When you think of sweet potatoes, there’s a good chance that Thanksgiving and maybe even marshmallows come to mind, right? Or maybe not. Perhaps you think, as we do, that sweet potatoes deserve better than a once-a-year appearance at Thanksgiving (and a too-sweet topping of marshmallows). Maybe you already know that a sweet potato’s mellow, natural sweetness pairs beautifully with salty, oniony, creamy, spicy, buttery, herbal, and yes, sweet flavors.
Here are our favorite ways to cook sweet potatoes: roasted, puréed, layered in a gratin, sautéed in a breakfast hash, and baked in a pie (a traditional southern dessert that we’ll take any day over pumpkin pie). We love these dishes for their full rich flavors and for their ability to take sweet potatoes from holiday to everyday.
Light or dark, the flavor is the same
Sweet potatoes vary considerably in shape, skin tone, and flesh tone. They vary in texture, too, and are divided into dry-fleshed and moist-fleshed varieties. Dry-fleshed sweet potatoes have lighter tan skins and a slightly mealy texture compared to moist-fleshed ones, whose skins range from copper to purple and which have a somewhat creamier texture. We’ve found that, ultimately, variations in appearance and texture make little difference in cooking and in flavor. Some say that the deeper the flesh color the sweeter the potato, but we haven’t found this to be true.
At the market, look for firm, unblemished sweet potatoes with no soft spots or bruises. At farmers’ markets, you’ll see varieties with names like Porto Rico, Centennial, Beauregard, and Garnet (also called Garnet Yams) The terminology can be confusing; see Sweet potatoes vs. yams for the distinction between them. Store all sweet potatoes in a cool, well-ventilated spot. They don’t keep as well as white potatoes, so use them within a week or two after buying. Never refrigerate them raw, as they’ll spoil even more quickly.
Sweet potatoes brown fairly quickly after cutting, so if you want to peel them ahead of time, submerge the peeled potatoes in water to discourage discoloration, or peel and slice them just prior to-cooking.
Try spicy and salty seasonings—but go easy on the sweet ones. As you’ll see in the recipes, a sweet potato’s full, nutty sweetness is a great match for savory flavors as diverse as country ham, cayenne, cilantro, and even bourbon. But when it comes to sweet ingredients, use a light hand. You’ve probably noticed that many sweet potato recipes call for large amounts of sweeteners like corn syrup and maple syrup (and yes, marshmallows). We think this is overkill. Sweet potatoes are naturally sweet, so just a little sweetener heightens their flavors nicely—we’ve included a small amount of honey in the Spicy Roasted Sweet Potatoes and just a touch of molasses in the Mashed Sweet Potatoes. As for marshmallows, we save them for camping trips.