Friday, October 7, 2011

Sweet Potato Snacks

Where I'm from, sweet potato is called kumara and it is the yummiest vegetable. It's so good it shouldn't even be classed as a vegetable. I remember being small and not liking it, but I'm not sure that I ever even really tried it. Or maybe I really didn't like it and my taste-buds changed. I know I like far more than I used to and sweet potato is definitely one of them. I was actually surprised to find them here in Ireland, but pleased because I far prefer them to normal potato. At home there are two varieties, red and gold, and they are great for baking, roasting, mashing, including in soups and of course making chips and wedges out of. You can also use them for sweets, just like pumpkin. So at some point I must attempt a sweet potato pie and maybe I should try them in muffins?

So the thing about sweet potato is that it is not really closely related to normal potatoes at all and has far more health benefits. It's one of those all round wonder-vegetables. You know it's got to be high in vitamins and antioxidants because it's colourful - anything so orange is that has got to be high in vitamin A. There are darker ones too with purple flesh and they're even better for you! Another thing about this type of 'potato' is that all the nutrition is not only in the skin so feel free to peel it and you won't be losing all the goodness. Unfortunately I read that the best way to prepare them is steaming or boiling but surely baking and roasting is still OK. Because that's my favourite, and what I'm writing about today. It's so simple and everybody loves it, yet it's healthier than potato chips. Plus sweet potato cooks much faster. Now for those of you in America I also just learnt that over there you call some sweet potato 'yams'. This is odd to me because the yams that I grew up eating are not the same thing at all, they are small, have red skin and white flesh and they are not very nice at all. Now when I am watching American TV shows that have a thanksgiving episode that mentions 'candied yams' it will make a lot more sense to me.

At home in New Zealand many cafes and restaurants, not to mention fancy burger and chip places, will have kumara chips on the menu. They are the very easiest thing to make yet so many people are amazed when I serve up home-made wedges. I recently taught my flatmate to make them, which made me realise that many people don't know how to make chips. Which, when cut into a different shape, might also be wedges or even just roast potato. The way I do it, they are all the same thing because I am not talking about deep-frying here. What I do is really simply - I chop my potatoes (either sort) into chips or wedges, or you could dice them into cubes or cut them into big chunks. I throw them in a bag and add some oil and seasoning, give it a good shake and bake them. That's all there is to it (as you'll see below). At home this new burger joint opened up while I was at uni and they did the most amazing chips, both normal and sweet potato, and served them with home-made aioli, which I fell in love with but never make myself. Basically, it is fancy garlic mayonnaise but it is just so yummy! Another common way to have your wedges at home is with a big pile of sour cream and sweet chilli sauce. But if you make your chips my way with all that seasoning you don't even need a sauce really, sweet potato has so much flavour already and the texture is so soft. So if you are here to learn how to make chips go ahead and use whatever you like, you could even use pumpkin or parsnip or carrots, but I strongly recommend sticking with sweet potato.

Kumara Chips

1 large sweet potato per person (or a half it is just a side dish to something bigger, or if you are feeding small people)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cube chicken stock
1 teaspoon mixed herbs
1 teaspoon paprika
Salt (just a sprinkle)

To begin, turn the oven on to about 200 degrees celsius and have the oven rack in the middle of the oven.

While the oven is heating chop your sweet potato (or alternate starchy vegetable) into chips. I prefer wedges: cut the potato in half lengthwise, then take each half and cut in half again, lengthwise. Now you have quarters and you can cut each lengthwise into two or three wedges. Or of course you could do straight narrow chips, or big wide chips that are really just slices of potato, or little cubes or big chunks.

In a large bowl or plastic bag place a couple of tablespoons of oil (at least one per potato) and crumble in your chicken stock. Stock isn't absolutely necessary, the great thing about chips is that you can season them with whatever you have in the cupboard. I like to use stock though, it adds lots of flavour. I use mixed herbs and paprika but you could also be more selective about herbs, you could use cayenne for something spicier, you could throw in some wholegrain mustard for a bit of tanginess or you could get inventive with the spices: a bit of cumin and turmeric will give you a curry flavour for instance. Salt and pepper is always a good addition, though if you are using stock you won't need so much stock.

Add your chips to the bowl/bag and give it a really good toss/shake. Try to coat the chips as well as possible. Then you simply turn them out onto a large baking tray (lined with non-stick paper if you don't want to use excessive amounts of oil) or you could put them onto one of those metal racks that sit inside a big tray, so that they are not sitting in oil at all. Bake them for about 30 minutes (for sweet potato, longer for normal potato) and serve them when they are cooked all the way through. If you want them to crisp up a little on the outside sprinkle salt over halfway through cooking. It's so easy, and relatively fast, and makes a great sitting in front of the tele snack:

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