Saturday, July 20, 2013

I yam what I yam

I've been rather lax getting my columns from the Petaluma Post re-posted here, so look for one a week for the next few weeks.  Enjoy!

I yam what I yam.  But am I really?  Yes I am a yam, not a sweet potato, no really a yam.  So what is a yam you ask, not just an over cooked thanksgiving side dish covered with marshmallows.  I am so much more!

To really confuse things we rarely ever see a true yam in the US, they are a tropical tuber; sweeter than sweet potatoes and often with red or purple flesh, but can be white, with a brown or black skin. For our purposes let’s stick to our local definition.

In the US yams and sweet potatoes are both actually varieties of sweet potato, but are widely different in color and texture.  What we call “sweet potatoes” are usually a lighter colored flesh with a thin light colored skin.  The “yam” is the darker red skin with a vibrant orange flesh (full of beta carotene).  Both skins are completely edible.

For so many years the yam has been put aside to be eaten only one time a year.  My family on the other hand served them year round.  Mom would bake just them like a potato in the oven alongside a meatloaf or other dishes.  We would split them open with butter and a touch of brown sugar for a simple side dish.  But as I have expanded my own cooking I have add them to our regular repertoire.

Baking Sweet Potatoes
Baking a whole sweet potato (approx. 7 oz) will take 45 minutes to 1 hour to bake in a 350 degree oven.  Prick the skin and make sure to place it on a cookie sheet or foil as it will drip a bit.

But who actually has an hour to make dinner.  My favorite preparation is to slice into ½” to ¾ ” inch slices, toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and cumin and layout on a cookie sheet to bake.  They take about 20 to 25 minutes at 350 degree.

Using this method I have added them to several other dishes.  One of our favorites is
Arugula and Chèvre Salad with Yam croutons.

Arugula and Chèvre Salad with Yams
1 large yam cut into ½” cubes, prepared as above
6 oz wild baby arugula
2 oz chèvre

¼ cup sherry vinegar
½ cup olive oil
2 Tbl honey
Salt and Pepper to taste

Roast your yam croutons, turning often to allow to brown and crisp evenly (they’ll get brown and slightly crispy on the outside, but stay soft in the center).  While their baking make your vinaigrette by combining the sherry vinegar, olive oil, honey and S&P.  Allow crouton to cook 10 to15 minutes.  You can allow the croutons to cool or toss and serve immediately for a warm salad.  Just toss the arugula, Chèvre and vinaigrette, and finish with croutons.  I often serve this with grilled pork loin or ribs.

I have used the same technique to make yam coins for hors d’oeuvres, when trying to find ingredients for gluten free or vegan items.  Purchase yams that are approx. 1” around and cut at 1/4” and bake till firm.  Try topping with Chevre, tapenade, hummus or almost anything.

Pecan Yam Pie
One of my favorite desserts is made with yams Pecan Yam Pie

1 9” pie crust
1 lbs yams, baked plain, cooled and mashed (yield 1¼ cup)
1 egg
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp clove
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ cup cream

1¼ cup sugar
1¼ cup corn syrup
3 eggs
1 cup pecans
3 Tbl melted butter

Place the pie shell on a foil lined baking sheet as this could get messy from bubbling over.  Combine the yams, eggs, cream and spices, and whisk well till smooth.  Spoon into the pie crust, spreading evenly.  Combine the topping ingredients, and pour over the yam mixture.  However if you want to get creative don’t put mix in the pecans, instead you can use whole pecans and lay them out in a pattern,  then combine the rest of the topping ingredients and pour over the top.  Bake at 325 degrees for approximately 1½ hours or until a knife inserted comes out clean.  Allow to cool well.

Factoid:  While the origin of the term sweet potato is obvious, it’s like a potato but sweet.  But what about yam?  The story I’ve heard goes, a European explore in Africa asks a native what that potato like thing was, the response was nyami, which means “it’s to eat”.  But the explorer heard Yam and assumed that was the name of the thing.

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