• Stir It Up: Sweet potato salvation
     | October 04,2013
    Dirk Van Susteren Photo

    A sweet potato loaded with apples, pecans, raisins and coconut and drizzled with maple syrup makes a delicious, nutritious and vegan breakfast.

    If, like many of us, you are searching for a healthy eating plan, you can be forgiven your confusion. High-carb, low-fat? Low-carb? No-fat?

    No matter what regimen you follow, there is one food that seems to be embraced by all: sweet potatoes. They make a delicious snack, and a healthy one: They are a good source of fiber and vitamins A and C, have 4 grams of protein per serving, and have no fat. They are simple to prepare (bake, boil, microwave, grill) and taste great with nothing more than a sprinkling of salt and pepper or a drizzle of maple syrup.

    I found myself contemplating the sweet potato recently after reading New York Times writer Mark Bittman’s recent book, “VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health ... for Good.” Bittman has been eating like a vegan — no animal products, including eggs, dairy or honey — for two-thirds of the day for the past six years. In other words, he eats like a vegan until dinnertime.

    Bittman says that within a few months on this regimen, he lost 35 pounds and reduced his blood sugar and cholesterol to healthy levels. By giving up meat and dairy only until 6 p.m. (along with junk foods, white bread, white pasta, white rice and alcohol), he never had that deprived feeling that can derail even the best of intentions. Have a craving for steak or Brie? Just wait until dinner.

    If all of us followed this plan, it would have a salutary effect on the environment, too. According to Bittman, “livestock production is one of the top contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for at least 20 percent (and by some estimates up to 50 percent) of dangerous gases in the atmosphere — a greater impact than even transportation.”

    All right, I’m game. What’s for breakfast? My go-to bowl of Greek yogurt, oats and berries is out, as is the poached egg I worked so hard to perfect. Whole-grain cereal is OK, but I need to buy some non-dairy milk. Maybe some toast with cheese? Oops.

    This VB6, I thought, is going to be harder than it looks. But a rummage through the refrigerator yielded a sweet potato, and sweet potatoes satisfy both Bittman’s VB6 scheme and my own breakfast requirements: delicious, affordable and quick.

    Bittman offers Smashed and Loaded Sweet Potatoes, a variation on the decidedly un-vegan twice-baked potato, with its sour cream, cheese and bacon. He gives a sweet variation (maple syrup, cinnamon, nuts) or a savory one (beans, corn, herbs, chili peppers), which could work for breakfast, lunch or a snack.

    So today I’m a vegan until ... noon. I’m working on it.

    Smashed and Loaded Sweet Potatoes

    Yield: 1 or 2 servings

    1 large sweet potato, pierced with a sharp knife

    Salt to taste

    Ground black pepper to taste

    Sweet or savory toppings (below)

    Wrap the sweet potato in a damp paper towel and microwave on high until you can easily pierce it with a fork, about 10 minutes. (You can also bake it in a 425-degree oven for about 50 minutes.)

    Meanwhile, assemble your choice of toppings from the list below; if using savory toppings such as beans and corn, you may want to saute them or otherwise heat them.

    Cut the potato in half and scoop out the insides into a bowl. Smash a bit with a fork or potato masher; sprinkle with salt and pepper. (Pepper is good even on sweet versions; for the savory version you might want to use white pepper for some heat.) Return the mashed potatoes to their skins or spoon into a bowl. Top with chosen ingredients and serve.

    For “sweet” sweet potatoes, use any or all of the following: ½ tablespoon maple syrup, 1 tablespoon unsweetened shredded coconut, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh apples, 1 tablespoon raisins or other unsweetened dried fruit, 2 tablespoons chopped toasted nuts, ground cinnamon, nutmeg or other spices to taste.

    For savory sweet potatoes, use any or all: 1 cup cooked greens, 2 tablespoons chopped roasted red bell peppers, ¼ cup cooked beans (black, cannellini or chickpeas), ¼ cup peas, ¼ cup corn kernels, 2 to 4 tablespoons fresh herbs such as parsley, basil or cilantro, up to 2 tablespoons soy sauce, up to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons chopped olives, 1 tablespoon chopped red onions, ½ chopped chipotle in adobo, 1 clove chopped garlic, 1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger, 1 teaspoon horseradish, ½ teaspoon red chili flakes, hot sauce to taste.

    (Recipe slightly adapted from “VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health ... for Good” by Mark Bittman; Clarkson Potter, 2013)

    Marialisa Calta is a syndicated food writer who lives in Calais.

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