Sweet potatoes? Or yams?

There’s a lot of confusion between the two, but let’s get this straight. Sweet potatoes are an entirely different vegetable from yams.

The yam is a starchy tuber that grows only in West Africa, the Caribbean and Asia. Yams and sweet potatoes look alike, but they don’t taste alike. Yams are typically starchy and bland while our locally grown sweet potatoes (especially the rose-colored Beauregard) are sweet and dense — and delicious simply roasted.

In the world of sweet potatoes, there are two basic kinds: firm or dry, and soft or moist. The terms refer to the way the flesh appears when cooked. The differences in flavors vary slightly, but in general, the lighter colored sweet potatoes (such as the Jersey) tend to be a bit drier and sweeter tasting, while the darker, sweet potatoes (such as the Jewel and Beauregard) tend to be moister, with a richer texture and sweet flavor that works well in pies and puddings. The soft varieties can be intensely sweet and moist, great in pies and puddings. Choose sweet potatoes that are heavy for their size and not shriveled or bruised.

While sweet potatoes appear durable and tough, they are actually thin-skinned and will not keep long. Handle them with care as they do tend to spoil if bumped or cut. Store them in a basket in a cool, dry place, not in the refrigerator, where a humid chill hastens their demise. Scrub sweet potatoes right before cooking. The skins are delicious (and good for you, too). Once cooked, sweet potatoes can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for three to four days or frozen for several months.

In my kitchen, sweet potatoes are often the center of the meal — roasted, stir-fried or simmered into a soup or stew. Roasting is the easiest and most reliable method. Simply scrub and toss the sweet potatoes into a moderate oven until they’re easily pierced with a knife or fork, about an hour or so. Then split them and season with a drizzle of dark sesame oil and soy sauce, or with a good olive oil, balsamic vinegar and shredded sharp cheese.

The best is to cube and roast sweet potatoes until nicely caramelized on all sides. Then they’re ready to toss into a salad, curry or chili, or to scatter over a pizza, fold into tacos, or stir into a pot of black beans or wild rice. Mash the leftovers and shape into patties and serve drizzled with maple syrup or honey; or fold then into batter for pancakes, waffles, muffins, and sweet breads.

Spicy and Tangy Sweet Potatoes

Makes 6 to 8 cups.

Note: Roast an extra pan or two to toss into a salad or onto a pizza or add to a vegetable curry or stew. Coconut oil adds a nice nutty flavor to the potatoes. From Beth Dooley.

• 2 lb. sweet potatoes, cut into 1-in. chunks

• 4 to 5 green onions, cut into 1-in. pieces

• 2 tbsp. melted coconut or vegetable oil

• 1 tsp. coarse salt

• 1 tsp. chili powder

• 1/2 tsp. ground cumin

• 2 to 3 tbsp. chopped cilantro

• 2 limes, cut into wedges

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the sweet potatoes and green onions with the oil, salt, chili powder and cumin.

Spread the sweet potatoes onto a large baking sheet. Roast until tender and golden, about 30 to 40 minutes, shaking the pan once or twice through. Serve garnished with the cilantro and the lime wedges.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories 100 Fat 4 g Sodium 270 mg

Carbohydrates 17 g Saturated fat 3 g Total sugars 5 g

Protein 2 g Cholesterol 0 mg Dietary fiber 3 g

Exchanges per serving: 1 starch, ½ fat.

Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.