[I thought it would be fun to start a little series over here at DDD: the series will profile one one of my favorite foods, or a food that I've recently discovered and enjoyed, over several days. For this first entry, I'll be focusing on Sweet Potatoes. The series will be presented on an occasional (and entirely arbitrary) basis, before I move on to the next lucky comestible. ]
Let’s just say that my mother was not an overly adventurous cook. She habitually repeated the same six or seven dishes over and over, with the occasional new recipe from Family Circle, my aunt, or someone in her Mah Jong group thrown in on occasion. So we were treated to salmon patties and potato boats (called “twice-baked potatoes” these days), hamburgers with mashed potatoes, grilled cheese sandwiches, or tuna salad over cucumber, tomato, and iceberg lettuce on a rotating basis.
Fresh fish? Forget it. Artichokes? Don’t make me gag. Fresh herbs? Bah! Who needs ‘em?! (Once, when I was visiting during March break, in a moment of temporary insanity I wondered aloud if we might purchase some dried oregano for the pantry. It was as if I’d taken a cup of steaming clam chowder and poured it over her bare feet. Actually, no. Clam chowder was too exotic for our house.)
So. When I finally discovered the beauty and gustatory appeal of sweet potatoes at a visit to a restaurant here in Toronto, it was truly a revelation. Allen’s (known primarily for its extensive selection of specialty scotches, come to think of it–how odd! What on earth was I doing there??) to this day still serves up a killer dish of sweet potato fries with mayonnaise. In my mother’s house, on the other hand, those off-color interlopers had never once been allowed to sully our doorstep (don’t forget, this was the woman whose entire repertoire of herbs and spices consisted of onion powder, paprika, and dill).
It wasn’t until years later that I finally began to cook the sweet spuds myself, and my next encounter with sweet potatoes, unfortunately, wasn’t all that auspicious. I had just been put on a very restricted diet by my naturopath and was feeling pretty resentful of all this crunchy-granola, health-foodie, good-for-you-five-to-ten-a-day foods. Sweet potatoes? Well, if I couldn’t have them after they’d been immersed in a vat of 400-degree, week-old restaurant fat for 20 minutes or so, then I didn’t want them at all! Besides, weren’t they only appealing to commune-living, hemp-smoking hippies (or–gasp!–Southerners)? I’d never actually tasted one without the benefit of hydrogenated enhancements (though I did suspect I’d enjoy Sweet Potato Pie, what with all the sugar, eggs, and cream they added to it).
Turns out sweet potatoes were my savior. During a period when I could eat NO sweeteners or fruits of any kind, sweet potatoes quickly became my favorite sweet treat. I ate them for breakfast (baked, with a dollop of almond butter–delicious–much better than they look in this photo!–seriously), lunch (raw, sliced, as a base for raw almond pate), or dinner (heavenly, spiced sweet potato “fries,” which were really baked). Later on, once I was allowed to broaden my diet, I began to experiment with sweet potatoes in baking, and created recipes for sweet potato muffins, mini loaves, pudding, pie, and several other sweet treats.
Besides being high in fibre, vitamin A (as beta carotene) and other minerals, sweet potatoes are also a good source of vitamin C, vitamin E and iron, and even contain a contribution of protein. According to Paul Pitchford in his phenomenal tome, Healing with Whole Foods, Traditional Chinese Medicine uses sweet potatoes for their cooling nature and to promote chi energy in the body; they are also useful to enhance functioning of the spleen and pancreas. And because they’re a source of phytoestrogens (plant-based estrogen), sweet potatoes can help mitigate those pesky symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. In addition, they are also alkalizing in the body, which is great if you tend to drink a lot of coffee, eat a lot of sugar, or prefer to discourage the growth of cancer cells in your body.
Best of all, sweet potatoes are low on the gylcemic index (the measurement of how food influences your blood sugar levels), registering at 54 (surprisingly, lower than white potatoes, with a score of 88-93), so they are a great food for type II diabetics or plumpers like me. And when baked, their natural sugars caramelize, producing the most ambrosial sweetness.
Though most North Americans consider the more orange-fleshed, moister vegetables to be yams, they are, in fact, just another type of sweet potato alongside the lighter-fleshed, dryer ones. (According to PCC Natural Markets, “true yams, which are which are grown in the tropics, are almost ivory in color, and are more starchy than sweet”).
Sweet potatoes have become a true staple in our home, and are definitely at the top of my list of favorite vegetables. With that in mind, I thought this would also be a good entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, the terrific event originated by Kalyn’s Kitchen and this week hosted by Anna at Anna’s Cool Finds.
Mini Sweet Potato and Chocolate Chip Muffins
I’ve previously posted another of my favorite sweet potato-based recipes, the Thanksgiving-themed Sweet Potato and Carrot Casserole. Today’s contribution is a mini-muffin using the sweet spud, as well as a sprinkling of chocolate chips. These are a great snack when baked as minis; you can also double the recipe and make a dozen regular-sized muffins.
1/2 cup Sucanat (unrefined evaporated cane juice)
1/3 cup sunflower oil or other light-tasting oil
2 tsp. finely ground flax seeds or flax meal
2 Tbsp. plain soy or rice milk
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup pureed sweet potato (it should have the consistency of very watery mashed potatoes)
1 cup light spelt flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
2/3 cup dairy-free semisweet chocolate chips (minis are nice)
Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Spray 18 mini muffin tins with nonstick spray.
In a large bowl, mix together the Sucanat, oil, flax, milk, vanilla and sweet potato. Allow to sit while you mix the dry ingredients, or for at least 2 minutes.
In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, spices, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir to mix. Gently stir in the chocolate chips.
Using a small scoop or tablespoon, fill the muffin tins about 3/4 full. Bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool completely and remove from tins. Makes about 18 mini muffins.
Subsequent posts in this series:
[This recipe will also appear in my upcoming cookbook, Sweet Freedom, along with more than 100 others, most of which are not featured on this blog. For more information, check the "Cookbook" button at right, or visit the cookbook blog.]