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Sweet potato fries
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Sweet potato fries

Try sweet potatoes a new way: quesadillas and baked ‘fries’

By Jackie Sugg

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Name one versatile veggie that is a nutrition powerhouse and a sure-fire crowd pleaser for even the pickiest eater. Does anything come to mind? How about the sweet potato?

The deliciously sweet and creamy taste of this root vegetable can be accentuated or toned down based on its use in recipes. And the best part is that the sweet potato is bursting with nutrition! Filled with vitamin A and potassium, the sweet potato is often called a superfood.  The health benefits of eating more vegetables, including sweet potatoes, as part of an overall healthy diet include a lower risk of chronic diseases, heart disease and certain types of cancers.

The possibilities are endless for preparing sweet potatoes. To prevent boredom with the same go-to recipes, they can be roasted, grilled, sautéed, microwaved or boiled. Even if you do not consider yourself an adventurous chef, the sweet potato lends itself to no-frills cooking. A basic baked sweet potato can stand alone with minimal toppings or become the center of a meal, stuffed with chili, beans or leftover turkey.

If you are searching for crispness in your spud, consider baking sweet potato fries. That’s right, large vats of oil are not required. Simply cut the sweet potatoes into uniform-sized pieces, then toss with olive oil, a pinch of salt, pepper and any other desired seasonings. Bake in the oven at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes, flipping halfway through. The result is sweet, crispy goodness that surely will become a fixture in your meal rotation.

In the South, many of us have grown up with sweet potato casserole as a staple at holiday gatherings. Known for its decadence, this recipe can be laden with calories from fat and sugar. Consider making a few small ingredient swaps to keep a healthy version of this traditional recipe on the table at your feast, without sacrificing taste.

• To start, add other flavors to the dish that pair well with sweet potato and enhance the flavor, rather than loading up on butter and sugar. Orange zest, cinnamon and vanilla are all complementary flavors that can offer a punch of flavor to the dish. 

• Next, think about the topping. If layers of marshmallows usually top your signature casserole, try decreasing the amount to a generous sprinkle. Or add other toppings such as a handful of chopped pecans, dried cranberries (Craisins) or granola.

• Lastly, cut back on the added sugar. Sweet potatoes already offer sweetness, so it only takes a drizzle of honey or maple syrup to accentuate their flavor.

Experiment with different combinations of flavors to create a signature dish that’s all your own.

If you remember being told to eat your vegetables as a child, rest assured that this advice has proven to be true. To encourage the younger generation to eat and enjoy vegetables, try getting a little creative when it comes to food presentation. A mound of mashed sweet potatoes can easily be arranged in the shape of a heart or, with a little imagination, mini pumpkins. Sometimes all it takes is adding a garnish to appeal to a skeptical palate.

And never fear, even if you don’t have a winning dish the first time around, there are a multitude of sweet potato possibilities to experiment with in the future.

— Jackie Sugg, MS, RD, LDN,  has worked as a registered dietitian at the Pitt County Health Department for 11 years. She enjoys eating a wide variety of locally grown foods throughout the year.

 

 

Sweet Potato Quesadillas

Makes 4 servings  

2 small sweet potatoes

2 medium red, yellow or o range bell peppers, cut into ½ inch strips

1 medium yellow onion, cut into ½ inch strips

½ tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

1 teaspoon minced garlic

Cooking spray

4 (8-inch) whole-wheat tortillas

1 cup shredded pepper jack or cheddar cheese

 

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Wash potatoes well. Wrap in aluminum foil and bake approximately 45 minutes or until easily pierced with a fork. Remove from oven. Unwrap potatoes; remove flesh from the skins and mash the flesh. Keep warm.  You can also microwave the potatoes to reduce cooking time. Wash the potatoes, pierce with a fork five to six times and microwave on high for 5-7 minutes depending on the size of the potato).

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add peppers, onion, salt and pepper. Cook 10 -12 minutes or until tender. Add garlic and sauté 2 more minutes. Remove from heat and keep warm. 

Coat a medium nonstick skillet with cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat. Add 1 tortilla to skillet and sprinkle with ¼ cup cheese. Heat until cheese begins to melt. Spread approximately ¼ of mashed potatoes over ½ of tortilla; top with ¼ of pepper and onion mixture (use slotted spoon for pepper and onion mixture to drain off excess moisture). Fold over tortilla and cook 1-2 minutes on each side or until browned. Remove quesadilla from heat and keep warm. Repeat with additional 3 tortillas. Serve with tomato salsa and sour cream, if desired.

Nutrition information per serving: Calories, 333; total fat, 11 grams; saturated fat, 6 grams; cholesterol, 25 milligrams; sodium, 424 milligrams; carbohydrates, 47 grams; dietary fiber, 6 grams; protein, 14 grams.

 

— Recipe created by Jessica Cox, RD.  Available on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website at: www.eatright.org

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