Sweet potatoes: the happy food

After several years researching, writing and perfecting recipes for The Longevity Kitchen: Satisfying, Big-Flavor Recipes Featuring the Top 16 Age-Busting Power Foods, did I ever develop even MORE love and respect for sweet potatoes! They’re absolutely one of the top 16 age-busting power foods (see health properties below) and their flavor potential is uniquely awesome.

We already love them, right? Naturally sweet, creamy, filling, and the perfect partner for delicious add-ons — from butter, ghee or almond butter to yogurt or coconut milk (in soups) — this is one satiating, inexpensive, delightful, tasty, comforting food! Definitely a winner.

A wealth of varieties

Fascinating fact: sweet potatoes are one of the oldest vegetables known. Traces of 10,000-year-old wild sweet potatoes have been found in Peruvian caves. 

There are nearly 400 varieties, with white, yellow, purple or orange flesh, each with unique tastes. It’s fun to search out options at your local farmers’ market or ethnic grocery store. Enjoy Saveur’s 16 Shades of Sweet: A Sweet Potato Guide, a picture gallery, including “Okinawa,” with tan skin and sugary magenta flesh, and “Stokes purple,” all the way through, two especially nutrition-dense varieties. Have fun exploring!

A cornucopia of health properties

Sweet potatoes assist with blood pressure regulation, cardiovascular health and immune support. They contain compounds that are like police dispatchers, directing the immune system to produce cells that engulf invading bacteria and escort them permanently off the premises. These healthful tubers have an excellent nutrient profile that includes good amounts of vitamin B6 and potassium — the former linked to lowering homocysteine levels and thus reducing the risk of stroke or heart attack, and the latter with helping keep high blood pressure in check.

They’re also loaded with cancer-fighting beta-carotene, and B vitamins that help sharpen mental focus and concentration. Keep a special eye out for purple sweet potatoes — a recent study found they may be particularly good at preventing cognitive problems. Reach for a sweet potato instead of a pastry or candy when feeling stressed or unhappy. Since sweet potatoes are rich in nutrients and fiber, they help your body process the carbohydrates slowly, thus releasing the sweet more slowly but still providing that happy effect.

Yum, yum, yum

You can do all manner of things with them. Bake and slather with almond butter and just eat them. Or bake and stuff like a vessel with greens — my favorite pairing. I like the slight sweet with the slightly tart/bitter of the greens. Or bake off  4 and put them in the refrigerator, ready to go into soups or be reheated for a side. They lend themselves to a world of spices: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice. But they can also do the tango with some chili! You can easily build a meal around them when they anchor the plate. Adding them to your culinary repertoire is such a boon, especially during fall and winter.

So many delicious recipes!

African Sweet Potato and Peanut Soup

The main ingredients in this recipe may seem like a totally random (and somewhat odd) combo, but it’s actually a classic Ethiopian soup. It will have your taste buds rockin’ and rollin’!  

Sweet Potato Bars

These bars remind me of the lemon bars I used to make as a kid, probably because this is a
treat any youngster would like. Thankfully, this treat is a little more healthful, with a nutty, gluten-free crust and a filling based on nutritionally outstanding sweet potatoes, which are
loaded with antioxidants and can help regulate blood sugar levels. These bars are so nutrient dense that a small portion will leave you completely satiated, and the flavors are so delightful that you’ll be blissfully aware of every bite. 

Southwestern Sweet Potato Soup 

I’ll admit it took a couple of takes to get this recipe to Yum! Let’s just say I was little cavalier with the ancho chiles and chipotle the first time out: one taste, and I looked like a cartoon character with steam blowing out of my ears while a train whistle screams. I mean, even a dragon wouldn’t have gone there, it was that hot. But a little experimentation—and pulling back on the chiles a tad—turned this former five-alarmer into an amazingly heady, slightly smoky soup. 

Bella’s Moroccan-Spiced Sweet Potato Salad

My dear-departed Portuguese water dog, Bella, loved carrots. She literally came running every time she heard the carrot peeler come out of the drawer. My husband and I thought, “Hmm, that’s different for a dog,” and played the approving parents. Then she expanded her palette to sweet potatoes. I would chop and fling the ends to her, and she got some serious hang time as she leapt for them! Whenever I make this salad, I have happy memories of my favorite sweet potato connoisseur. 

IF YOU’RE NOT ALREADY IN LOVE WITH SWEET POTATOES, PLEASE TAKE ANOTHER LOOK! THERE ARE SO MANY WAYS TO PREPARE THEM, THERE’S SURELY ONE TO PLEASE. AND YOU’LL CERTAINLY NOTE THEIR HEALTH PROPERTIES EARN THEM A PLACE ON YOUR PLATE. ENJOY!