by Sam Edelman

Before heading on a quick trip up to the Yosemite Valley last weekend, I decided to hit the farmers market to stock up on some healthy ingredients and a couple bottles of local wine to take along. While it is nice to eat out when on a short vacation, staying at a place where you have access to a kitchenette can save money and allow you to continue making nutritious home-cooked meals. I wanted to get items for my trip that would travel well and provide a great mix of flavors. As I passed by the Her Family Farm stand, I saw the first sweet potatoes of the season piled high on their table. Along with some sweet yellow onions, hot and sweet peppers, bok choy and a head of garlic, a great meal was not far off. I decided to hold off on the main protein source until I hit the mountain, just in case I was able to catch a trout or two in the river (no luck, so I decided to get a pack of pork chops from the local market).

Sweet potatoes are a versatile ingredient that go great with fish, chicken, pork or beef. They are regularly harvested this time of year. There are two main types of sweet potatoes you will find at the farmers markets and local grocery stores: yellow and orange. You are probably most familiar with the orange. They are often referred to as yams, although a true yam (botanical family Dioscoreaceae) is a large (up to 100 pounds) root vegetable grown in Africa and Asia and rarely seen in the western world.



Sweet potatoes are loaded with beta-carotene, vitamins C and B6, manganese and some potassium. When eaten with the skin, they provide a hearty amount of fiber, about half of which is soluble.

Orange sweet potatoes have a bit more of a sweet, almost butternut squash flavor, whereas yellow sweet potatoes are more like a cross between a yam and Yukon gold potato. I typically go for the yellow when I'm not sure what's for dinner, as they tend to be more subtle in dishes.

One of my favorite ways to use sweet potatoes is to serve them with breaded pork chops. Like applesauce, sweet potatoes (especially the yellow) bring out the full flavor of the chops while adding a sweetness to the dish.

Sam Edelman is general manager of the Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market Association. His column appears every Thursday. E-mail him at food@newspress.com.

PORK CHOPS WITH SWEET POTATO AND BOK CHOY

1 cup flour

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 1/2 cups bread crumbs

4 (6- to 7-ounce) pork chops (rinse, pat dry and season both sides with salt and pepper)

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil (available from Olive Hill Farm at the Tuesday Santa Barbara, Wednesday Solvang, Thursday Carpinteria, Friday Montecito, Saturday Santa Barbara and Sunday Camino Real farmers markets)

2 tablespoons milk

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled (or skin left on for extra fiber), cut into very small cubes (available from Her Family Farm and Garcia Family Farm at the Tuesday Santa Barbara, Thursday Goleta, Saturday Santa Barbara and Sunday Camino Real markets)

1 red bell pepper, diced into very small cubes

1 pasilla, poblano, or jalapeo pepper, seeds and membrane removed, diced into small cubes

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 small onion, minced

2 bunches bok choy, washed, hard white ends removed

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

In three separate bowls in this order, add flour, egg and bread crumbs. Dip chops in the flour, followed by the egg and bread crumbs. Make sure to roll all sides of the chops to coat, and set aside on plate. In large frying pan, add 1/4 cup olive oil and put over medium heat. Once warm, add chops and fry, turning about every 3-4 minutes (if they look like they are starting to cook too quickly on the outside, turn down the heat and continue cooking). Total cooking time should be about 12 minutes, depending on the thickness and preference.

In large saut pan, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and put over medium-high heat. Add remaining ingredients, except bok choy. Try to cook in a single layer as much as possible to allow proper browning on all sides of ingredients. Stir every few minutes. (This step can be done while cooking the pork chops and finished in about the same amount of time). Sweet potatoes should be fork tender and slightly browned. Add bok choy to sweet potato mixture about 2 minutes before completed, as it cooks down quite fast. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve mixture under or alongside pork chops, topping chops with applesauce-onion mixture, if desired (simmer 15-ounce jar applesauce in small sauce pan along with 1/2 cup sliced sweet onions for 20 minutes before serving).

Yield: 4 servings