Yams with maple syrup, sage and hazelnuts
A sweet potato is not a yam is not a sweet potato. Both tuberous root vegetables come from a flowering plant, but they are not related and don't have much in common beyond that.
Yams are related to lilies and are native to Africa and Asia. Cylindrical in shape, yams can be as small as a regular potato or as large as five feet long. They have brown, bark-like skin and white, purple, or reddish flesh, which is starchier and drier than the flesh of a sweet potato.
Sweet potatoes come from the morning glory family and are available in many varieties: white, yellow, red, purple, or brown skin, and white, yellow, orange, or orange-red flesh. Sweet potatoes have an elongated shape with tapered ends.
That said, sweet potatoes or yams can be used interchangeably for this dish! And given that yams are not commonly found in grocery stores, it's likely that, 9 times out of 10, the tubers labeled yams are actually sweet potatoes.
Maple syrup, sage and orange are fine compliments to both tubers, especially when finished with the sweet crunch of lightly toasted hazelnuts. Use another nut or skip them all together if you prefer. The finished potatoes should be slightly firm and hold their shape nicely under the sweet glaze that the basting liquid creates.
This side dish is a good match for most any entrée, especially when paired with roasted red onions.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
3 medium sized yams or sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced in 1/4-inch thick rounds
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, finely minced
1/2 cup maple or agave syrup
Juice and zest of 2 oranges
8 sage leaves, stem removed and thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
Finely chopped parsley for garnish, optional
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Arrange the sliced yams in an oven-proof casserole or skillet.
In a separate pan, melt the butter and add the onion, maple syrup, orange juice and zest, sage, and salt and pepper. Stir everything together and spoon the mixture over the sliced yams, attempting to get the onions and sage on the top of the yams. This will allow them to get a little crispy during the baking process. Place the yams in the oven to bake for 55 to 60 minutes, basting the yams with the syrup in the pan two to three times as they are baking.
When the yams are soft and slightly brown on top, remove the pan from the oven and cool.
The yams can be rewarmed when you're ready to serve them. Sprinkle with the chopped hazelnuts and a little bit of parsley, if desired, before serving.