Monday, December 22, 2008

Yams or Sweet Potatoes... what's the difference?

There is so much confusion between yams and sweet potatoes. They look the same, they taste the same and you never really know which you are eating at any given time.
So I am going to do my best and give you some information on why these two roots are different from each other and not to be mistaken. However you can still choose to interchange them in recipes-I always do!

Yams were first cultivated in Africa and are part of the tuber family. They are very popular in tropical regions of the world. They are round and elongated with a thick, scaly or rough skin and it's flesh can be either white, ivory, cream, pink or purple. Yams are typically mores starchy and dry. However the most common variety has a deep orange flesh, which is why they are often mistaken for sweet potatoes. Most of the time they are also mislabeled in stores and are actually sweet potatoes!

Sweet Potatoes on the other hand, are native to South America and is part of the morning glory family. Sweet potatoes are actually not at all related to Yams or Potatoes. They are very sweet and dark and sometimes mislabeled as Yams. Sweet potatoes have a wide center and taper at both ends. They also have a thin and smooth skin. Sweet potatoes are also sometimes mislabeled when actually they are yams.

I know it can be confusing...but when it comes to their nutritional content and health benefits they are pretty much the same with a few unique qualities between the two.
They are both amazing sources of beta carotene, an antioxidant found in most orange fleshed foods such as mangoes and carrots. They are both high in vitamin A and C with a good amount of thiamine. They are nourishing to the spleen, pancreas and stomach. Yams are particularly known for it's properties to help regulate menses and prevent miscarriages. Yams also help to treat fatigue, inflammation, spasms and stress.

For more information on the differences between Yams and Sweet potatoes you can read upon the loads of articles and resources on the net with sometimes confusing but insightful information these roots. Or you can always check out Rebecca Wood's Whole Foods Encyclopedia for a small description on the description, health benefits and uses for each.

So in conclusion, both roots are amazing for their own unique properties. Now you can be just a bit more aware of which varieties you are eating (if it is labelled correctly). Either way both are sure to please your palate and make wonderful ingredients for side dishes, soups, dips, pancakes or pies!

Yummy Yam Pecan Pie


1 cup almonds, ground
1 cup brown rice flour
2 tablespoon maple crystals
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of sea salt
3 tablespoons melted coconut oil
1/4 cup maple syrup


2 cups mashed or cooked yams or sweet potatoes (you can always buy canned organic sweet potatoes or yams if necessary)
1 cup vanilla soymilk
3/4 cup maple sugar or sucanat
1/4 cup arrowroot powder
1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon fair trade vanilla
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 cup chopped pecans, mixed with 1 tablespoon maple syrup and 1 tablespoon coconut oil and roasted for 5-10 minutes at 200F

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Oil a 9 in tart pan or a few mini tart pans.
For the Crust:
2. In food processor, grind nuts to meal. In mixing bowl, combine nuts, flour, maple crystals, baking powder and salt.
3. In separate small bowl, whish together oil and maple syrup
4. Mix wet ingredients (oil and syrup) into dry ingredients (nut meal and flours).
5. Press crust mixture into tart pan.
For the Filling:
1. Blend all the ingredients in a vita mix or a blender until well combined.
2. Pour the filling into the pie crust and bake for 45-60 minutes.
3. Cool on rack and then refrigerate over night before serving.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

CooCoo For Coconut

Coconut oil has to be among one of the most controversial topics these days. I am constantly being asked about it's relation to health. How can a saturated fat be healthy?
Coconut oil has been perpetuated by both the media and medical practitioners as unhealthy, fattening and damaging to the arteries. Well let me tell you something- this is a wrong approach as those who are against coconut oil have not really looked at the whole picture. It is the hydrogenated coconut oil that is use in most processed products that are deemed unhealthy, as hydrogenation changes the delicate nature of virgin coconut oil into a trans fat. By the way this goes for most cold pressed vegetables oils (such as olive, sunflower, safflower and sesame) that when heated at high temperatures they too become denatured and altered into a trans fat!

There have been studies upon studies done on the health benefits of virgin coconut oil (in it's original state), from its antibacterial, antiviral, energizing and healing properties all the way to being used daily as a moisturizer!
Bruce Fife, among many others such as Conrado S. Dayrit have proven that coconut oil is actually a cure to so many health ailments and diseases.
For example, the saturated fat component of coconut oil is made up of certain fatty acid chains called medium chain triglycerides or MCT's. These are different from animal sourced fatty acid chains made up from long chain triglycerides. This may not sound like a big deal, but in your body it is! The long chain fatty acids found in animal and dairy fats are the ones that clog arteries, contribute to increased cholesterol, heart disease and weight gain. Also the consumption of processed and packaged foods made up of trans fats (or altered vegetable oils) such as margerine and shortening are also the main culprits that lead to high cholesterol and other heart damaging conditions such as atherosclerosis. Whereas the medium chain triglycerides found in coconut oil actually help people who suffer from digestive problems to protecting against infections to boosting energy and metabolism and it even protects against serious health problems such as cancer and diabetes. (Source: The Truth about Coconut Oil : Conrado S. Dayrit, 2005)
So don't be afraid of this wonderful and tasteful fruit, use it whole, use it's water, use it's butter, use it's shell. There are endless possibilities!
I make wonderful recipes with Coconut Oil - it is one of my favourite ingredients. It is dairy free, gluten free and full of delicious flavour. It can also be heated to high temperatures in baking and stir frying without any fret or used raw in smoothies and desserts. You can even drink the water straight from the coconut and use it as an energy drink before, after or during exercise!

