Although often used interchangeably, sweet potatoes are not the same as yams, nor are they related to the potato plant. Starchy tubers of the morning glory plant, sweet potatoes come in two main varieties, white and red, but hues can range from purple to rose, as well.
“We’re farm to table, so our menu changes depending on what [we have] in the house,” says Michael Foust, chef-owner of The Farmhouse in Kansas City’s River Market neighborhood. “When we’re looking around in December or January, there’s not as much to work with, so we start getting creative and look at [different] techniques.” Last January, he sliced a sweet potato; tossed it in olive oil, salt and pepper; and added it to a smoking-hot grill. “You get that smoky hint and a bit of char that adds a nice bitter [taste] to counter the sweet,” Foust says. He served it in a smoked-walleye salad with deviled egg, spinach, red onion, crispy capers and charred-lemon vinaigrette. After a recent trip to Portugal, Foust was inspired to use the versatile vegetable in a rich stew made with roasted sweet potatoes, locally raised shrimp from KC Shrimp, fermented black beans, ham and cilantro chimichurri. “The most beautiful thing about the sweet potatoes is the storage – if farmers have a big enough bumper crop, they can run us all the way to July,” he says. Foust sources his sweet potatoes from farmer Thane Palmberg in De Soto, Kansas, who stores them in his root cellar and drops off 20 to 30 pounds each week during winter. “The best way to store them is in their own dirt – dirt is like nature’s cellophane,” Foust says. “You don’t want to scrub or clean them; you want to pull them out of the field as dirty as possible and put them into the burlap in the root cellar.” Check The Farmhouse’s Facebook page for new sweet potato dishes; Foust says in the winter months, one of his favorite pairings with the root vegetable is wild boar.
The Farmhouse, 300 Delaware St., River Market, Kansas City, Missouri, 816.569.6032, eatatthefarmhouse.com
As a vegetarian restaurant focused on the freshest local and seasonal ingredients, Small Batch, located in St. Louis’ Midtown neighborhood, has to get creative in the colder months when the pantry starts looking a little depleted. Its fall and winter menu, introduced mid-October, features hearty, warming dishes like feijoada, a Portuguese black bean stew, and a green-curry noodle bowl garnished with a sweet potato lumpia. Nowell Gata is executive sous chef for Baileys’ Restaurants, the restaurant group that encompasses Small Batch, and says his mother’s lumpia recipe was his inspiration. In addition to sweet potatoes, the Filipino egg roll is filled with bean sprouts, green beans, garlic and soy vinegar. Back in July, Gata and the kitchen crew also came up with a vegetarian "pulled-pork" sandwich special using sautéed sweet potatoes and carrots braised in a sweet-and-spicy barbecue sauce, topped with summer slaw and fried shiitake mushrooms.
Small Batch, 3001 Locust St., Midtown, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.380.2040, smallbatchstl.com
Chef's Tip: “I think the sweet potato has a very definitive place in vegetarian cooking because it has a variety of textures depending on how you cook it: Baking produces a soft, silky, delicious result that doesn’t need to be messed with. But frying it produces the opposite effect and makes amazing, crunchy hash browns.” –Nowell Gata, executive sous chef for Baileys’ Restaurants
Range Free chef-owner Anna Meyer has an ironic sense of nostalgia for sweet potatoes. She used to hate them when she was a kid, but that changed after she was diagnosed with 24 food allergies in 2009 and had to shift her outlook. Now, she uses the root vegetable in a variety of preparations at her allergen-free bakery and café in Columbia, Missouri. One of the most popular is its Mock ‘n’ Cheeze, which combines grain-free housemade fettuccine noodles with its “nah-cheeze,” a dairy-free cheese substitute made with boiled and puréed sweet potatoes, nutritional yeast, salt and lemon. “There are a lot of dairy-free cheeses on the market made from cashews, but because we’re nut-free, that wasn’t really an option,” Meyer says. With the consistency and tang of nacho cheese, nah-cheeze is a crowd-pleaser at Range Free. The vegetable also figures prominently in her winter soup with roasted sweet potatoes, apples, onions, hard cider and coriander, as well as a vegan and Paleo chili. “The biggest reason we use sweet potatoes in a lot of our dishes is for people who can’t have nightshades, which white potatoes and tomatoes fall into, but sweet potatoes don’t,” Meyer adds. “They're really on the forefront as a tomato replacement.”
Range Free, 110 Orr St. Suite 101, Columbia, Missouri, range-free.com