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Sweet potatoes: Adding flavor and nutrition to traditional dishes

(ARA) – What’s sweet, filling, can be used in many types of cooking and contains no fat, saturated fat, trans fat or cholesterol? The answer is sweet potatoes, a traditional, yet often overlooked component in traditional American cuisine.
For many of us, sweet potatoes have been a staple side dish at family gatherings for years. Sweet potatoes stand well on their own – baked or mashed – because of their distinctive sweet-and-savory-at-once flavor. What many people may not realize is those same attributes make sweet potatoes a refreshing addition to many traditional dishes that could use a little boost.
Have you ever thought of adding sweet potatoes to your ham casserole, cornbread or even a staple such as chili? You may have noticed that many forms of ethnic cooking, such as Thai and Indian food, use sweet potatoes liberally, but the truth is sweet potatoes fit right in with many recipes in standard American cuisine.
Sweet potatoes contain natural sugars — they’re something good that’s good for you. They may be the most nutritious vegetable available, and they’re available all year round. Sweet potatoes contain more fiber than a bowl of oatmeal, and they are packed with vitamins A and C. Additionally, they contain such key nutrients as vitamins B6 and E, calcium, copper, iron, folate and almost as much potassium as a banana.
The distinctive taste of this super-nutritious root vegetable may also have led you to believe that it doesn’t marry well with other flavors. But the truth is whether they’re standing on their own or blended into your favorite dish, sweet potatoes offer taste and nutrition with every bite.
 Spring and summer holidays are the perfect opportunity to try a new take on your traditional dishes. Try adding sweet potatoes to your Easter casserole, baking mom a sweet potato pie for Mother’s Day or cooking some sweet potato fries to accompany hot dogs and hamburgers on the Fourth of July. If you’re looking for some recipes to get you started, the United States Sweet Potato Council offers all kinds of different takes on cooking sweet potatoes at www.sweetpotatousa.org or try this Cheesy Ham and Sweet Potato Casserole for your next gathering:

Cheesy Ham and Sweet Potato Casserole

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds fresh sweet potatoes
Salted water
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon basil, crushed
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cups grated Swiss cheese
3/4 pounds cooked ham, cubed

Directions: Wash sweet potatoes. Cook unpeeled sweet potatoes, covered, in small amount of boiling salted water until tender, about 20 to 30 minutes. Cool. Peel and slice 1/4-inch thick; set aside. Melt butter in medium saucepan. Add onion, cook until tender. Remove from heat; stir in flour, salt, basil, mustard and pepper. Cook over low heat until bubbly, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in milk all at once. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Boil and stir one minute. Remove from heat. Stir in 3/4 cup of the cheese and the ham. Pour half of mixture into greased 2-quart casserole dish. Arrange half of sweet potatoes on top. Repeat layers. Bake at 350 F for 25 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and bake three to four minutes longer, or until cheese has melted. Makes six servings.

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