These must be in season because I just bought them at the local grocer for $1 a kilogram. Sweet potatoes don’t often grow well immediately around Melbourne (they hate frost), but still thrive in warmer parts of northern Victoria, so even though we’re not strictly local here, you’ll still find them in a local seasonal box at the moment. The season started in mid-late summer further north, and will continue all the way through to late autumn.
Most of the sweet potato we see in Australia is orange (the Beauregard), the same thing they call a yam in parts or North America. And then we also see the purple one, which we usually call kumara. And that’s just the start of where it gets confusing. In Australia, yams are something completely different (Oxalis tuberosa – part of the sorrel family). Then of course, sweet potatoes are not even potatoes (which are in the Solanaceae family, just like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant), but part of the morning glory family (Convolvulaceae). Finally, sweet potatoes are not even that sweet either, especially the way we cook them down under (very rarely with sugar like many would in the US).
How to pick a good one…
Choose a sweet potato that is small to medium in size for more flavour. More intensely coloured ones will have higher levels of beta carotene. Look out for stringy white root shoots that look like a beard – this could indicate a potato that’s been in storage for a while. Avoid anything with bruises or mouldy cuts on the surface – these spread fairly quickly.
How to keep them…
Don’t ever refrigerate sweet potatoes, it dries them out, and to be honest, you’ll never need to. Keep them like you would a standard potato, in a dry place in the dark, and they should last at least a few weeks. Even if you cut a sweet potato you can store the remainder for a few more days in this way.
How to cook them…
You know that viral video that shows you how to cook a slice of sweet potato in the toaster? Totally doesn’t work, well two tries for me didn’t anyway. However, just slice them into about 5mm rounds and pop them in the frypan with a bit of butter and you’ll get the perfect breakfast toastie result quick smart. Sweet potatoes are fairly malleable – you can steam them, microwave them, stew, fry, bake or sautee them, and you can even mash them and add them into floury recipes as a starch replacement. To bring out the caramel flavours, it’s always best to brown them a little. Sweet potatoes cook much faster than standard potatoes, so don’t turn them into mush accidentally.
Flavours they go with…
Sweet potatoes aren’t super sugary, but they really need salt and sourness to bring out their best. They also aren’t as starchy as the name ‘potato’ might suggest, but they are fluffy and creamy, so they soak up other flavours well in a sauce, and they’ll also balance large levels of heat and spice. Combinations that work well:
- bacon, sour cream and chives
- sweet chilli, avocado, coriander and lemon
- cashews, chilli, ginger and tamarind
- blue cheese, pomegranate molasses and pecans
I nearly always eat sweet potatoes in their most basic form – roasted with salt and served alongside just about anything. I very rarely cook them with something else (e.g. in stews or curries), but I did cook up a variant on a roesti the other day (with beetroot and cumin), and that came up beautifully.
Some other favourites:
my own Sweet potato muffins