listed in the stores as "garnet yams" or "jewel yams" are really a slightly sweeter more orangey sweet potato. What's labeled as sweet potatoes is typically a pale yellow flesh, and tastes more potato-like than the varieties often called yams, which are a bit more squash-like in color and texture. But are not botanical yams.

When I make a sweet potato pie I use the pale variety, not the ones labeled yams. When I want a baked dark orangey thing, I buy a "yam." Thanksgiving has rules in my husband's family. It's okay to make something inventive, but you still have to make the standards this family expects. Yams didn't used to be my job, but they are now. They were always roasted in their skins, eaten simply with butter and salt or however. I like that fine. But now that yams have fallen to me, I want to try something different, like a casserole that I can put together the day before and just throw in the oven for less time than it takes to bake whole yams, which compete for oven space and take over an hour to cook.

Here's what I don't want: a lot of sugar, marshmallows, maple syrup, heavy cream or pie spices. I want something very simple, savory, like maybe using fresh sage. Can I bake the "yams" ahead, then mash them and mix with brown butter sage, put it in a casserole dish, then just warm it the day of and toss on some crispy sage leaves? How much additional baking time is required if the yams are pre-baked whole first? Should I be adding something as a binder? I'm not averse to adding bourbon if that can be done without the usual sugary components. Any ideas?

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Have you tried scalloped camotes? (Yam is such an ill-defined word, and we're actually talking about the tubers of Ipomoea batatis here, I think....) You can flavour your scalloping flour however you wish - sage and cayenne pepper is actually a very nice combo. Layer the casserole beforehand, then simply add the water-milk just before baking. If you want to pre-bake (45 minutes to 1 hour at 350 F), this dish holds up to it amazingly well, and can simply be popped into the oven at 150 F for 20-30 minutes to reheat before serving.

Elizabeth Campbell, baking 10,000 feet up at 1° South latitude.

My eG Food Blog (2011)My eG Foodblog (2012)

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This is a link to a lovely sweet potato gratin

that I prepared year before last and was so impressed I have repeated it several times since.

I've taken it to potluck parties and noted that the first helping was very small but people would return for a generous serving and the dish was always scraped clean early on.

I have done some variations - I used pistachios instead of pecans on one occasion and got raves.

I've used other cheeses - Asiago was lovely and I also used some very hard Manchego that turned out very nice.

And I have also used a combination of onions and shallots - about 2/3 onions and 1/3 shallots which gave it a slightly different flavor.

I've also added some spices - pinch of ras al hanout or 1/2 teaspoon of mace and once chopped a few needles of rosemary with the nuts.

I think you can make as many variations as you please, it is a very forgiving dish.

Edited by andiesenji (log)

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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I went to a Thanksgiving dinner where someone brought yams mashed with roasted garlic. I really liked it, as I'm also not a fan of sugary marshmallowy yam dishes.

Yams are tasty roasted with chipotle or smoked paprika, crushed chili, and a squeeze of lime and chopped scallions at the end. Might not be make-ahead enough for your purposes, but the combination of flavours is delicious.

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Yams are tasty roasted with chipotle or smoked paprika, crushed chili, and a squeeze of lime and chopped scallions at the end. Might not be make-ahead enough for your purposes, but the combination of flavours is delicious.

Along those lines there is a sweet potato /yam dish that has made the round on the internet the last few years receiving great reviews. Essentially a gratin of the tuber with the canned chipote en adobo and cream. Here is a link to Bobby Flay's version. You can also omit the cream and do them simply mashed with the chipotle. I enjoy the combo.

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You could try mashed sweet potatoes with butter and some ginger, either fresh grated gingerroot, dry ground ginger, and/or chopped candied gingerroot. (I know, I know, you don't want anything candied. But a judicious amount of candied gingerroot will contribute spice more than sweet.) I once cooked whole steamed carrots this way, tossed with butter and ginger, and it was a nice change-of-pace.

Think about cooked pears, too. They combine well with sweet potatoes or winter squash. A gratin of sliced peeled pears and sweet potatoes, moistened with butter, broth or milk/cream, with your choice of herbs and spices? Have fun experimenting in the kitchen.

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I'm tempted to do some variation on scalloped sweet potatoes or yams. Looking at the Essential NYT, Amanda Hesser has an adaptation of the Bobby Flay Chipotle Gratin that uses a spiced up cream (I'm thinking Mexican crema might be a nice sub for heavy cream) and she also has a recipe for Sweet Potatoes Anna, which uses only butter and herbs in the layers.

Both recipes specify cooking with either foil or parchment for about 30 minutes, then without the cover for another 10-20 minutes. I want to make something that I can do most of the work one or maybe even two days ahead, since I am also responsible for the turkey, stuffing and dressing. Even with two ovens (both modest size) there is much competition for space, and the kitchen is mayhem.

Are these types of casseroles able to be prepped and/or partially cooked ahead without suffering texture or flavor? I've made regular Potatoes Anna many times, but never any of it ahead--the best part being the just crisped golden crust on the bottom. Otherwise I might just go with mashing up yams with chipotle crema or butter and herbs (or a pan of each) and letting them sit overnight so they can just be tossed in the oven to heat thru.

Edited by Katie Meadow (log)
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