Louisiana has gained a reputation as producing the best sweet potatoes in the world. The LSU AgCenter Sweet Potato Research Station in Chase, La., is the only research station in the United States devoted solely to sweet potato research and development. We use the term yam locally to refer to what is one of nature’s most nutritious root crops.
But what we really care about is how good they taste! Winter is prime time to purchase sweet potatoes, because they have had time, since being dug, to cure. The curing process, which changes the starch to sugar, is what yields the syrupy sweet flavor that we recognize and love. Whether you bake them, candy them, stuff them, make casseroles or soups with them, season them with cinnamon and sugar, or make pies, muffins or cookies -- I’m sounding like Bubba here -- they are packed with nutrients. One medium-size yam of about 6 ounces (about 5 inches by 2 inches) has 150 calories and three to four times the Recommended Dietary Allowance for beta-carotene, with about two-thirds of it becoming vitamin A in the body. Yams have almost double the potassium of a banana! A dietary measure to lower blood pressure is to consume a diet rich in potassium. A potassium-rich diet blunts the effects of salt on blood pressure, may reduce the risk of developing kidney stones and possibly decreases bone loss with age.
When you are ready to buy your sweet potatoes for the holidays, rest assured, they will stay fresh for quite some time if a temperature of 55-60 degrees is maintained. Just don’t put them in your refrigerator. Many people store them for months. But if you are like me and you are getting ready to make that wonderful sweet potato casserole with the pecan crunch topping, you can save a step by baking them now and freezing them until you are ready to assemble the casserole ingredients. For that matter, bake a bunch of them to have all year long. Wash them well just before baking, coat them lightly with vegetable oil and place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet or shallow pan. If you are baking an oven full, place them directly on foil-lined racks. Avoid wrapping them individually in foil. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, reduce temperature to 375 and bake about 1½ hours or until soft. If they are really sweet, they will emit syrup. After cooling, wrap them individually in plastic wrap and place them in your freezer in zipper-type bags. Baked yams will be of good quality for up to a year. They are easily defrosted and reheated in the microwave. Most dishes made with sweet potatoes freeze well, so if you make two casseroles instead of one, there’s one to enjoy later!
Using this idea, you don’t have to wait for prime time; you can have them anytime. Please visit the Sweet Potato Research Station and Sweet Potato sections of the LSU AgCenter web site for more information on growing and enjoying sweet potatoes. There is an interesting video available as well.
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