How to Cook Yams

Why wait for the holidays to bring yams to your table? You can serve this tasty, nutritious, and super-versatile veggie year-round in recipes from quick breads to fries.


What's a Yam?

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Generally, in the United States, orange-flesh sweet potatoes are labeled yams while the pale variety, with light yellow skin and flesh, are labeled sweet potatoes. However, vegetables sold as yams in one market may be sold as sweet potatoes in another. Fortunately, yams and sweet potatoes can be used interchangeably, and both are considered superfoods by nutrition experts.

Read more about the health benefits of this root veggie.

How to Select and Store Yams

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Yams (that is, orange-flesh sweet potatoes) are available year-round, but their peak season is winter. When purchasing, look for small to medium yams that are smooth, firm, and free of soft spots. Store whole, unpeeled yams in a cool, dry place for up to 1 week. Do not refrigerate yams, as they can dry out.

Tip: One pound yams equals about 2 medium yams or 2-3/4 cups cubed.

Ways to Prepare Yams

Yams can be used in many ways. For side dishes, they're often boiled or baked (peeled or unpeeled). They can be added to soups, stews, and braises. Sometimes boiled yams are mashed to serve as a side dish or for use an ingredient in quick breads and pies.

Read on for instructions on how to cook yams in popular ways, as well as for recipes for using yams.

How to Boil Yams

To boil yams, follow instructions for How to Boil Sweet Potatoes.

How to Mash Boiled Yams

  • To mash yams to use in recipes, mash the boiled yams with a potato masher or electric mixer on low speed. Measure the amount you need for the recipe. Note that 2 medium yams yield about 1-1/3 cups peeled, cooked, and mashed yams.

Tip: In a pinch, you can use canned sweet potatoes for recipes that call for boiled and mashed yams or sweet potatoes. For 2 cups mashed yams or sweet potatoes, drain one 17.2-ounce can whole sweet potatoes, if necessary, and transfer to a medium mixing bowl. Mash with a potato masher or electric mixer on low speed. Measure the amount needed for the recipe.

  • To mash yams for a side dish, try this recipe.

How to Bake Yams

Baked yams make a simple and nutritious side dish for anything from meat loaf and steaks to grilled chicken and fish. Here's how to do it.

  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  • Scrub the yams thoroughly with a brush, then pat dry.
  • Prick the yams with a fork.
  • Bake for 40 to 60 minutes or until tender.
  • Place each baked yam inside a kitchen towel. Gently roll to soften the flesh.
  • Cut an X in the top of each yam and press on the skin to push the flesh upward.
  • Serve with butter, brown sugar, and/or cinnamon.

How to Microwave Yams

Short on time? Here's how to use your microwave to get your yams table- or recipe-ready in minutes.

  • To microwave whole yams: Prick the scrubbed yams all over with a fork. Microwave on high for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender, turning the yams once.
  • To microwave sliced yams: Wash, peel, and cut off the woody portions and ends. Cut yams into quarters. Place the yams and 1/2 cup water in a microwave-safe casserole. Microwave, covered, on 100 percent power (high) for 10 to 13 minutes or until tender, stirring once.

How to Make Candied Yams with Marshmallows

This is it: Our recipe for the classic yam side dish -- the one with marshmallows. It's so easy but always a hit at family gatherings. This recipe serves four.

1. Gather the Ingredients

You'll need:

  • 3 medium yams or sweet potatoes (1 pound)
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon butter or margarine
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup tiny marshmallows

2. Prepare the Yams

  • Place the yams in a large saucepan; cover with water.
  • Bring to boiling; boil for 25 to 35 minutes or until the yams are tender.
  • Drain the yams and let them stand until cool enough to handle.
  • Peel the yams, then cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices.

3. Bake the Yams

  • Place half the yams in a 1-quart casserole. Layer with half the brown sugar and half the margarine. Repeat the layers.
  • Bake, uncovered, in a 375 degree F oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until the yams are glazed, spooning the liquid over the yams once or twice during cooking.
  • Sprinkle with marshmallows and bake for 5 minutes more.

Tip: If you like, you can add 1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped nuts. Walnuts and pecans work especially well.

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How to Make Yam Oven Fries

Here's how to make yam fries in your oven for a more colorful, tasty, and nutritious alternative to regular french fries.

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Scrub the yams thoroughly with a brush, then pat dry. Peel the yams if you like, or leave the skins on.
  • Use a sharp thin-blade knife to cut the yams into 1/4- to 1/2-inch-thick strips.

Tip: Cut each fry to an even thickness. Because yams contain more sugar than regular potatoes, they tend to burn easily and cook unevenly if cut too thin.

  • Toss the yams with olive oil and any desired seasonings (fresh or dried sage, rosemary, and thyme work especially well with yams).
  • Arrange yams in a baking pan. Be sure your baking pan is large enough to bake the yam slices in a single layer so they brown evenly.
  • Bake the yams for 20 to 30 minutes until tender, turning once.

How to Add Yams to Oven-Baked Pot Roast

Like other root vegetables, such as carrots and potatoes, yams can be added to pot roasts during the cooking time to make hearty and warming one-dish meals. Here's how.

  • Prepare the pot roast as directed. (Looking for a recipe? For a quintessential beef pot roast, try this one.
  • About 1 hour before the end of cooking time for the pot roast, add scrubbed and peeled yams that are cut into 2-inch chunks. (Use 5 cups yams per 6 to 8 servings). Arrange the yam chunks around the roast.
  • Roast, uncovered, for 50 to 60 minutes or until the meat and yams are tender.

How to Add Yams to Soups and Stews

Cubed yams make a colorful, flavorful addition to soups and stews. Slice the yams into 1-1/4-inch cubes and simmer in the soup or stew during the last 20 to 25 minutes of cooking or until tender. Looking for ideas? Try yams in this recipe for Pork and Sweet Potato Stew.

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