I love yams. They're absolutely yamtastic. To be honest, I'm a bit of a yamaholic myself, for real, I truly yam. But seriously, I've loved yams ever since I moved to China, to a little city called Dalian (little by Chinese standards, at a little over 5 million people). Around the medical university at which I lived, there were people who sold baked yams off of carts. The carts held one or two steel drums in which the yams would be cooked. Their heat source were piles of glowing hot charcoal bricks (that could be purchased from other fellow street vendors). The vendors themselves were often dressed in layers of dark clothing, darkened even more by soot. Their gloves were fingerless and they always greeted you with a smile.
There was nothing like walking down to the yam man (or yam woman) and being handed a piping hot, charcoal crusted root on a cold winter morning. The first quarter inch or so would be charred, but when you broke them open, you would see caramelized layers surrounding a deep orange core. And the smell was awesome! My hands would always get dark and sooty from handling the skin, but it was all part of the experience.
Back in Australia (a couple weeks ago) I schooled some Aussies on baking yams in beach fires. I bought a handful of yams, wrapped them in heavy-duty aluminum foil, and threw them into the blazing fire. Some of the people around the fire shot me inquisitive glances, beers in their hands, others asked me what I threw in. I told them they'd find out later, and when the time came, I pulled out the blackened yam coals with a stick and set them in the sand to cool. After about 40 minutes I handed out yams to those willing to dig in, and told them tales of charcoaled yams on Chinese street corners. Everybody in the yam feast remained quiet until they were finished eating. That's how into the yams they were.
I've recently learned that someone close to me shares my love affair with the mighty yam as well. My very good friend Dana loves yams (almost as much as me), as well as peanut butter, almonds and yogurt (all of which are in bulk supply at her place). Dana came over one day, with a big smile on her face, and with a sack of yams, proclaiming that she was going to make some yam fries, and that I'd better start getting excited. I did too! Not because she told me too, but because I'm yam-junky. And I had never made yam fries! The way Dana makes them is to cut them up into little wedges, place them on a baking sheet lined with heavy duty aluminum foil, brush them with extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkle them with garlic, salt and pepper. Then you just bake them at 400 degrees F. for 20-30 minutes. In that amount of time they come out cooked, but flexible. Another 10-15 minutes more and they become crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. But all ovens are different, so keep an eye on them while they are cooking so as no to burn them.
You can make all kinds of yam fries. I experimented and used butter and cinnamon-sugar. YUM! You can also throw some cheese on them, oregano and oil, or any combination your imagination can muster. Alright, I think I'm done praising yams. I talked about the nutritional benefits of yams in a previous blog on making Sweet Potato Bake (aka yam-bake), in case you missed it.