Tuesday, September 16, 2008

It's yam time

The arrival of fall signals the return of locally-grown orange vegetables to the produce department and thus, to my table. Of all the orange vegetables, my favourite by far is the yam.

I have read many arguments on the distinction between sweet potatos and yams. Scientifically, there are two species: sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) and yams from the genus dioscorea. Why don't supermarkets list their vegetables by their Latin names to avoid the confusion? (Just kidding.) In North America, we tend to use the terms yam and sweet potato interchangeably, which doesn't help matters. The tuber I am writing about here has dark red skin and bright orange flesh.

I call them yams because I like the word.

Yams are best baked in the oven, at 400F (200C) for 45-60 min until they pierce easily with a fork. If you're pressed for time, cut each yam in half lengthwise and place them cut side down in a greased baking dish. This reduces the cooking time by half. Serve them hot with lots of butter and the best salt.

Yams are also great peeled and sliced, then baked or fried in oil. They turn soft in the middle and dark on the edges, the yam sugars caramelizing in the heat. Bake them in the oven at 425F (210C) and turn them once in the oil to ensure they brown evenly. On the stove top, add enough oil to the frying pan to fill the bottom by a couple of millimeters and heat the oil before adding the yams. They should sizzle when added to the oil. Again, turn them periodically to cook evenly.

I made this soup the other day, a double hit of orange. Given that most of the work is done in the oven, it's a cinch to make and tastes fragrant and sweet.

4-5 medium-sized yams
1 L chicken or vegetable stock
zest and juice of 1 orange
salt and pepper
Bake the yams in the oven. When they are soft, scoop out the flesh into a soup pot and add the stock, zest and juice. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup in the soup pot, or if using a blender, puree in batches and return to the soup pot. Once pureed, heat the soup to the desired temperature. Add salt and pepper to taste. If the soup is too thick, add more stock or water.

Serves 3-4

Photo: Double Orange Yam Soup.

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