What do you think of when you hear ‘sweet potatoes’? If you are from Denmark, then it’s probably a classic Danish dish of potatoes fried in butter and sugar served typically as a side dish for a Christmas dinner. Others might recall a plant of Ipomoea batatas known for its starchy, sweet-tasting tubers. Americans would sometimes mistakenly call them yams which, in fact, is an entirely different plant. First Europeans that set their foot on the North American continent heard the indigenous ‘batata’, and in many countries, this name is still preferred. Some researchers insist on calling it sweetpotato – as one word – to avoid confusion. But many people would call these long and tapered, smooth-skinned yellow, orange, red, brown, purple, or beige root vegetables just ‘sweet potato’. And we are absolutely ok with that.
This tuber is so ubiquitous that you would easily find it everywhere. In Africa sweet potatoes are a staple food for many people. They are often served as a part of the breakfast with peanut sauce. But it can become your own go-to condiment too – a perfect flavouring for vegetable and meat dishes alike. Mix ½ cup of salted creamy peanut butter with 2 Tbsp of soy sauce, 2 Tbsp of sweetener of your choice (opt for maple, birch, or simple honey), 2 Tbsp of lemon or lime juice, 1 grated clove of garlic together with 1 minced small chili in a mixing bowl. Whisk well to combine, diluting with water as you go, if you prefer a thinner consistency. Aim for a thick but pourable sauce. It’s made so simple and yet so rich, made in no time and it’s just plain perfect with roasted wedges of batata.
In Asia sweet potatoes are popular street food: usually yellow-fleshed but in some parts (mainly in Japan) purple ones can be found. They are usually roasted in big metal drums and sold during the winter season. Seems like people love to consume these starchy tubers when it’s cold outside. There is another recipe for the darker time of the year – potent sweet potato soup. It’s made by boiling the tuber until soft with rock sugar and ginger, seasoned with salt and pepper and served hot. The best part of the dish is that it’s actually considered a dessert by some folks – surely an intriguing fact.
If you want a less questionable sweet dish then you’ll probably like a traditional South American dulce de batata. It’s a jellied dessert that is often sold canned. If you look it up on the internet, chances are you’ll find it under the name ‘sweet potato candy’. The good news is that this recipe is for beginners. But with some patience. You’ll need some of it to wait until 2 kg / 4 lbs of tubers boil for 30 minutes. After done, drain them, cool, peel, mash right in the pot and add 4 cups of sugar with 2 ½ cups of water and 1 Tbsp of agar-agar. Cook the mixture until boiling. This step is crucial for agar hydration which is needed for it to work out properly. Then lower the temperature and continue simmering. That’s where most of your patience comes in – you’ll have to wait until everything thickens, stirring frequently as you go. Then remove from the heat, spread it into an appropriate dish and let it cool in the refrigerator. Slice and serve with condensed milk, cheese, nuts or sandwiched between two crackers. It’s irresistible in any way.