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Seasonal Eats: Say "Yum!" to Yams

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Pink-Skinned Yams at the Farmer's Market (Heather Parlato/LAist)
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Root vegetables are a fall favorite, and yams are no exception. Let's get one thing straight though, we often refer to sweet potatoes as yams, but true yams are a different family than sweet potatoes, and are most often confused here in the States (I found almost as many articles talking about this difference as I found recipes). While many of the recipes in this article will call for sweet potatoes, try them out with true yams and see what you think!

Yams have skins that vary in color from dark brown to light pink, and flesh that ranges in color from white or yellow to purple or pink. Yams are popular in Africa, Asia and Latin America, where they are cultivated as starchy tubers, figuring in front and center in West Africa and New Guinea. They have become a reliable food source because they last a long time in proper cold storage and provide valuable fiber and nutrients. With a glycemic load of 18, yams re a good source of Vitamin B6, Potassium and Manganese, and a very good source of Vitamin C.

Though they are different from potatoes, they can be used very similarly, taking into account their distinct sweetness. Some tasty cool-weather soups include yam soup with coriander, a super-food special of parsnip, yam and watercress chowder or a hearty potato and yam soup with bacon and spinach. Stock up on yams before the next rainy day and warm up the house making soup!

As for salads, I found a couple interesting salads worth trying, like these twists on potato salad: a bacon-y yam and russet potato salad with greens and bacon and this tangy tuscan yam salad. Though I didn't find many true green salads using yams, it doesn't mean you can't toss in some cooled roasted yams over a bed of greens.

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If you're looking for some fun sides with yams, try baked yam fries as an easy alternative to french fries. Cook up some little yam latkes with mustard seeds and curry or naga imo pancakes to accompany your next meal. Or do it up holiday style with a sweet baked yams with ginger molasses butter, a citrus maple-glazed yams with orange and cranberries, or remember that apple-for-potato trick and pair up mashed yams and apples.

To put yams in your main dish, think about subbing them in for potatoes as a roasting vegetable in chicken thighs with sqash, yams and dried apricots, or as a mash with tilapia and mashed yams with pancetta-sage breadcrumbs. Make tasty vegetarian yam and black bean burritos, or feature them as the main ingredient in west african vegetable stew or this indian kaalan kerala specialty.

I decided to work with white yams (pictured above with pink skins) and cauliflower to make a healthy alternative to mashed potatoes. The yams add a bit of sweetness, but the feta, Parmesan, vinegar and Dijon counteract it for a very tasty vegetable purée. I wrote about expanding this to a root vegetable medley purée and offered vegan alternatives on my site this week.

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Cauliflower Yam Purée (Heather Parlato/LAist)
Cauliflower Yam Purée

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1 head cauliflower, cut into medium florets

1 white-fleshed yam, cut in half lengthwise

4 oz feta cheese

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

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1 tbsp Dijon mustard

1⁄3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

salt & pepper to taste

Roast yam cut-side-down on an oiled baking sheet at 300º for 30 minutes. Scoop the flesh from the skin and set aside. Using a steamer pot, steam cauliflower 15 minutes. Reserve steaming liquid when finished.

Place the cauliflower florets and yam in a food processor or blender with .5 cup cooking liquid, feta, olive oil and white wine vinegar. Process until smooth, adding cooking liquid as needed (this will take a some scraping and mixing between blends). Transfer to a mixing bowl.

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Whisk in the Dijon, Parmesan cheese, and salt & pepper to taste. transfer to a serving bowl and dust with finishing salt and ground pepper.