Vivian Shares Sweet Potato Wisdom


North Carolina ranks No. 1 in sweet potato production. Most of the state’s sweet spuds are grown on farms in the swath of land known as eastern North Carolina (“ENC”). Vivian Howard, a native of ENC, calls the sweet potato “a cornerstone of our cuisine.” If you open her 2016 cookbook, “Deep Run Roots,” to its center, you’ll find what amounts to a manifesto entitled “Sweet Potato Wisdom.”  Vivian’s poetic ode introduces an assemblage of mouth-watering sweet potato recipes. We asked Vivian to expound a bit on her shrewd sweet potato knowledge. Here’s what we now know:

Sweet potatoes are great at hiding in plain sight
Sweet potatoes are so diverse, that they can stand in for other ingredients, reinventing your favorite dishes. Vivian’s citrus sweet potato butter boasts the consistency of apple butter and can be smeared atop your favorite protein (try turkey or pork chops) for an entirely uniquely tangy-meets-sweet spread.

There’s no topping a sweet potato can’t handle
If you’re willing to think outside the box, a single sweet potato can be fashioned into a filling quick lunch or dinner. Vivian suggests roasting a sweet spud directly in its skin and getting creative with the toppings. Try chili spice, sliced avocado and a dollop of sour cream for a comforting vegetarian meal. Add some chunks of turkey for a heartier, meat-lovers version. What about roasted broccoli or garlicky greens as a topping? As Vivian says, “Just thinking about the sweet potato as a vehicle for other things can produce new ideas for a quick and easy meal.”

You don’t have to wait ‘til fall
Although the starchiness in sweet potatoes makes for perfect fall casseroles and stews, they’re also available in the warmer seasons. With so much vine-ripe goodness available in the spring and summer, it’s easy to reserve sweet potatoes for cooler weather. But if you’re willing to break the mold, Vivian recommends slicing, grilling, and tossing them with cumin and other spices for a unique and summery taco filling the entire family will love.

Sweet potatoes spark nostalgia
One of Vivian’s fondest memories is of her Gramma Hill’s candied yams. The cherished family recipe even appears in Vivian’s “Deep Run Roots: Stories from My Corner of the South.” The recipe is comprised of only a few pantry-friendly components (no marshmallows involved). Sweet potato dishes are also perfect for family gatherings because they can often be made in advance.

Sweet potatoes are equal parts delicious and healthy
Sweet potatoes are not only good to eat, they’re good for you. They’re high in nutrients like potassium, vitamin A, and fiber, which help ward off certain diseases, improves vision, and strengthens bones. Head over to the Blue Cross NC blog to learn more about the health advantages of sweet potatoes, as well as Vivian’s simple and delicious recipe for Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges with Tahini and Sesame created for Better Eating, Better Health presented by Blue Cross NC.

Photo by Baxter Miller