We lived on the Iberian mainland, near Gibraltar, for 7 years and came to appreciate the local Spanish cuisine. It did, however, take some time to get used to different meal times, different methods of cooking, different ingredients, etcetera but the freshness of staple items like seasonal fish, fruit and vegetables resulted in a simple, but healthy, Mediterranean diet.
We could see the sea from our front door and we would often have lunch at a seafood restaurant overlooking the beach. It was on one of those occasions that we saw the table next to ours (a Spanish family) eating a strange-looking dessert. It smelled delicious and one of our friends – whose language skills were better than ours – asked what were they eating? “Try some” they said, and the plate was handed over to our table. The dish was actually chunks of orange-fleshed sweet potato (batatas in Spanish), charred at the edges, with crispy skin and smothered in honey. Why had it never occurred to us that it could be used as a pudding?
I think, in the colder countries of Europe, this vegetable has, in the main, been imported due to its need of higher temperatures to grow successfully and, I am advised, doesn’t tolerate frost. But I think it is only in recent years that it has become a common sight in supermarkets but only on the vegetable section, and certainly not classed as a sweet fruit.
It is far more common in Central and South America and perhaps that is how it was brought over and adopted into the Spanish culture. Sweet potatoes have certainly been an important part of the diet in the United States for most of its history. Candied sweet potatoes are prepared with brown sugar, marshmallows, maple syrup, molasses, orange juice, or other sweet ingredients – oh my goodness!
I recently made a cake, adapted from an American recipe, using sweet potato instead of butter and it turned out beautifully. Its moist, sweet texture made it a winner with friends and family and was a revelation. This is a vegetable that is just as delicious when used as its sweet name implies but equally satisfying when used in a savoury guise. How clever!