Bake, steam, boil, microwave, fry, juice, puree or even eat them raw - sweet potatoes are as versatile as they are nutrient-rich.
Sweet potatoes are native to Central and South America, and have been grown for at least 10,000 years. When Columbus brought the potato back to Europe from his visit to the New World in 1492, it would likely have been the sweet potato not the white.
Sweet potatoes and white potatoes are botanically different - potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) are tubers, in the Solanaceae family, relatives to tomatoes, peppers and aubergines along with deadly nightshade. Plants in this family produce solanine, a poison, and so leaves and stems must not be eaten, nor potatoes that have gone green. Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are a root, in the Convolvulaceae family along with flowering morning glory vines. The leaves can be eaten and are rich in fibre and highly nutritious.
Sweet potatoes have soared above the white potato in popularity over recent years, mainly because in spite of their 'sweet' label, they actually produce a lower glycaemic response as they have a higher amylose to amylopectin ratio. Amylose raises blood sugar levels slowly (low GI), so are a healthy slow-release carbohydrate choice for runners. The calorie cost is very similar, but whilst white potatoes reign in potassium content (even higher than bananas), sweet potatoes (which can be white, orange, magenta or purple) are packed with vitamin A. This vitamin is on the front line of our antioxidant defences, and plays a key role in vision, immune function, skin and cellular health. In the developing world sweet potatoes are a nutritional saviour: farming projects have been established to grow sweet potato in sub-Saharan Africa where 43 million children are vitamin-A deficient, leading to blindness, high infection rates and increased mortality. Just one ice-cream scoop of sweet potato a day provides a child with 100% vitamin A needs.
One sweet potato also provides 50% vitamin C requirements plus vitamins B5, B6, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, and minerals iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese and potassium. It is fat and cholesterol free and low sodium.
Roasted spicy sweet potato and halloumi bake
I adore halloumi and would readily eat it every day. To make things slightly healthier I usually pick the light version of halloumi which slashes about 30% of the fat content. For this recipe you can use a variety of vegetables for the roasted vegetable bake, adding in squash, other peppers, carrots - whatever odds and ends are in the fridge. You can also add a can of chopped tomatoes if you want to add some more juiciness to the dish. Here's how I made it last time:
1 red pepper, cored and sliced into thick lengths
1 courgette, cut into thick rounds
3 medium sized sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 tbsp olive oil, plus a little for drizzling
3 garlic cloves, crushed
3 medium red onions, peeled and cut into wedges of 4-6 pieces per onion
1/2 aubergine, cut into chunks
1 red chilli, sliced
Paprika - a few sprinkles
250 g (8.8oz) light halloumi cheese, cut widthways then into chunks of 1cm thickness
15 pepperdew peppers roughly chopped
15-20 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 handfuls of coriander, roughly chopped
Juice of 2 limes
Handful of seeds (optional - I used munchy seeds omega 3 mix)
Pre-heat the oven to 190C/170 fan
Prepare all the vegetables then spread them out on a baking tray, pour over a few glugs of olive oil and mix into the vegetables with hands, adding seasoning and the chopped garlic and chilli. I often add a few sprinkles of paprika too.
Roast for 25 minutes or until they are tender.
Add the halved cherry tomatoes and roughly chopped pepperdew peppers, and halloumi to the dish. Cook for a further 10-15 minutes.
Scatter the chopped coriander on top of the dish (you could also add mint here if you desired). Squeeze the lime wedges over the dish to give an amazing tang.
Sweet Potato & Lentil Curry
This recipe is so simple! It'll take you around half an hour including cooking time, so easy to make after a busy day at work and the perfect winter warmer for those cold February evenings. Again you can add some additional veggies if you desire, and if you're feeling naughty serve with a naan too.
2 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp mustard seeds (any colour)
1 tbsp medium curry powder
100g red or green lentils, or a mixture
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
500ml vegetable stock
400g can chopped tomatoes
400g can chickpeas, drained
¼ small pack coriander
natural yogurt to serve
Heat oil in a large pan, add onion and soften for a few minutes. Add the spices and cook for 1 min more, then stir in the lentils, sweet potatoes, stock and chopped tomatoes.
Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for 20 mins until the lentils and sweet potatoes are tender. Add the chickpeas, then heat through.
Season, sprinkle with coriander, and serve with natural yogurt.