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A new tasty twist for Thanksgiving fare

The countdown to Thanksgiving has officially begun. It’s not only mid-November, we’ve also already survived the first (ugh) snowstorm of what promises to be a nasty winter.

So, rather than dwell  on how much I hate snow, I choose instead to think positive thoughts about the coming holiday and its attendant feast. This week’s column will focus on sweet potatoes, a centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal and apparently one of the most nutritious foods going.

Sweet potates aren’t low-cal or low-carb. But ... have you noticed when you go to the store these days that almost all foods have enthusiastic stickers listing all the things they don’t have in them? “Zero sodium!” “Low calorie!” “No fat!”

But you rarely see labels that tout what these foods offer your body.

So, you might know that a banana has no sodium. But do you know that it’s one of the world’s best sources of potassium?

That’s an overly long introduction to the sweet potato, isn’t it? The point is that sweet potatoes do have a fair amount of calories and carbs. But they offer so many nutrients that diet experts nearly always include them in their meal plans.

What’s so great about sweet potatoes? They’re one of the planet’s best sources of beta carotene, which is one of the super cancer fighters. That beta carotene comes in the form of vitamin A, which is supposed to help ward off lung cancer. Beta carotene also strengthens your eyes.

They have loads of vitamin C. Aside from the obvious cold-and-flu protection, vitamin C is also a cancer fighting antioxidant that helps wipe out cell-damaging free radicals.

Vitamins A and C are also believed to reduce inflammation, which means they can help keep conditions such as asthma and arthritis under control.

The vitamin B6 in sweet potatoes can help prevent heart attacks and strokes.

And despite their name and taste, sweet potatoes are now being touted as an antidiabetic food that can help lower blood sugar levels and insulin resistance.

I’m going to offer a recipe for sweet potatoes here, of course. But if your family has always prepared sweets in some particular fashion for the holidays, here’s a tip: don’t mess around; stick with tradition.

If you’re bored with the same old mashed or roasted sweets and yearn for something more exotic, try this simple Japanese tempura. The dipping sauce is available at Sharon Farm Market; look in the Asian products aisle for the small, fat glass bottles marked as dipping sauce for udon or other noodles. Either one will do. Warm it up and dilute it with some chicken broth and/or water to taste. If you want to give it some authentic Asian kick, grate in some fresh daikon root.

 Sweet potato tempura

Makes enough to cook two large sliced sweet potatoes

Obviously, you can use this batter for any vegetables you like. It’s a nice, light, crisp fried food — but it’s still a fried food, so obviously you don’t want to overindulge.

 Boil salted water in a large saucepan. While you’re waiting for a rolling boil, trim the ends off the unpeeled sweet potatoes and then slice them into discs, about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick.

Drop the slices in the boiling water and let them cook until they’re tender but not soft. Remove them from the pot with a slotted spoon.

In a large bowl, mix 1 egg yolk, 2 cups ice cold water (there should be a couple ice cubes in the water) and 1/8 teaspoon baking soda. Sift in 1 2/3 cups of flour and beat it into the liquid mixture with a wooden spoon.

Pour about a half inch of canola oil (or some other light oil that won’t smoke easily) in a large, deep frying pan.

Coat a few slices of sweet potato with the tempura batter. Test the heat of the oil by dropping in a tiny splatter of batter; if it quickly fries up and turns golden, the oil is ready.

Put the potato slices into the oil, making sure they don’t touch. Leave them in a minute or two and flip them. They should be golden but not brown on each side. Drain them on a wire rack over paper towels.


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