My life has a superb cast but I can't figure out the plot.
~ Ashleigh Brilliant

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Roasted Spiced Sweet Potatoes

I've been debating whether to post this recipe now or save it till next autumn, since sweet potatoes are usually associated with fall dishes. But it's a winter veggie and a recipe that we're still enjoying, and here in Wyoming and across much of the rest of North America, there is plenty of winter left. Besides, there are no guarantees in life, so why wait? 

Am I therefore going to post it now? I yam indeed. 
For those of you who groaned aloud, let me assure you that my punny little bon mot actually serves as a useful introduction to the often confusing topic of yams vs. sweet potatoes. Most Americans (me included until a few years ago) think they're much the same and use the terms interchangeably. This is understandable, given USDA labeling requirements that insist the word "yam" be accompanied by the term "sweet potato." While far from the most egregious or confounding thing the USDA does, this requirement - created to resolve the confusion over these two distinctly different plants and veggies - has only served to further befuddle. Sweet potatoes are what are grown in the US (and in South America where they originated, but they're not imported due to concerns over diseases and insects). Yams are not grown in the mainland US (US yams are only grown in Hawaii) so the vast majority are imported, and unless you're specifically looking for yams at a specialty foods/import/ethnic foods market, what you're undoubtedly getting in the US when you buy a "yam" is a soft-fleshed variety of sweet potato, the kind usually called "yams" here. To add to the confusion, sweet potatoes, which are the tubers (or bulbs) of a tropical vine in the Morning Glory family, aren't potatoes - root vegetables in the nightshade family - at all! 

So, clear as a summer sky now? :-)

Here are a few of the differences between yams and sweet potatoes:

Sweet Potatoes:
Tubers (Morning Glory family)
Smooth skin
Sweet, moist flesh
Originated in tropical South America
Grown domestically (mostly in FL and CA)
Very high in Vitamin A (containing more than carrots), Vitamin C, Beta-Carotene and other nutrients

Rough, scaly skin
Dry, starchy flesh
Originated in Africa ("yam" is thought to come from the West African word nyami, "to eat") and Asia
Imported to the US and Canada 
Very low in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Beta-Carotene and other nutrients

So the good news is that sweet potatoes are easy to find, deliciously high in health-promoting, disease-fighting nutrients, and now you won't get confused when I tell you that we use organic Garnet "yams" in this yummy Sweet Potatoes recipe. :-)

I've had this recipe for so long I don't remember where I first got it, but I've seen it (or close variations of it) on a few online recipe sites. (The No-oil Oil recipe comes via FatFree Vegan, since we never cook with added fats). My only experience with sweet potatoes till this recipe was my paternal grandmother's candied "yams" (see, there we go again!) at Thanksgiving, which I thought were vile. I was a veggie-loving kid and not at all a fussy eater, but found them too cloyingly sweet and much preferred my mother's mashed potatoes, butternut squash, and mashed rutabaga. It wasn't until trying this recipe about a decade ago that I was won over by sweet potatoes, and now also enjoy them just baked and eaten plain (BW even likes them cold that way). I say this in case any of you think you don't like sweet potatoes - I'd encourage you to try these. Especially if, like me, your dislike came from childhood and/or a dislike for candied "yams!"


~ 1 tsp coriander seeds
~ 1/2 tsp fennel seeds*
~ 1/2 tsp dried oregano
~ 1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
~ 1 tsp sea salt
~ 2 lbs medium sweet potatoes
~ 3 TBSP "No-Oil" Oil (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 425º F.

Coarsely grind coriander, fennel, oregano, red pepper flakes and salt in an electric coffee/spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle.

Cut potatoes lengthwise into 1-inch wedges.

Toss wedges with "no-oil" oil and spices in a large roasting pan or glass baking dish and roast in middle of oven for 20 minutes. Turn wedges over with a spatula and roast until tender and slightly golden, 15 to 20 minutes more.

NOTE: Grinding the spices yields more potent flavor, since the seeds retain flavorful oils that are lost in pre-ground spices. (You also get a wonderful dose of delicious aromatherapy!)


~ 1 cup water
~ 1 TBSP cornstarch
~ 1/2 tsp salt
~ 1 TBSP dried basil

Whiz in blender** the water, cornstarch and salt. Pour into saucepan, stir in basil. Heat to a boil. Cool. This will have the shine and consistency of oil to use in place of oil for those certain recipes. Great for glazing breads (like focaccia) before baking, or for coating veggies or potatoes so seasonings stick to them (like the roasted sweet 'taters above!) Store leftover "oil" in a lidded glass container in the refrigerator.

*I'm aware that a few of my regular visitors are card-carrying members of the "Fennel Loathers Club," there will be no convincing you to try this, and you are likely to leave disparaging remarks about fennel in the comments. What can I say except, "Can't please everybody!" :-)

**Don't literally whiz in your blender, please. That's nasty. ;-)


  1. Taterwad.....or should I say Sweet-taterwad ;-). Good-looking recipe, and we love, love sweet taters! Would you believe we had a white sweet potato end up in our batch somehow. It was smooth and reddish on the outside, tasted sweet, but the insides looked just like a regular spud....weird! And thanks for clarifying the difference between them and yams.....never knew that! You'd think a spud expert would know better, huh? xoxoxo

  2. Loved the yam joke in the beginning! ha! I didn't groan, but I did laugh. :)

    I think it's a perfect time to post this recipe. It's still definitely sweet potato season!