I could really get into a whole long discussion about how wonderful coconut oil really is, but I am going to leave it at that.
So get yourself educated about the benefits of coconut by reading some books or going to:

I will also leave you with a recipe for shortbread...yes coconut oil is the perfect replacement for butter in this decadent and rich shortbread cookie created by Jae Steele.


Spicy & Sweet Shortbread Cookies
(Slightly Adapted from Jae Steele's recipe for Shortbread Cookies in her book "Get it Ripe")

1/2 cup maple sugar or organic sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 1/4 cups brown rice flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup virgin coconut oil, diced
1/4 cup room temperature applesauce
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, cocoa powder or maple crystals

Preheat oven to 275 F
1.Place sugar and salt in food processor and blend for 30 seconds to give a finer texture.
2. Add the flour and baking powder and blend to combine. Add the oil and applesauce and process until well combined, but do not allow to form a ball.
3. Scrape dough onto a clean surface with spatula and knead gently with your hands and form a ball. Divide dough in half and roll out each half to 1/2 inch thick.
4. Cut dough into rounds using a cookie cutter (I chose a heart!)
5. Place cookies on to parchment paper lined baking sheets and dust with cinnamon, cocoa powder or powder maple sugar.
6. Bake for 25-35 minutes, until they turn a light colour. The shortbread will be be firm at first, but it will harden as it cools.
7. Remove from oven and allow to cool on baking sheets before storing in an air tight container for up to a month.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Spice Girls

It is so nice to know that the flavours that come from traditional Indian cuisine, are not only delicious to that palate but they are completely nourishing to the body as well.
We had a chance to discover this on Wednesday's Indian Flavours Cooking Class.

We created and sampled a whole range of dishes from Chana Masala to Lentil Dal, to a Saffron Yellow Basmati Rice, to a Brown Rice Pudding and of course the class would not have been complete without a Coconut Vegetable Curry (recipe below).

The common thread in all the recipes was all the fresh and fragrant spices that were in each dish. We made continuous use of the flavours of cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, cardamom, cloves, garlic, cumin and mustard seeds. Each on of these delicate spices offers a wonderful infusion of flavour that makes you want to use them all the time.

So here is a quick guide to some of the beneficial properties of these spices:

Sweet and pungent, pleasant and warming cinnamon supports the spleen and the pancreas, stomach, bladder, kidney and liver meridians (from a Chinese medicine perspective).
Cinnamon aid in digestion, aid in circulation and helps to treat diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and menstrual cramps. Cinnamon is also well known for it's blood stabilizing abilities.
Has a peppery and pungent taste. It is warming and stimulates digestion and boost circulation, respiration and nervous system function. Ginger is useful for colds and fevers and alleviates motion sickness and nausea. It is also an anti-inflammatory and destroys intestinal parasites.
Has the highest source of beta carotene. It tones the spleen and pancreas, liver and stomach. It strengthens the immune system and enhances digestion and helps to dissolve cysts and gallstones. Turmeric is antibacterial and may be used to regulate blood sugar for diabetics.
Is sweet and pungent and warming. It also acts upon the spleen and pancreas, stomach, lung and kidney meridians. It aids in digestion, relaxes spasms and cuts mucus, making it useful in lung tonics. It also eases coughs, breathlessness, burning urination, incontinence and hemorrhoids.
Are bitter, spicy and warming. They tonify the kidney, spleen, pancreas and stomach. Cloves also aid digestion, treat nausea, hiccups and vomiting.
Is pungent and bitter. It aids the digestive system, improves liver function, promotes assimilation of other foods and relieves abdominal distention, gas and colic, as well as migraines and headaches.

If you want more information on these spices or any other specific food have a look at Rebecca Woods book "The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia" which is available for purchase right here on my page (see my favourite book list).
So warm up this winter and make use of these nourishing and health supportive spices!

Coconut Vegetable Curry


1 Spanish onion
1-2 teaspoons sea salt
¼ cup coconut oil
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into ¾ cubes
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into ¾ “ cubes
Curry Blend*
1 medium cauliflower, cut into bite size florets
1 cup shelled peas, cooked
½ red cabbage
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup water
Vegetables can be roasted*
Curry Blend:
1 teaspoon coriander
2 teaspoons cumin
½ teaspoons turmeric
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon fenugreek
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger
¼ teaspoon cardamom seeds, no pods
¼ teaspoon mustard seeds

1. In a large skillet, sauté onions, with one teaspoon salt in oil until they begin to soften and brown. Add squash and cook ten minutes more. Add potatoes and curry blend and continue sautéing another five minutes, stirring often.
2. Add cauliflower to the top of the squash and potatoes, being careful no to stir the mixture. Add water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer until vegetables are tender (15-20 minutes).
3. With a wooden spoon, smash some of the squash in the curry mixture against the sides of the skillet to thicken the sauce. Stir in the peas and season to taste with salt.