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Sweet potatoes with fennel and chilli butter

Written By Reena on 6 May 2011 | 05:00

When Steve and I were in California we were very confused when we saw what we thought were sweet potatoes labelled as yams:

Reena: “How can they not have sweet potatoes in a supermarket this size?”.
Steve: [Triumphant] “Here’s one.”.
Reena: [Perplexed] “But the label says it’s a yam.”.
Steve: [Obstinate] “It doesn’t look like a yam. It looks like a sweet potato.”.
Reena: [Belligerent] “But the label says..”.

This went on for a while and eventually we gave up and bought a watermelon instead.

Apparently in parts of North America, sweet potatoes are called yams to prevent confusion with the usual white variety. Little did they realise that this would just lead to confusion for visiting Brits. Interestingly the United States Department of Agriculture has foreseen this issue and required that sweet potatoes labelled as yams should also be labelled as sweet potatoes.  Fancy that; Ralph’s supermarket should take note.
Serves 2

  • 2 sweet potatoes – washed and dried
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel
  • 10grams coriander - finely chopped, washed and left to dry for at least 10 minutes
  • 1 clove garlic - crushed
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon chilli flakes
  • 40 grams butter at room temperature

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade.
  2. Place the sweet potatoes on a baking tray and bake until they have oozed some syrup and feel so soft that they are about to collapse. The exact time of this will vary depending on the size of the potato but for a medium sized potato expect it to take in the region of 40 – 50 minutes.
  3. While the potatoes are cooking, heat a completely clean and dry pan for several minutes until it is so hot that a drop of water evaporates immediately.
  4. Now add the fennel seeds and toss until they start releasing their aroma. Be careful not to dry roast them for too long as they will burn.
  5. Remove the fennel seeds from the heat and crush finely using a pestle and mortar.
  6. In a small mixing bowl mix the fennel, coriander, garlic, salt and chilli flakes.
  7. Add the butter to the mixing bowl and mix well.
  8. When the potatoes are cooked, cut them in half. Add half of the fennel and chilli butter to the middle of each potato and use a fork to mash the butter into the soft orange flesh.
  9. Serve immediately.


About Reena


  1. this is something different ...i haven't eaten sweet potato in ages ! butter always makes anything taste better ;-)


  2. Thanks shruts. I hope you enjoy it. Reena

  3. Hi Reena,
    Living in California I don't mind much what you call them... I just love eating them! I have a couple in the pantry just waiting to be served up with this lively chili butter. Your spice combination hits all the right notes! Hope your stay in our state was better than your market experience ;-)

  4. Hi Robin. I loved California and actually loved the markets! The yam issue was just odd though! Another way that I like to eat baked sweet potatoes is with butter, chopped coriander and chopped fresh red chillis - yum! Great to hear from you. Reena