  3. I thought the yam joke was cute, too! Thank you so much for the yam/sweet potato break down. That was awesome. And I'm going to try this recipe too :)
    I thought of you this past weekend, miss Laloofah, as I baked muffins for the very first time with applesauce substituted for oil. Thanks to your lovely recipe posts. And my family loved them! Thank you!!

  4. Spudly ~ Hey, I think this was the first time you've ever left the very first comment on one of my posts! How appropriate it would be on a potato-ish one. :-)

    Funny about your stowaway white sweet potato, wonder how it got in with the others? Could you detect a flavor difference?

    Glad to be doing my part to whittle away at the Great Sweet Potato/Yam Perplexity! :-)

    Molly ~ Gold stars to you for lovingly laughing at my pun, and for agreeing that I'm not too late with a sweet potato recipe! xoxo

    SweetPotatoMayas ~ I was hoping you'd stop by this post! :-) I thought of you while I was working on it. Gold stars to you as well for liking my yam joke. Please let me know how you like this recipe! The aroma of those grinding spices is just heavenly.

    We shared some of these roasted spiced sweet potatoes earlier this winter with our next door neighbor, who's a newly aspiring vegan and has so many food allergies and intolerances it's often hard to come up with foods to share with her. But the minute we handed the container of these sweet potatoes to her, she ate every one of them while standing in her doorway - didn't even let her husband have one - and we took our empty container back home with us! :-)

    I'm glad the applesauce sub was a hit, good for you for trying it! By the way, I've been meaning to ask you if you've ever read, "The Sweet Potato Queens Book of Love" by Jill Conner Browne? It's one of my favorite books, though I skip past the recipes she sometimes interjects (which are ghastly on several levels). But I think the book is a riot, and very sweet and poignant at the end. Being a queen of the sweet potato yourself, I think you'd get a kick out of it! :-)

  5. My mother made sweet potato pie, which I hated. I still don't love sweet potatoes but I will eat them. (The best recipe I have is for sweet potato-chocolate frosting!)

    This recipe sounds like something I would like. I could sub sesame seeds or caraway seeds for the fennel.

  6. I had to run to the comments right away to see if Andrea had addressed the fennel issue! :P

    Thanks for the lowdown on the differences between yams and sweet potatoes. No wonder there's so much confusion! My husband adores sweet potatoes. I'll have to keep this recipe in mind! Thanks!

  7. Looks yammy!

    I love sweet potatoes.

  8. Andrea ~ I'm pretty sure I've never had sweet potato pie, but have always imagined it to be not terribly unlike pumpkin pie, which I love. Am I way off base? My tastebuds definitely prefer savory over sweet foods, but I have developed an appreciation for sweet potatoes that was definitely absent in my earlier years.

    I think adding chocolate to most things improves it tenfold, don't you? :-)

    I have no clue what would make a good sub for the fennel seeds - am having a hard time imagining either of those seeds replacing the fennel in this - so I'll leave that up to you fennel-subbing experts. :-) If you do try this, I'd love to hear how you like it.

    Cadry ~ LOL - Andrea, your relationship with fennel seems to be a bit infamous! :-) (I have one other follower who despises fennel - and anise and black licorice - with a rabid passion, but she's been MIA for a few weeks and so may miss this post and hence we'll miss what probably would have been some entertaining, vehement commenting! Bummer.

    BW adores them too. Am I wrong to assume you don't share David's adoration for them? :-) I hope he'll enjoy these if you decide to make them.

  9. ladyfi ~ LOL - you get bonus points, my fellow punster. ;-)

  10. P.S. Andrea ~ I was pleased with how these food photos turned out! :-)

  11. I'm the one who is off-base. She made sweet potato casserole with marshmallows melted on top. Bleh. Except for the marshmallows. :) Sweet potato pie tastes like pumpkin pie but the texture is a little different.

  12. TW. My white-sweet was softer than a white, but not as sweet as a sweet. Did that make sense ? ;-)

  13. I like sweet potatoes fine, but David really loves them. I'd be okay having them once every few months, but he has them at least once a week.

  14. Those look absolutely wonderful and I'm really intrigued by the no oil "oil". I'd like to try that in another roasted veggie recipe I have. A perfect recipe to eat in October Hint, hint! In addition to any number of baked goods.

    And I have no idea which side of the fennel fence I fall - is that the herb/spice that tastes like licorice?

    1. Sorry I missed replying to this one! You'll have to let me know how the no-oil oil works for your other roasted veggie recipe. Don't see why it wouldn't! Works great on BW's focaccia bread, too! We'll definitely have these when you're here. I'm hoping we'll be able to get these delicious organic garnet yams then.

      Yes, fennel is the spice that smells and tastes like anise or black licorice. So much so that fennel is often misidentified as anise in grocery stores. The fragrance of the freshly-ground spices for this recipe is one of my favorite parts of making it! And the combination of flavors is sublime.

      So did you learn anything new about yams vs. sweet potatoes? :-)


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  • THE HUMANE GARDENER ~ Nancy Lawson
  • THE WORLD WITHOUT US ~ Alan Weisman

There is still strong in our society the belief
that animals and the natural world have value
only insofar as they can be converted into revenue.
That nature is a commodity.
And that the American dream is one of unlimited consumption.
There are many of us, on the other hand,
who believe that animals and the natural world
have value by virtue of being alive.
That Nature is a community to which we belong
and to which we owe our lives.
And that the deeper American dream is one of unlimited compassion.

~John Robbins, "The Food Revolution"

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