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Champ of nutrition

Sweet potatoes used to be one of those vegetables that you'd see served only at holiday meals such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. But they're not anymore, and I'm darned glad. At our family get-togethers at my grandma and grandpa's when I was a k...

Jeff Tiedeman
Jeff Tiedeman

Sweet potatoes used to be one of those vegetables that you'd see served only at holiday meals such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.

But they're not anymore, and I'm darned glad. At our family get-togethers at my grandma and grandpa's when I was a kid, "candied" sweet potatoes (canned ones topped with a mixture of marshmallows, brown sugar and spices) took their place alongside traditional dinner fare such as turkey or ham, stuffing or dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry relish, green bean casserole and pumpkin pie.

While I don't recall the last time having sweet potatoes fixed like that at a meal, we've made the highly nutritious tuber a regular at our table in recent years. (One medium-sized sweet potato is 130 calories, contains less than a gram of fat and has about 29 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber.) We've had them sliced and fried with some onion in a little olive oil as well as baked like their white and red cousins (Prick their skin, set temperature at 400 degrees and bake for 40 to 50 minutes.) I've even fixed them in the microwave. (Prick skin and microwave them on high power for 4 to 6 minutes.)

Perhaps my favorite way to have this moist-fleshed, orange-colored root vegetable is as baked fries, with an assortment of dipping sauces. (I prefer a spicy ranch.) Often, we'll fix regular potato fries with the sweet ones and serve them with burgers. Cooking them in the oven rather than deep-frying makes them much healthier.

On a recent road trip, I had some tasty sweet potato fries at Ruby's in Ashby, Minn.

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Speaking of nutrition, sweet potatoes are one of the healthiest veggies around. They are an excellent source of vitamin A (in the form of beta carotene), a very good source of vitamin C and manganese and a good source of copper, dietary fiber, vitamin B6, potassium and iron.

Both beta-carotene and vitamin C are very powerful antioxidants that work in the body to eliminate free radicals, chemicals that damage cells and cell membranes and are associated with the development of conditions such as atherosclerosis, diabetic heart disease and colon cancer. They also are anti-inflammatory, which is helpful in reducing some of the effects of asthma, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Sweet potatoes can be found in your local supermarkets year-round. When buying them, select only firm, well-shaped ones with clean smooth skin. Avoid those with soft spots, bruises or any signs of decay.

One new sweet potato recipe I'm looking forward to trying was passed on to me by Senora Almquist, Cummings, N.D. Senora makes something she calls "American Sweet Potato Fries." Here's her method:

Place chunks of sweet potatoes into boiling water for about 2 minutes. Then, take them out of the water and slice fairly thin. Fry in a covered pan, like you would American fries, with sliced onions in a little bit of butter and olive oil. Right before they're done, take cover off pan and turn sweet potatoes and onions with spatula. The bottom of potatoes should be golden brown. Add a little more butter, a tish of brown sugar and salt and pepper to taste and allow potatoes' other side to get golden.

Senora likes to use Splenda brown sugar, so her son, who is hyperglycemic, can eat them. (Sweet potatoes have more carbs than regular potatoes but a lower glycemic index.) Now, that's what I'd call "candied."

Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at jtiedeman@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: FOODNUTRITIONRECIPES
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