Do you know the difference between yams and sweet potatoes? Which one have you been eating your whole life? How do you even tell the difference? Well, although you may not realize it, you’re probably most familiar with sweet potatoes. This is especially true if you live in the United States, since that’s what most grocery stores sell nowadays.
Sweet potatoes are the tuberous roots of a vining plant closely related to (but not the same as) the morning glory flowers you often see in gardens. Their skins come in a rainbow of vibrant colors from white, to yellow, purple, red, and brown. The inside of a sweet potato can also be different colors, ranging from white to a deeper reddish-orange color. There are even two different firmness levels of sweet potatoes: a firm and a soft kind. We usually eat the soft, orange kind, because these are the ones that get nice and soft on the inside when they’re cooked. Mmmm…
So how the heck did people end up confusing them with yams? They’re not even from the same botanical family! As it turns out, yams are actually native to Africa, but look an awful lot like the soft-variety sweet potatoes. When soft sweet potatoes (native to South America) were first brought to the US, the marketing industry started labeling them as “yams” to help distinguish them from the creamy white, firm, sweet potato. And it stuck. In today’s grocery stores and farmer’s markets, you’re most likely buying soft sweet potatoes, even if they are labeled as yams. If you’re concerned that you’ve been eating yams as opposed to sweet potatoes, fear not – they’re also very nutritious and totally Paleo-friendly! And if you want to try a real yam, you’ll have to visit an international food store to find one.
Now, on to the sweet potatoes. I looooove me some sweet potatoes, cooked in every way, shape, and form! Not only are they a traditional Thanksgiving side dish, but they have become wildly popular on many restaurant menus throughout the US over the last several years as “sweet potato fries”. Now, let’s be honest here, because people sometimes have unrealistic expectations. It’s really difficult to get the same exact crispiness of those kinds of fries without deep-frying them, which we all know is not very healthy (or else you wouldn’t be reading this right now). But it is possible to get pretty darn close if you bake them at the right temperature and for long enough. And that is my aim here today: to provide you with a recipe that will allow you to enjoy healthy, homemade, baked sweet potato fries that are not only packed with a nutritional punch of vitamin A, beta-carotene, complex carbs, and fiber… but are also as crispy as possible!
Sweet potato fries are relatively simply to make. They’d probably be even easier to make with a mandolin, however, I use a plain old knife and cutting board and it works out just fine. The trick is making sure that they’re all about the same size and thickness. With manual cutting there will inevitably be some slight variation, with some pieces being a bit thicker (and ending up a little soft at the end) and some being a bit smaller or thinner (and possibly burning)… but overall, the majority of your fries should come out of the oven crispy on the outside, and soft on the inside… just the way they should be! :)
The other key step is to make sure you don’t crowd your baking sheets with fries. Each fry should have its own little space, so that the heat can get to it and properly crisp it. If you crowd them, you will just end up with a bunch of soggy fries (and maybe even soggy eyes, as you will be so sad that they didn’t turn out the way you wanted). So either use two baking sheets, or bake them in batches, and all should be well.
The seasonings in this recipe are a perfect complement to the natural sweetness of the fries, and would make an excellent game-day appetizer or accompaniment to any BBQ dish. I made them to go with my Coffee-Chili Rubbed Steak, and the combination was divine! Or you can just eat them all by themselves, because they’re that good… don’t worry… no one will know…
Share your thoughts… what are your favorite seasonings for sweet potato fries?
- 2 small sweet potatoes (about 3” in diameter each)
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp sea salt
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp dried rosemary
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper (or bake the fries in separate batches, if you’re working with just one sheet).
- If leaving the skins on, scrub your sweet potatoes and then pat dry with a paper towel really well. Allow them to air dry for another minute or so. If you don’t like your fries with skins, then you can peel them, but don’t rinse them! If you do, the oil will not stick to the fries very well.
- Use a large chef’s knife to cut your potatoes in half (or into thirds, for shorter fries). Then, slice each piece in half again.
- Place each potato chunk flat-side-down to brace it against accidental slips, as you carefully slice the potatoes into about ½” thick fries. This isn’t a perfect science – just do what you can to make sure they’re all about the same thickness, or as close you can get.
- Place your fries in a large bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil, and then use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to toss them until they’re evenly coated on all sides. Add the sea salt, black pepper, smoked paprika, and dried rosemary. Toss again to season all the fries.
- Arrange your fries on the baking sheets, making sure they’re all spread out in a single layer with enough room around each fry. If they’re all squished together, they will not get crispy.
- Bake for 15 minutes. Take them out and flip each fry with a short pair of tongs (or your fingers, if you have a high heat tolerance – I do!). Put them back in the oven. If you used two baking sheets, you should switch their positions in the oven at this point.
- Bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, until nice and crispy! Keep an eye on them so they do not burn (the natural sugars in sweet potatoes can cause them to go from crispy to badly-burnt pretty quickly). A few fries may be a bit on the softer side, but it's okay - most of them will be baked to crispy perfection!
- Serve immediately, while still hot.
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