Thoughts of cool weather bring me back to the years I lived in Japan. One of the highlights of those years was hearing a vendor–pulling a roasting/grilling cart from street to street– shouting “Yaki-imo! Yaki-imo” (baked sweet potato) to anyone who could hear him. The sweet potato vendor and his song of “yaki-imo” in autumn is akin to the tinny tune of the ice cream vendor on a hot summer’s afternoon. For each vendor, the children (and adults) come running.
I have not found a comparable “yaki-imo” vendor in the United States, but there are sweet potatoes. As we noted last week, Autumn is upon us, and it’s time to think about changing our eating habits to conform to the seasons . . . or least to seasonal foods. At my local farmer’s market last weekend, I found an abundance of sweet potatoes. The farmers said that there will be a several more weeks of these fresh and hearty vegetables.
So, this week’s lunch column is devoted to sweet potatoes and how they can be fashioned into a good and portable lunch or other meal. (It’s important to note, I think, that sweet potatoes are good throughout the year . . . not just on holidays when they are smothered in brown-sugar and marshmallows. ) The thyme-roasted sweet potato isn’t a “yaki-imo” but it comes close. You can serve this as a side dish with dinner or with in a simple lettuce/tomato salad for lunch. You can make the sweet potato muffins for a breakfast bread, or they can be an afternoon snack. Lastly, the sweet potato chowder doesn’t contain the traditional seafoods of most chowders, but it is thick and hearty nonetheless, a good lunch or dinner.
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Sweet Potato Muffins
- 1 cup Butter, softened
- 1 cup Sugar
- 6 Eggs
- 2 cups Buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon Vanilla
- 1-1/2 cups All-Purpose Flour
- 2 tablespoons Baking Powder
- 1 pound Sweet Potatoes, peeled, cooked and mashed
Preheat oven to 350 F. In medium mixing bowl combine butter and sugar. Blend in eggs, buttermilk, flour, baking powder and cooked sweet potatoes. Use wooden spoon to blend all ingredients well. Spoon muffin batter into greased muffin tins. Fill 2/3’s full. Bake 25 minutes.
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Thyme-Roasted Sweet Potatoes
- 4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch-thick rounds
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1/3 cup fresh thyme leaves, plus 6 thyme sprigs for garnish
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Preheat oven to 450°F. In large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and toss. Arrange potato slices in single layer on heavyweight rimmed baking sheet or in 13×9-inch baking dish. Place on top rack of oven and roast until tender and slightly browned, about 40 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with thyme sprigs.
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Sweet Potato Chowder
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 cups chopped onions
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon mild paprika
- 2 1/2 tablespoons unbleached white flour
- 6 cups low-fat milk
- 3 corn tortillas, chopped into pieces
- 2 cups corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
- 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
- salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
- Squeeze of lime
- 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro (optional)
Melt the butter with the olive oil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add onions, garlic, cumin, and paprika and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add flour and whisk constantly for 30 seconds. Slowly add milk, whisking constantly to prevent lumps from forming. Add tortillas and sweet potatoes and simmer over low heat, stirring frequently, for about 20 minutes, until sweet potatoes are tender. Add corn kernels and simmer 2 more minutes. Add salt, pepper, and lime juice, stirring to combine. Serve soup in individual bowls, sprinkled with fresh cilantro, if desired.
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What do you do with sweet potatoes? Is there a regional dish you enjoy with these vegetables? Please leave your comments below.