• Chef Kelly Unger

Sweet on Sweet Potato!

Purple, red, orange and white, sweet potatoes have tons of variety, lots of health benefits and so many uses. With super thin skin loaded with vitamins, I implore you not to waste your time peeling your sweet potatoes. And rubbing them with your hand under running water is all that is needed to clean them when they’re right from the farm.


Sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber. According to healthline.com, sweet potatoes provide 769% of the daily value of Vitamin A, and 65% daily value of Vitamin C! Sweet potatoes also promote gut health. “Sweet potatoes contain two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Your body cannot digest either type. Therefore, fiber stays within your digestive tract and provides a variety of gut-related health benefits.” (healthline.com) Sweet potatoes may also have cancer fighting properties, the purple variety may enhance brain function with its anthocyanins, may support your immune system, and the high beta-carotene content definitely supports healthy vision. (healthline.com)


In Okinawa, Japan, a specific purple sweet potato variety they call Imo, is a longevity food and it is generally steamed, preserving all of its health benefits.


A popular Thanksgiving side dish, especially in the South, is a sweet potato casserole topped with brown sugar and marshmallows. While I am all in for a sweet treat, just know that smothering this health filled root veg with sugar defeats the purpose. If you’re going to indulge in this dish, please eat plenty of turkey alongside so your blood sugar and triglycerides don’t skyrocket. The sugar will still cause inflammation so drink lots of water as well. So now that I’ve completely sapped the joy out of that dish for you, let’s move on! But maybe try a sweet potato dish that doesn’t have sugar so you can taste it’s natural sweetness. And roasting sweet potatoes only enhances it.


Let’s address the whole sweet potato versus yam situation. Sweet potatoes and yams are just simply two different vegetables. The way to tell them apart is: yams have a thick, rough, dark brown, tree bark kind of skin. Sweet potatoes have thin skin and will be orange, red, purple or yellowish. Mostly everything you see that is called a yam, is a sweet potato. Why the confusion? Way back when, some well meaning farmers in Louisiana started calling their orange-fleshed sweet potatoes “yams” in order to distinguish them from other growers. So basically, a marketing ploy gone wrong because the name stuck. You will see some farmers today referring to sweet potatoes as yams. Just go with it! Don’t argue. It’s just one of those American culture things. Embrace it. Just know what you’re looking for - a sweet potato is orange, red, purple or white and has thin skin. Just make sure your skin is not thin, lol!


As I have mentioned in the past, I am a pumpkin spiced everything and anything kind of girl. So it is mystifying to me when someone doesn’t like pumpkin pie. I have to imagine that the reasons are: 1. They don’t like custard type desserts and 2. They don’t like the combination of spices. So a few years ago I addressed this in a cooking class I taught and created a Sweet Potato Pie that was not just a recipe swapping sweet potatoes for pumpkin. I wanted it to have a real texture and flavor difference. Anyway, sweet potatoes are much starchier than pumpkins. This week I’m sharing what I came up with! I think it’s just a nice pie on its own, not just as an alternative. And sweet potatoes are in season for a lot longer than pumpkins. So if you like both sweet potatoes and pumpkins, as I do, it’s a nice eat this now-eat that later situation.


My sweet potato pie opinions - for those that don’t like pumpkin pie

1. Red skinned sweet potato for this pie is best, but if you want an orange pie, use orange sweet potatoes.

2. Steaming vs roasting – steaming every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Steaming keeps the potatoes moist, roasting makes them too dry for use in pie. Sweet potatoes are already sweet so it’s not necessary to coax more sweetness from them.

3. Pie crust vs cookie crust – no contest, cookie crust. There’s so much versatility and the added layer of flavor. It helps distinguish it from pumpkin pie as well.


Kelly’s Sweet Potato Pie

Yields one 9” pie

For the crust: preheat oven to 350 degrees

1 ½ cups (7 ½ oz) cookie crumbs – Biscoff, graham crackers or gingersnaps

About 6 tablespoons butter, melted

3 tablespoons of sugar – needed for graham crackers, might not be needed for other types

Optional – ½ teaspoon cinnamon + ½ teaspoon ground ginger for graham crackers

Mix all ingredients together until well combined and press into the pie dish, bringing mixture up the sides of the dish. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes. Can be made up to two days ahead and stored covered at room temperature.

For the filling: raise oven temp to 375 degrees

2 large sweet potatoes (about 1 ½ pounds or about 2 cups), steamed and skins removed

1 to 1 ¼ cups brown sugar not packed

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon freshly ginger, grated

1 teaspoon ground ginger

Optional spices instead of gingers – ¼ teaspoon clove or ½ teaspoon allspice

Optional – zest of half a lemon

2 large eggs

1 stick of butter at room temperature diced

Juice of ½ a lemon

In a stand mixer, add sweet potatoes and mix until smooth. Clean/remove the fibers from the paddle attachment and continue. Add the butter and mix until well blended. Add the sugar slowly, then add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each one. Add the spices and lemon juice and mix until blended. Pour the mixture into the pie crust, smooth the top and bake at 375 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes until center is set.

Note: steaming sweet potatoes whole takes about 1 hour. Be sure to check your water level at least once during cooking so you don’t burn your pan.




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