Perfect for a pre-Thanksgiving football game!
Yams? Sweet potatoes? At first I thought the difference was pretty clear-cut. I thought that sweet potatoes were the orangey, pink-skinned thingies that went into marshmallow-crusted casseroles. And I thought that yams were . . . well, I didn’t really know what yams were. One was a tuber, I thought, and the other was . . . again, I didn’t know what the other one was. After buying both sweet potatoes and yams from my local Whole Foods-type store, I was convinced that what people had for years called sweet potatoes were really yams. Yams red, sweet potatoes white. End of story. I even took a picture of it and vowed to write a blog post rolling my eyes at everyone whose “sweet potato” recipes – this soup, this salad, and this bread – were clearly made from the beautiful orange flesh of yams.
But then I Googled it, and fell down the black hole of Internet research. The pictures Google splashed at the top of my screen seemed to confirm my white/orange hypothesis, but then I clicked on the Huffington Post’s attempt to provide a definitive answer to “What is the difference between a sweet potato and a yam?” and just ended up more confused. (This is often the case with HuffPo articles.)
The Kitchn does a better job of explaining it: Basically, what we think of as yams and sweet potatoes are two different varieties of sweet potatoes, despite the USDA’s efforts to label all the orange ones as “yams.” True yams come from Africa, have a sort of hairy-looking skin, and bright white flesh with purple highlights. Firm-fleshed sweet potatoes are white inside with white skin, and soft-fleshed sweet potatoes are orange inside with red skin. You can certainly tell the difference when you puree and mash them for recipes – the former mash up like regular starchy potatoes, waxy and stiff, while the latter become soft and fluffy when pureed. “Yams” are what we typically use when we make that marshmallow casserole, and they’re infinitely prettier and easier to use in baked goods, though I did have some success with what I now consider “real” sweet potatoes (the white kind) in a hummus that got its healthy tan color from tahini paste and cumin.
Going by the pictures, the chili I made the other night definitely incorporated “yams” despite its name. And really, who wants a sweet potato chili that’s stiff and white? If I wanted a blah-looking soup, I’d puree some cauliflower. The name wasn’t the only thing about this recipe that was a misnomer. Called “easy” by the (wonderful) blog Oh Sweet Basil, I had a hard time referring to anything as “easy” that required half an hour of dicing and another fifteen minutes of cleaning up my monster of a food processor. Of course, with my knife skills, I am the slowest cook in the world. You can literally double the prep time on any recipe that requires any of its ingredients to be cut up. My father dices onions like a pro, turning his knife one way and then the next. I, on the other hand, stab away at the thing, flinging stray onion pieces onto the floor and, quite memorably, into my hair.
So maybe we’ll call this chili “Intermediate Sweet Potato Apple Turkey Chili.” No matter what you call it, it has the perfect hint of Thanksgiving while still respecting the fact that it’s only November 10.