By Marilyn Harris
The colorful and flavorful sweet potato is actually not a potato at all, but a tuber that is a first cousin to the morning glory. Columbus discovered it here and took this "root fruit" back to Spain, where it became a popular dish of the royal court. They called it "batata," a word that closely resembles the Spanish word for potato, "patata."
This is how our favorite Thanksgiving root vegetable came to be linked with the other, unrelated potato family. Any nutritionist will tell you, though, sweet potatoes are a much better dietary choice than the true potato.
This is the time of year when the topic "is it a sweet potato or a yam?" always comes up on my radio show. The answer: It is always a sweet potato because you won't find a true yam in the average grocery here. A true yam comes from a tropical vine.
You are likely to see two different types of sweet potatoes in the produce department. One has a reddish brown skin and deep orange flesh. This variety contains more starch that converts to sugar as it cooks and is generally a sweeter sweet potato. The other common variety has more of a tan skin and is likely to be less sweet.
Adding sugary ingredients such as syrup, brown sugar and marshmallows will, in my opinion, destroy the appeal of this lovely tuber. Instead, a dash of spice and other savory touches such as salt, onions and herbs will enhance the delicious natural sweetness.
My favorite preparation is to turn them into the simple pancakes in today's recipe. Make these pancakes into a small "two-bite" size to serve for appetizers at holiday parties. Top them with two small strips or country ham or proscuitto to form an "x" and add a dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream. As larger pancakes, these are a great side dish to go with ham or leftover turkey.
Spicy Sweet Potato Pancakes
11/2 pounds fresh sweet potatoes, peeled
1 small yellow onion, minced
1 large jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
2/3 cup flour
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying
Shred potatoes finely. Mix with onions and jalapeno.
Beat flour and eggs together. Season with salt and cayenne and stir into potato mixture.
Heat about 1/2 inch of oil in a large heavy skillet. Drop batter in mounds into the hot oil. Flatten with a metal spatula and cook 2-3 minutes on each side or until golden brown, turning only once.
Drain on a paper towel lined baking sheet and place the baking sheet in a low oven until serving. Makes about 36 appetizer-size and 16 to 18 larger pancakes.
Marilyn Harris hosts Cooking with Marilyn 1-4 p.m. Saturdays on WKRC-AM (550). Visit Marilyn at www.55krc.com.
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