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Sweet potatoes? Sweet! 5 recipes you will love
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Sweet potatoes? Sweet! 5 recipes you will love

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There is no mistaking a sweet potato.

You can’t eat one and wonder whether it is, perhaps, a zucchini. No one has ever sampled one and confused it with a turnip. It is impossible to take one for broccoli, or even a regular potato.

Sweet potato is a sweet potato is a sweet potato.

Its uniqueness is both its curse and its charm. Nothing else is quite like it, but that also means its utility is limited. It is not something you would ever want to use as a substitute for another ingredient. It is, as they say, what it is.

One thing it isn’t, incidentally, is a yam. Though both are root vegetables, they are unrelated (for that matter, sweet potatoes are only distantly related to our common potatoes). They don’t even look alike — yams resemble horseradish roots, and can grow to be more than 50 pounds — and yams are much less sweet, drier and starchier.

True yams are almost never sold in America, though you can sometimes find them in international markets. In general, if it is labeled either a yam or a sweet potato, it’s a sweet potato.

And that is fortunate, because I just cooked five dishes featuring sweet potatoes, and they were all delicious, down to the last orange crumb.

I started with chili, which is a good place to start in all circumstances. A friend had recommended a vegan sweet potato chili recipe that he likes, and he recommended it so strenuously that I decided to give it a try.

I don’t always see eye-to-eye with this friend, though we have been close for nearly 50 years. But I’ll give him this: He knows his vegan sweet potato chili.

Sweet and hot flavors always go well together, as long as they are not too sweet and not too hot. In this chili they are a perfect blend, with the mild natural sweetness of the sweet potato bringing out the best in the mild heat of the chili powder, and vice versa.

It makes a richly flavored, robust meal, heavy with black beans, tomatoes, diced onion and red bell pepper providing a foundation of flavor for the star attraction, the sweet potatoes. Don’t tell anyone, but I added a bit of hot sauce to my bowl.

Sweet potato fries, of course, are always popular. I thought about simply dropping them into hot oil and frying them, but then I came across a recipe for oven-baked fries — though “oven-baked fries” is an oxymoron.

I’m not actually sure if baking fries in an oven is any better for you than frying them in oil. The recipe I used requires two tablespoons of oil for two large sweet potatoes, and I am not convinced that fries that are fried would soak up more than that amount.

Still, the reason to make oven-baked sweet-potato fries is compelling: They are excellent.

Baking them in an oven allows the fries’ exterior to become crispy, or at least moderately crispy, while the interior is soft and creamy. They are just what fries should be, only sweeter than ordinary fries.

Perhaps it is counterintuitive, but these sort-of-sweet fries are even better when served not with ketchup but with honey. Add a little cinnamon for an extra treat.

The next dish I made is similar in some ways to the oven-baked fries. Parmesan Baked Sweet Potatoes are cooked the same way — tossed with a little bit of oil and then baked — so they have the same crisp and creamy textures. But the similarity ends there.

The fries are spiced with garlic powder, paprika, salt and black pepper; these intense flavors contrast nicely with the smooth, sweet taste of the sweet potatoes. But the Parmesan Baked Sweet Potatoes offer a little more than the Parmesan cheese melted on top under the broiler at the end of cooking.

The cheese here serves only as an accent. It is an exclamation point at the end of a sweet sweet-potato sentence.

Next up was the baked-potato version of a sweet potato. The sweet potato here is baked whole until it is completely tender. So far, there is nothing extraordinary about it.

The extraordinary part comes from the sauce that is drizzled over the top. The sauce begins with melted butter that has been browned, so it tastes a little nuttier. That is combined with a bit of honey and a dash of vinegar, for a subdued sweet-and-sour effect, and some crushed red pepper to bring on just enough heat.

If you like the sauce on sweet potatoes you can try adding it to anything from winter squash to oatmeal to ice cream.

Last came dessert. Sweet potatoes are one of the very few vegetables that can legitimately be used in dessert.

I made a sweet potato pie. Of course I did. What else would a pie-lover make?

The ingredients may sound familiar: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. It’s what goes into any pumpkin pie worth its salt (salt is also an ingredient). But what makes this sweet potato pie better than ordinary pumpkin pies are the other ingredients.

Along with the heavy cream and eggs, this pie also benefits from brown sugar and bourbon. These additions bring a rich and round depth to the pie. It is a flavor-forward dessert, where the ingredients all act in harmony to bring color and emphasis to the sweet potato at the heart of it all.

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