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I Yam What I Eat

November 17, 1994|FAYE LEVY

As a child I didn't care for sweet potatoes, perhaps because of the way they were prepared in our home. They usually arrived on my plate mashed and crowned with marshmallows or maraschino cherries. Only when I happened to taste a plain, baked sweet potato, topped with butter and sprinkled with salt and pepper, did I realize that it actually tasted good.

In my own kitchen, when I looked for tasty ways to serve this Vitamin-A rich vegetable without butter, I found some delicious ideas in Mediterranean cuisines. Now one of my favorite recipes for preparing the vegetable is as a warm North African salad with saffron, lemon juice and black olives. The sweet potatoes cook right in the aromatic dressing, which is also delicately seasoned with ginger and cumin. Recently I prepared the salad for a TV cooking demonstration, and the hosts were so enticed by the new blend of flavors that they kept coming back for more samples, even though it was only 8 o'clock in the morning.

On busy days you might like to enhance plain baked or microwaved sweet potatoes by serving with a tangy dressing. My choice is usually a Moroccan-style orange vinaigrette or a Turkish yogurt topping seasoned with a bit of finely minced garlic. These light sauces are wonderful complements for the rich texture of the sweet potato.


In these dishes the vegetable is accented by tart and piquant (rather than sweet) seasonings. Since the sweet potato is naturally sweet, its own taste stands out better when paired with these contrasting flavors than it does when it is excessively burdened by sugary ingredients.

Sweet potatoes are native to America. What is sold in our markets as yams is, in fact, a moist variety of sweet potato, usually with sweet orange flesh. True yams are very large, starchy roots grown in tropical areas and are not widely available in the United States. The drier sweet potatoes have yellow or cream-colored flesh. In the following recipes you can use either of these two types of sweet potatoes; those with orange flesh will produce a more colorful dish.


You will see sweet potatoes in a new light after tasting them in a savory, light dressing flavored with saffron, ginger and lemon juice. This colorful salad is a great choice for entertaining, as people are intrigued by the surprising, delicious combination of tastes. Serve it as a tasty appetizer or an accompaniment for roast chicken or turkey.


1 pound sweet potatoes, preferably orange-fleshed, often labeled yams

2 tablespoons oil

1 large onion, chopped


1/8 teaspoon saffron threads

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 cup water

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

6 pitted black olives, halved

2 tablespoons strained fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro or parsley

Cayenne pepper

Peel sweet potatoes and cut into 3/4-inch dice. Set aside.

Heat oil in heavy medium saute pan. Add onion and saute over medium-low heat 5 minutes. Add salt to taste, saffron, ginger, 1/2 cup water and sweet potatoes. Bring to boil. Cover and cook until nearly tender, 10 minutes. Add cumin, paprika and olives. Simmer, uncovered, until most of liquid evaporates and potatoes are tender, about 2 minutes.

Remove from heat. Stir in lemon juice and 1 tablespoon cilantro. Season to taste with salt and cayenne. Serve at room temperature. Sprinkled with remaining 1 tablespoon cilantro. Makes 4 servings.


Serve this fresh lemon-orange dressing over hot baked or microwaved sweet potatoes.


2 tablespoons oil

3 to 4 tablespoons strained fresh orange juice

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

4 to 5 teaspoons strained fresh lemon juice


Freshly ground pepper

In bowl whisk oil with 3 tablespoons orange juice, grated orange zest and 4 teaspoons lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Whisk in remaining orange and lemon juices, if desired. Makes 4 servings.

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