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The sweet potato is a versatile root vegetable offering many benefits to health. Native to South America, the plant was domesticated there approximately 5,000 years ago. Since then it has become a staple at many Thanksgiving dinners.

Sweet potatoes contain beta-carotene, which regulates the production and turnover of the body’s cells for healthy skin and eyes. The George Mateljan Foundation for the World’s Healthiest Foods reports that sweet potatoes provide twice the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A and more than one-third of the daily requirements of vitamin C. Sweet potatoes also contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients and improve blood sugar regulation.

At the Center for Science in the Public Interest, nutritionists ranked the sweet potato number one in nutrition of all vegetables. It scored 184 points for its dietary fiber, naturally occurring sugars, complex carbohydrates, protein, vitamins A and C, iron and calcium. There is virtually no fat or sodium in sweet potatoes.

The root vegetable belongs to the family Convolvulaceae and is only distantly related to the potato. The sweet potato is often referred to as a “yam,” even though it is botanically distinct from true yams native to Asia and Africa.

Magnolia Sweet Potatoes

Evanston resident Michael Watz has won first place in the professional category of the sixth annual Sweet Rewards Recipe Contest and a $500 cash prize. The contest was sponsored by the Louisiana Sweet Potato Commission along with “Louisiana Cookin’” magazine. Here’s the recipe:Servings: 12

1 six-pound can Louisiana sweet potatoes, drained

6 Louisiana peaches

1/2 cup room temperature Mascarpone cheese

3/4 cup unsalted butter, in all

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 orange flower honey

1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest

1 teaspoon kosher salt

11/2 cups coarsely chopped Louisiana pecans

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Instructions: 

Pre-heat oven to 350°F.

Lightly spray a baking pan with non stick vegetable cooking spray. Cut the peaches into quarters, removing the pits, and place onto the tray. Bake for 20 minutes or until the peaches are fully roasted. Cool, and remove peach skins. LEAVE THE OVEN ON.

Place the sweet potatoes and peaches into a mixing bowl. Add the mascarpone cheese, 1/4 cup of the butter, maple syrup and honey. Mash the ingredients using a potato masher until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Add the orange zest and salt, and combine.

Spray a 10-cup casserole baking dish with non stick vegetable cooking spray and evenly spoon the sweet potato mixture into the dish.

In a mixing bowl combine the pecans, brown sugar and flour, add the remaining ½ cup of butter and cinnamon and mix until the streusel is crumbly in texture. Evenly spread the streusel over the top of the baking dish and bake for 25-30 minutes until the sweet potato filling is hot.

According to research conducted by the International Potato Center, sweet potatoes are currently being used to fight a widespread Vitamin A deficiency in Africa.