Sweet potatoes have an aura of pure Americana—they are emblems of Thanksgiving, indigenous diets and Southern food. But they do not originally hail from the United States. They are one of those near-mythical ancient foods, first domesticated in South and Central America around 8000 BCE, well before the Scandinavians among us hit the scene. The ’tater is still going strong worldwide; China is the globe’s leading producer, growing 81 percent of the world’s crop, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center. It is one of the smartest veggie choices going: both versatile and delicious, it’s also nutrient-dense: rich with the all-important A, C and B vitamins, and full of potassium, fiber and magnesium. A sweet potato can do everything a potato can do, but with more vitamins and a higher sugar content. As our local root veggies reach full harvest, let’s wallow in them: There are so many yummy ways to do so.
Our most venerable café, Peg’s, is the perfect place to indulge in sweet potatoes; the ever-changing menu is a hotline to fresh produce. One of the tastiest sweet potato creations here is a side dish, best served with beef or pork: sweet potatoes roasted with apples, turnips, a little nutmeg, cinnamon and some pecans. It’s a beautiful mellowing and melding of flavors, the tart of the apple harmonizing with the dusky sweetness of the tuber. The turnips are not the overgrown, stinky yellow things we avoided as kids; Peg’s turnips are small and sweet with a snap of something mustardy. This dish serves 15-18 people and could easily become a Thanksgiving staple. $37.50. 842 Hwy. 55, Hamel, MN. 763.478.6869
Sweet potatoes are essentially a new-world crop, peculiar to the diet of the Americas. Who would have thought they’d be so popular in Japanese cuisine, too? The orange spuds were introduced to Japan in the 1700s and planted in the Shogun’s garden; both the concentration of sweetness and vivid color are valued on the Japanese table. At Kobe you taste for yourself how well the sweet potato fits into an Asian context. A straightforward veggie sushi roll lets each vegetable express its individual essence; the bright-orange nugget of sweet potato inside is cooked al dente. With cucumber and avocado, the roll is a pretty mosaic of sweet, creamy and crunch. The mildness is deliberate so that the delicate flavors can shine; a wee dip in wasabi-laced soy sauce is all it needs. $5. 15555 34th Ave. N. 763.559.9999.
A football-size baked potato is the de rigueur escort to a meaty dinner. At Grizzly’s you can choose a baked tuber from the sweeter side to go with your meal. A baked sweet potato is softer than a calloused old russet; its thin purplish skin should be eaten with a smear of butter, a bit of salt and cracked pepper. The brilliant orange flesh is almost silky when baked. Swap the butter for vanilla ice cream, and you have yourself a dang fine dessert. $3.49. 220 Carlson Pkwy.N. 763.476.1011,
A sweet potato takes to the fry-o-lator like, er, a potato does to hot oil. Like its pallid cousin, the sweetie’s starchiness holds up in a vigorous fry, and its heat-loving sugars produce marvelously caramelized edges. The sweet potato is one of the usual suspects in Japanese tempura dishes; beneath the light, crispy egg batter there is a slab of sweet, slightly firm, lightly salty tot. Tempura is sometimes served as a garnish; at Sakana, sweet potato tempura crowns an elegant cod with glazed miso dish, but we prefer it all by its lonesome. Dipped in citrusy ponzu sauce, it’s a perfect nosh, both comforting and exotic. $6.50. 4345 Nathan Lane. 763.559.0755
The kitchen at this local market chain simultaneously soothes our Minnesota souls and keeps us interested by tweaking classic recipes. One of our favorites is the homey chicken soup imbued with sweet potatoes. The warm hue of the broth promises bone-deep comfort while hefting a surprisingly low calorie count (140 per cup). Chunks of this and that swim in the velvety liquid; spooning it up is a contemplative act. You might also pick up some sweet potatoes in the rough from the excellent produce aisle and consult the Lunds online recipe finder. Warm, sweet potato salad with cranberry vinaigrette; sweet potato quesadillas; and a rustic sweet potato and apple bake await. Soup: $3.49. 3455 Vicksburg Lane N. 763.253.3125.
Sweet Potato Fries
Sweet potato fries are one of the most welcome food crazes of the past decade; more and more menus offer them as an alternative (and often, the preferred option) to standard french fries. Jake's City Grille's mess o’ sweet taters is an engaging jumble of an appetizer to share with a small group. Served finger-stinging hot, they’re best cooked extra crispy, as the sugars in sweet potatoes can result in softer fries. $6.99. 3005 Harbor Lane N. 763.559.1595
Cowboy Jack's fries are dependably solid, sweet as heck and always welcome. Technically a side dish, the portion is generous enough to stand for a meal. Eat them quickly; these babies wilt in a hurry. $2.99. 4120 Berkshire Lane N. 763.559.0257.
Green Mill cuts the sweet potato on the thinner side for fries, then showers them with Lowry seasoning salt. Papery bits of skin cling to each fry, so we know they’re the real thing. $2.99. 2705 Annapolis Lane N. 763.553.9000.
At Smashburger “Smashfries” rule the roost. The chain’s winning recipe is simply deep-fried, medium-cut sweet spuds tossed in the classic Italianesque flavor trio of rosemary, olive oil and garlic. $2.20. 3225 Vicksburg Lane N. 763.252.1496.
Jamaican jerk is a scorch-your-eyebrows mix that loves all things pork, and Doolittle’s uses the fiery stuff as a tenderloin rub. The meat is meltingly juicy, crisped on the edges—and presented on a bed of a sweet potato hash that almost steals the show. Sweet orange chunks soften in a kaleidoscope of black beans, red bell pepper, corn, spinach and herbs. A grilled pineapple sauce bolsters both the earthy sweet of the tuber and the tropical heat of the jerk. $16.95. 550 Winnetka Ave. N., Golden Valley. 763.542.1931.