There has long been confusion and debate about sweet potatoes and yams, but they are two different things. Ipomoea batatas is the Genus species for the sweet potato plant, whose tuberous roots are called “yams” in the U.S. But true yams are a distinct entity, with their own Genus species. Wild yam is actually a vine that is invasive, deciduous, and herbaceous. Chef Becky uses true yam as the basis of her Vegan Shepherd’s Pie. Let’s learn about this pie in more detail.
Starting with the Basics
“The foundation of the dish is in the oils,” Chef Becky explains. “I use coconut oil that is whipped, and I add cayenne. The oil may seem superfluous but it’s actually really crucial. Olive oil is a wondrous oil, but it can have a grassy taste which will permeate the whole dish. I use four oils pretty regularly: coconut, avocado, olive, and grapeseed, depending on the dish.” The Chef recommends steering clear of some tropical oils like palm, which are not generally good for the body and often come at a cost to the environment they’re harvested in.
That Buttery Nut
Chef Becky has been using butternut squash heavily in the Bex kitchen, including salads, soups, and pasta. “It can even be incorporated into desserts,” she notes. “Sometimes those unlikely ingredients are what make a dish, like the proverbial peanut butter in a winning chili as the secret ingredient, and it shows how food is a great conversation starter when an unlikely ingredient is incorporated.” So, we queried the Chef, what you’re saying is that ingredients that we think of as pedestrian or easy to overlook are actually the building blocks of dishes: root fruits and vegetables, and oils? “Exactly,” Chef responds. “I think in terms of design when I approach food: the base, the middle, the finish, as well as timing those processes and giving them a little time to let flavors marry and develop.” Cayenne has also been shown to be a great natural healer of the body, in that it contains antioxidants, vitamins, and beneficial compounds.
The Vegan Shepherd’s Pie the Chef makes uses sweet potato as the all-important topping. Lentils provide the “meat” of the pie. “You’d be surprised,” the Chef says. “Some hardcore meat-eaters or folks from the United Kingdom are quite pleasantly satisfied by the heartiness of the pie, and it’s vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free. Someone like English Paul or English Dave at our local gas station in town, from the UK, should try it and see what they think!” Winter pies are good ways to do one-pot cooking or at least use as minimal an amount of dishes as possible since everything ends up together. Once the pie is assembled, putting it in the oven on low heat keeps it warm and gives the sweet potato topping a nice crisp. The pie can be scooped or cut into traditional pie slices. It keeps well in the fridge and develops flavors.
Vegan Shepherd’s Pie: another example of Chef Becky’s attention to detail, insistence on quality ingredients, and versatility to take a meat-centric dish and make it open to all!