As the fall and winter months steal over the calendar, baked yams similarly creep into my meal plans as the year’s darkness and chill cause cravings for sugar and fat. This is not to say I don’t find an excuse to eat sweet potato fries all year…but since the trend to replace yams with russet potatoes in French fries hit the gastronomic scene in the 1980s, yams have come a long way from their once-a-year appearance at the Thanksgiving dinner table to transitioning into more of a culinary “regular.”
Why Choose Yams Over White Potatoes?
Yams are a great replacement for regular white potatoes if a diet requires complex carbs rather than starch, which is often hard to digest and more filling than it is nutritious. Generally, sweet potatoes have a lower glycemic index (GI) than russet potatoes. Additionally, yams are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants like beta carotene. This antioxidant is turned into vitamin A once it is digested, which is essential for immune system function, skin clarity, and eye health. It is also pivotal in maintaining healthy mucous membranes in the digestive system, increasing immune response and lowering inflammation. In fact, vitamin A is incredibly abundant in yams, clocking in at over 100% of the daily value (DV) recommended for optimal health. What’s more, it is a fat-soluble nutrient–so preparing your yams with a little fat helps to make this vitamin more readily absorbable.
The Colorful Food Diet
Studies suggest that loading your plate with a variety of colors is a great way to ensure consumption of an abundance of nutrients, and typically at a lower caloric cost. This is a fun way to skip out on taking daily supplements and to explore new foods and cooking methods at the same time. Additionally, brightly colored foods tend to be fruits and vegetables, which have added benefits aside from their vitamin and mineral content such as fiber, complex carbs, healthy fats, and more.
Health Benefits of Tahini
Aside from boasting a rich, complex flavor, tahini has several health benefits as well. Just one tablespoon of tahini contains minerals essential to bone health, like phosphorous and manganese. Tahini also contains thiamine (vitamin B1) and vitamin B6, which are both important for sustaining energy production. Like yams, tahini is contains anti-inflammatory compounds and may even be beneficial to people with arthritis.
Sesame seeds, the main ingredient in tahini, have even been shown to improve kidney and liver function, and may even help to prevent fatty liver disease by increasing fat burning and decreasing fat production due to naturally occurring compounds. Sesame oil is a heart-healthy oil with primarily unsaturated fats and omega-6.
The Bottom Line
This dish is rich, filling, and incidentally healthy. One yam can easily feed two people, especially if prepared as a side dish to a protein or salad. Get your knife and fork ready and eat to your health!
Tahini and lemon juice is a classic pairing. The acidity of the lemon helps to temper some of tahini’s more earthy, bitter notes while enlivening some of its more pleasant characteristics, like its nutty richness and tang. Throw some grated garlic into the mix and you’ve got the beginnings of a flavorful dressing!
This easy dinner comes together quickly and is a great way to stretch ingredients to fill more bellies!
Sweet Baked Yam With Tahini, Cilantro, and Pepitas
- 1 yam or sweet potato, medium
- 1/4 cup tahini
- 100 g fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 1 Tbs olive oil
- 1 Tbs honey
- 3 cloves garlic, grated or pressed
- 2 Tbs water
- 2 Tbs sour cream, creme fraiche, or yogurt
- 1 Tbs cilantro, chopped
- 1 Tbs pumpkin seeds, toasted
- sumac, to taste (optional)
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- Scrub yam free of dirt and particulates. Wrap in tin foil tightly and bake in the oven until fork-tender and releasing caramelized juices, 45 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on the size of the yam.
- Meanwhile, create the tahini dressing. Mix tahini, lemon juice, honey, garlic, oil, and water in a small bowl or liquid measuring cup until silky and uniform. Remove cilantro leaves from the stems and chop.
- In a small skillet over medium heat, toast pumpkin seeds until fragrant and golden, about five minutes. Set aside.
- When the yam has finished baking, remove from the oven, discard the tinfoil, and set the yam on a large plate. Using a long knife, slice the yam into four even pieces, lengthwise. Immediately splatter tahini and sour cream in equal measure over the yam. Toss cilantro and pumpkin seeds over the top, and a dash of sumac, if desired. Serve immediately.