Deborah Madison On Sweet Potatoes in Edible Chicago

Deborah Madison, the queen of vegetarian cooking, included a great piece on sweet potatoes in the winter issue of Edible Chicago’s In Season section. Her simple explanation on the difference between a sweet potato and a yam should clear up any confusion on the topic. She writes:

The word “yam” has crept into the sweet potato nomenclature out of an old misuse of the word, but also because there are two basic kinds of sweet potatoes, those traditionally classified as “firm” (or dry) and those referred to as “soft” (or moist). These descriptors don’t refer to the tubers themselves, but to the feel of the flesh once cooked. The firm types were the first to be grown in the US, so when the soft ones were introduced, growers decided to use the word “yam” to distinguish their soft sweet potatoes from the dry-fleshed firms. This probably shouldn’t have happened, but it did, and the habit still persists.


Deobrah also goes on to explain the difference between moist and dry sweet potatoes, which also brings so much sense to the whole confusion over varieties.

  • Dry varieties, often found in Latin and Asian markets, are usually white, golden or purple inside. They are nuttier and less sugary with a chewy texture. She finds these to be more versatile for salads, curries, honey, ginger and soy flavors.
  • Moist varieties are the most popular and have orange flesh. They are intensely sweet and can be paired with seasonings such as horseradish, ginger, cumin, curry, coconut milk, coriander and chile.

Here is Deborah’s recipe for Soy Glazed Sweet Potatoes.

Soy Glazed Sweet Potatoes

Recipe by Deborah Madison | Serves 6

  • 3 large sweet potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons mirin
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon black and/or white sesame seeds, toasted
  1. Preheat over to 400°F. Scrub the sweet potatoes and cut them lengthwise into quarters or halves. Place in a baking dish roomy enough to hold them in a single layer.
  2. Combine the rest of the ingredients, except for the sesame seeds, to make a sauce. Brush it over the sweet potatoes, then cover the dishes tightly with foil. Bake until nearly tender, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Remove the foil, baste the sweet potatoes with their juices, and return to the oven until the liquid has reduced to a glaze and the potatoes are fully tender. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.