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What is a yam and how to cook with it?

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In a recent post I covered a root vegetable called Yuca. Today, I am going to give you a quick run down on yams. Many people confuse yams with sweet potatoes, and I have to admit that I did once think they were the same thing going under different names in different countries or perhaps varying slightly in colour. However, they are not the same thing, so let’s learn about yams and how you could incorporate them in your healthy kitchen.

Just like sweet potatoes, a yam is a tuberous root vegetable that comes from a flowering plant which is part of the family Dioscoreaceae (sweet potato is part of Convulaceae family, they are not even cousins). Yams are grown and commonly used in African, Asia, Latin America and Oceania but you can now also find them in many green grocers around the world. While sweet potatoes are medium in size with smooth skin, sweet flavour and moist mouse feel, the yams are much larger and longer in size (sometimes they are huge), with rough, scaly greyish skin, much drier and starchier white flesh that is not very sweet. You can also find purple yams, called ube, which are used in desserts and ice-cream.

From a nutritional point of view, yams are a good source of safe starch and carbohydrates. This tuber is high in potassium, vitamins B6, C and K, and fibre. There are 28 grams of carbohydrates and 0.5 grams of sugar per 100 grams of yams, and the glycemic index is lower than a regular white potato.

How to cook with yucca?

Yams have to be cooked to be eaten and the most common ways are by boiling, frying and roasting. The yam’s skin has to be peeled and discarded and the flesh can be used similarly to a regular white potato or sweet potato. Because the yams are quite dry and starchy they work best with a moist sauce on the side or cooked in a stew or a soup.

Here are some simple ideas:

  • Use yams instead of white potatotoes in soups you plan to puree such as leek and potato soup or in mixed vegetable purees.
  • Add to roasts, stews and casseroles such as in my Yam & Beef Stew with Caramelised Onions & Pine Nuts.
  • Boil and mash the yams with some olive oil or butter, garlic and fresh herbs or spices.
  • Slice yams into thin slices or strips and either fry in oil or bake coated in oil, sprinkled liberally with spices and sea salt and serve with some aioli or homemade tomato sauce.
  • Grate the yams, combine with an egg and spices and fry in some oil to make fritters.
  • You can make pounded yam (iyan) by cooking yam flour in hot water into stodgy, dumpling like cake that can be used to mop up yummy curries and sauce. Check out the recipe here.
  • Cooked yam flesh can be used in waffle and pancakes batter, muffin and biscuit dough.

Buying and storing yams

Yam tubers can be bought  at green grocers and specialty ethnic stores. Choose yams that are blemish free, tight and firm and store them in a cool, dark and dry place with some ventilation for up to 2-3 weeks but do not refrigerate. Once cooked, yams be kept in the fridge for 2-3 days and frozen in an air-tight container for up to 10-12 months.

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