When you think of sweet potatoes, what comes to mind?
- Marshmallow casserole?
- Chili sauce?
Chili sauce, really? Don’t let the word “sweet” limit your ideas about sweet potatoes. They’re widely consumed around the world, in savory and spicy dishes. According to the International Potato Center, sweet potatoes were originally cultivated in South America thousands of years ago. From there, use and popularity spread around the world. Sweet potatoes are used in cuisines from Africa to Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.
Sweet potatoes can be grown on poor or dry soil, and up to altitudes over 7000 feet (2500 meters). In many geographical regions, they can be grown year-round, which makes sweet potatoes an ideal staple food.
Sweet Potato Nutrition
Ideally a staple food would provide plenty of nutritional benefits, and sweet potatoes don’t disappoint. A large 8-oz potato has:
- about 250 calories, mostly from carbohydrates
- 5.6 grams fiber
- over 500 mg of potassium
- a whopping 21000 micrograms of beta carotene (1800 Retinol Activity Equivalents of vitamin A)
- significant amounts of vitamins E, K, C, B vitamins, and antioxidants
There are hundreds of varieties of sweet potatoes, with colors ranging from white to purple. Despite the fact that sweet potatoes (roots) are not botanically related to potatoes (tubers), you can bake, mash, fry, boil, and microwave them, just like potatoes. You can substitute sweet potatoes for white potatoes in many dishes, like stews, soups. I like them grilled (slice in half lengthwise, pre-cook, toss with oil, finish on the grill) or roasted (peel, cut into chunks, toss with oil, garlic, salt and fennel, bake at 350 until done – yum!).
Try These Recipes
If you’re ready to move beyond sweet potato marshmallow casserole, you can find plenty of delicious and interesting recipes on the many sweet potato producer and marketing websites. Since sweet potatoes are widely used in main dishes around the world, many of the recipes are vegetarian or semi-vegetarian, so they fit nicely into your plant-based diet. Here are some that look interesting:
Stuffed Sweet Potato Skins: This one is pretty darn easy, once you’ve baked the sweet potato halves. You could use fresh spinach if you don’t want to use kale. If you don’t care for quinoa, substitute rice.
Southern Sweet Potato Power Bowl: This is more of a construction project, as are all ‘bowl’ type recipes. Rather than sprouts, I’d suggest chopped green pepper, cooked kernel corn or chopped zucchini. If you don’t want to make the from-scratch dressing (“light” sour cream – bleh!), use a bottled dressing with a squeeze of lime, or serve lime wedges on the side.
Sweet Potato Latkes: These can be a great basis for a vegetarian meal. I’d garnish with low fat Greek style yogurt to boost the protein in the meal.
One of my very favorite ways to use sweet potatoes is Sweet Potato Enchilada Casserole. It may sound intimidating, but the preparation is a lot like making lasagna — you get all the ingredients together and start stacking up the layers.
Good quality enchilada sauce is essential. I make my own, but that might not be an option for everyone. You can find standard grocery store canned sauce, and the quality can be improved by the addition of some tomato sauce, garlic, extra ground chili or chipotle, and minced cilantro. Or you might be lucky enough to have a good source of prepared enchilada sauce, perhaps from a boutique food shop.
Sweet Potato Enchilada Casserole
This layered casserole can be made with a variety of optional ingredients, according to your taste preferences. The essentials are sweet potatoes, enchilada sauce, cheese, kernel corn, and beans. Other than that, see the optional ingredients below. You should have 3 layers, so use a deep casserole dish
- 2 15-oz cans enchilada sauce (plus one 7 oz can tomato sauce optional), about 4 cups sauce
- 2 medium size sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced very thin, lengthwise
- 2 cups kernel corn (thaw frozen corn briefly in microwave)
- 1 can pinto or black beans
- 2-3 cups grated cheddar or Jack cheese, or crumbled Cotija cheese
- 9-12 small yellow corn tortillas (optional)
- 1 cup diced mild chilis (optional)
- 1/2 to 1 cup thin sliced seeded jalapeno (optional)
- 1 large fresh tomato, sliced thin (optional)
- 2 cups pre-cooked chicken or turkey (optional)
- Step 1 Pre-heat oven to 350º
- Step 2 Start layering by spreading a label of sauce in the bottom of the casserole dish.
- Step 3 Arrange a layer of sweet potato slices to cover the sauce.
- Step 4 Top with a single layer of corn tortillas, if using. You will have to break one or two of them in half to arrange in one layer.
- Step 5 Spread 2/3 cup corn kernels and about 1/3 of the can of beans.
- Step 6 Scatter a few chilis, jalapeños, tomato slices or chicken pieces, if using.
- Step 7 Top the layer with grated cheese.
- Step 8 Ladel enchilada sauce on top and repeat the layering twice.
- Step 9 End with one more layer of potatoes topped with the rest of the sauce and grated cheese.
- Step 10 Cover with foil and bake for an hour, until bubbling. Remove the foil and cook another 5-10 minutes.
- Step 11 Serve in bowls. You can garnish with sour cream or plain Greek style yogurt, or minced cilantro.
- Step 12 Accompany with a fresh fruit salad or vegetable sticks.