African yams are edible tubers, which are a staple food in West Africa. They are a very versatile and can be prepared in several ways to make different yam dishes. Boiled yam is one of the most consumed dishes from this tuber crop; and a lot of other dishes call for it as ingredient. This is why I am sharing this post on how to cook African yam.
What is African Yam?
The term African yam refers to some members of the genus Dioscorea, the two main ones being white yam (Dioscorea rotundata) and yellow yam (Discorea cayennensis). There are other types of yams consumed within the African continent, but the white yam is most commonly consumed. There are also different cultivars of African yams, hence why we have Puna yam, Nigerian yam, Onitsha yam, Guinea yam etc.
What we call yam in Africa is different to what is referred to as yam in America, where sweet potato is called yam. This article has more information about sweet potato, if you want to know more.
What Does It Look Like?
There are some differences in the appearance of African yam, but generally, the tubers are long with a dark brown color. Yam tubers generally have a rough skin with some cultivars having “bristly” appearance.
More mature yams have more shriveled skin and a slightly sweet taste due to the water content drying out. While newer yams have a slightly smoother skin which peels off easily.
Cooked yam is denser, starchier and more crumbly than a potato. Similar to a potato, it can be used in endless ways. African yam can be boiled, fried, roasted, baked, made into flour to make amala, pounded into pounded yam (iyan), used to make porridge (asaro), stews, yam peppersoup and so on. Hence why it is one of the most important food crops in Western Africa.
How To Cook African Yam
This African yam recipe is very basic and it is usually the first step in preparing yam dishes like asaro, iyan etc. If you are interested in original and delicious yam recipes, please check out my e-book "25 From 30" where I created 25 original recipes from 30 Ingredients which are common in a West African kitchen, including yam.
A few notes about yam…
Yam tubers are usually big and not the easiest to wash in kitchen sinks. There is no need to wash before peeling unless it has just been harvested and covered in soil. The tuber is more prone to spoilage in the presence of moisture. It is best to cut off the quantity you need, peel and wash before cooking.
How To Peel It
Unless you are roasting African yam tubers, you will need to remove the skin before cooking. There are different ways of doing this, but I find it easier to first cut the yam into slices before peeling and use either of the two methods below.
- Hold the yam slice on your non-dominant hand, hold the knife on the other hand. Position the knife as if you want to peel and orange or an apple and make a cut into the skin of the yam. Rotate the yam slice slowly against the knife so the blade removes the skin as it moves.
- Place the yam slice flat on a chopping board, use a knife to cut off the skin as shown below.
Take extra care when peeling as raw yam can cause itching. Handling should be as minimal as possible.
Similar to other vegetables, yams tend to undergo enzymatic browning when the surface is exposed to oxygen. This is why the color darkens sometimes after cutting. To reduce this browning effect, place the yam slices in water immediately after peeling.
How To Cook It
Cut off one of the ends of the yam and cut into slices.
Peel the slices and place in a bowl of water to prevent browning.
Wash the yam slices under running water to remove all sand and dirt.
Place in a saucepan filled with water making sure the water covers the yam. The pot should not be too full as yam tends to boil over. Leave some space in the pot to allow for this.
Add a pinch of salt. You only need a little salt so as not to overpower the delicately sweet taste of yam. More mature yams have more sugars and taste sweeter than new yams. If you are cooking new yam, you could add a little sugar as well for added sweetness.
Place over medium heat and allow to cook. New yam will be ready in about 15 mins, while more mature yam could take between 20 – 25 mins.
I usually check with a fork and when it goes all the way through the yam easily to break up a piece. I know the yam is done. You can also taste, and like potatoes – you will know if the yam is cooked through or not.
Recipe FAQ & Notes
They are usually available to buy in African and Asian stores.
Check for signs of damage to the tuber. Holes and cracks are usually an indication of damage. Press the tuber, you want firm flesh with no soft spots. Softness is an indication of rotting tuber.
You can store in a dry and well ventilated place. I find that yams spoil quicker here in the UK, than in Nigeria for some reason, so I freeze excess yam. Freezing is a good way to preserve for a longer period. To do this, place peeled yam slices in a ziplock bag. Flatten the bag and close, before keeping in the freezer. You will cook straight from freezing and will not be able to separate the pieces, so keep a portion per ziplock.
Boiled African yam is quite dry to eat on its own, but goes well with sauces and oils. The simplest way to enjoy it is with a drizzle of red palm oil or groundnut oil. You can also eat it with ata dindin (fried stew), fried egg, garden egg stew, corned beef stew or shito sauce like the Ghanaians.
Some African yam recipes to try…
How To Cook African Yam
- Chopping board
- ½ tuber Yam medium
- Salt a pinch
- Cut off one of the ends of the yam and cut into slices.
- Peel the slices and place in a bowl of water to prevent browning.
- Wash the yam slices under running water to remove all sand and dirt.
- Place in a saucepan filled with water making sure the water covers the yam.
- Add a pinch of salt.
- Place over medium heat and allow to cook. New yam will be ready in about 15mins, while more mature yam could take between 20 – 25 mins.
- Remove from heat.