I love a hearty salad. Gone are the days of lettuce and vinaigrette dressings, and in are the loaded bowls of grains and greens. Any carb will do these days – quinoa, rice, barley, root veggies. The best thing about these salads is that they can be used to accompany a larger meal, or they can be topped off with some protein for a meal all on their own. Summer or winter, these salads are always on the menu at our place.
For this salad I have chosen to use sweet potatoes. I have been experimenting with many salads over the last few years because they are so versatile and they are durable even after a few days in the fridge; this is ideal for us because we are always on the go. Root veggies are a great source of carbs that are full of vitamins, minerals, and fibre. A shocking discovery that I recently made was that my favourite yam and purple onion salad is actually made from sweet potatoes! Who knew? Boy was I confused when I casually picked up a yam on my way through the produce aisle, only to discover that the sign said “Sweet Potatoes.” I did a double take, at first assuming that the sign was wrong. After looking around at the other shoppers for a few minutes, hoping that by some miracle someone would stop to confirm my suspicion, I finally decided to take out my phone and Google it. I was blown away with how little I actually knew about these common tubers; turns out that I was way off track. Logically my next thought was, “what other vegetables have I been mislabelling all of my life???”
Now it’s possible that I could be the only one that doesn’t know the difference between a sweet potato and a yam, but I comfort myself in thinking that there must be at least one person out there that doesn’t know as well. So if only for the benefit of this one person, here’s the difference: Yams and sweet potatoes are not botanically related. Nutritionally, they both provide vitamin C, potassium, and fibre, and are both a great starch choice at any meal. However, when compared side-by-side, sweet potatoes take first place because they have a lower glycemic index and are higher in the antioxidant beta-carotene. We likely confuse the two because their names are used interchangeably in many recipes. Yams are typically grown in Africa and Asia, and are quite difficult to find in North American grocery stores. Yams are cylindrical in shape with a brown or black bark-like skin and white, purple or red flesh. Relatively speaking, yams are drier and starchier than sweet potatoes.
Sweet potatoes on the other hand have an elongated shape that is tapered at the ends. The skin colour varies widely from white to yellow to red-brown and even purple, as well as flesh that can vary from white to a deep orange-red. There are two types of sweet potatoes – firm and soft. The firm sweet potatoes have a golden colour and light flesh, typically sold as “sweet potatoes” in North American grocery stores. However there is also a soft sweet potato that has orange-brown skin and vibrant orange flesh, which is typically labeled as a “yam”! When soft sweet potatoes were introduced on the market, they had to be distinguished from the firm type of sweet potato. They did this by calling them yams. So, chances are that if your recipe calls for yams, it’s likely that they are actually using soft sweet potatoes. All this is to say that my local vegetable stand is VERY good at properly labeling their tubers, and that I would have probably continued to mislabel these fine root veggies had it not been for them. For a look at the difference between yams and sweet potatoes, check out the kitchn!
So here we are with a loaded salad of baked “yams” and purple onions, tossed with a light dressing, and topped with nuts, goat cheese, and herbs. For scientific purposes, I did make this salad with firm sweet potatoes and it was voted down 4:1 by my tasting panel (aka my family). This salad is tasty when it’s hot out of the oven, and even better the following day when eaten cold from the fridge or even pan fried with an egg for brunch.
Sweet Potato and Purple Onion Salad
Prep time: 15 minutes Cook time: 40 minutes Yields approximately 5 servings
2 large sweet potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
½ red onion, cut into rings
½ cup walnuts
½ cup goat cheese
1 bunch arugula or other leafy green
¼ cup parsley
2 tbsp dill, finely chopped
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Juice from ½ fresh orange
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp orange zest
1 tsp honey
⅛ tsp salt
⅛ tsp pepper
1. Toss the sweet potatoes and purple onion rings in olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread potatoes and onion on a baking sheet and cook at 400˚F for 40 minutes, tossing once halfway through.
2. To toast the walnuts, place them on a baking sheet and bake for ten minutes while the sweet potatoes and onions are cooking.
3. For the dressing, whisk together all the dressing ingredients. Set aside.
4. Cool the sweet potatoes and onions for 10 minutes, and then toss with the dressing. Top with toasted walnuts, goat cheese, arugula, and herbs.