One of the city’s best Middle-Eastern eateries packs lots of flavor into every bite
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March 3, 2023
Let’s talk about sweet potatoes
North Carolina largest edible crop is available year-round
by TM Petaccia
If the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about sweet potatoes is “Thanksgiving,” you are missing out on year-round enjoyment of our state’s most prolific vegetable.
A well-stamped passport. Sweet potatoes have a long and widely traveled history. Records of cultivated sweet potatoes date back over 5,000 years to Central America (the best estimates are somewhere between the Yucátan Peninsula in Mexico and Venezuela). They were spread by local peoples into South America and the Caribbean. Early Polynesian explorers brought cuttings back to the South Pacific from their early voyages around 1400 B.C., when they spread from Polynesia to New Zealand to Hawaii.
Sweet potatoes were introduced to Europe by Christopher Columbus, where they quickly gained popularity and spread throughout the continent plus Africa and Asia, where numerous offshoot varieties were cultivated. Spanish explorers then introduced sweet potatoes to North America in the 16th century in what is now North Carolina, and from here they quickly spread throughout the continent, particularly the South.
Cash crop. Outside of tobacco, sweet potatoes are North Carolina’s largest crop, supplying over 60% of the nation’s needs, approximately 1.6 billion pounds annually according to the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission. Because of our state’s welcoming climate, they are grown and harvested year-round. No matter what time of year, you can visit local farmers markets, such as Charlotte Regional, Matthews, South End, and Uptown (all four operate year-round) and find at least one farmer offering sweet potatoes.
Paul Brewington of Brewington Farms sells at South End Farmers Market and grows several varieties, including the classic Beauregard and Covington red varieties, ones familiar to most. He also grows a white sweet potato, Bonita. “It has the same texture as the red, and about the same nutritional base,” says Brewington. Its taste is about the same, except a bit nuttier with a mildly more sweet aftertaste.
Great for wellness plans. Sweet potatoes are nutrition goldmines with high levels of Vitamins A, C, and B6 as well as excellent sources of potassium and calcium – with more beta-carotene than carrots.
Storage tips. An old fashioned root cellar is your best bet, according to Brewington. “You’ll want to store them in a cool, dry place, ideally between 50-55°F,” he says. “They can last up to a year that way.” For short-term storage, look for the coolest area of your home. Do not store them in your refrigerator. That will affect overall taste and texture. Also keep them away from apples and bananas.
On the menu. Because of their year-round availability, sweet potatoes are a popular ingredient at many Charlotte-area restaurants and shops. For example:
- Restaurant Constance is currently offering a braised pork shank with sweet potato mole
- Heirloom in Belmont lists sweet potato fingerlings with umami aioli
- Wentworth & Fenn in Camp North End sells a brown sugar sweet potato cookie with torched marshmallow
- Uptown’s Fin & Fino offers a kale and sweet potato salad
- Haberdish in NoDa offers sweet potato dumplings with sage-infused brown butter
An easy and flexible ingredient for the home cook. From simply baked to soups,pancakes, casseroles, and more, sweet potatoes can be the starting point for many home-cooked meals. If you are looking for ideas, check out the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission’s “52 Ways to Love Sweet Potatoes”.
A local recipe. We reached out to popular Charlotte pastry chef Laney Jahkel-Parrish who provided her recipe for Ooey Gooey Sweet Potato Caramel Sauce. “It is so good on French toast or pancakes, and definitely on bread pudding,” she says. It also works well with vanilla ice cream and baked apples.
2 c. sugar
1/2 c. water
1 c. heavy cream
2 oz. butter, in pieces
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. sweet potato purée (bake sweet potato until very soft, scoop out pulp and blend until smooth)
Optional: 1-2 tsp. bourbon (or our new UP Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select)
- Set aside a pastry brush and container of water.
- In a heavy stockpot over high heat, heat sugar and water, stirring to dissolve, just until it starts to boil. Once it reaches a boil, do not stir.
- Boil vigorously, wiping down the sides of the pot with pastry brush dipped in water to prevent sugar crystals.
- Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan, warm cream until steaming.
- When the sugar has reached a deep amber color, slowly pour in hot cream, constantly stirring. Turn heat to low. Whisk until smooth, then remove from heat. Add butter, salt, vanilla, and whiskey (if using). Stir until smooth.
- Add sweet potato purée and blend with an immersion blender until smooth.