03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Yams vs. Sweet Potatoes

I fell in love on February 1, 2009. Two days later we got into our first and only fight. About root vegetables, specifically yams.

Before I continue I should say that I consider myself well versed on the subject. For six months in high school, I refused to eat anything but yams for dinner. Baked yams with butter. Baked yams with bananas. Yam fries. Boiled yams. Mashed yams. My mom could have thought my behavior toddler-esque -- the kind of thing my three-year-old cousin does ("I no eat green things"). But my mom doesn't know how to cook. So for her, my phase turned out to be pretty convenient. Poke some holes in it. Pop it in the oven. Forty minutes later, kid's fed.

I grew out of the yam craze around the time I started making out with younger boys and failing AP Calculus exams. I have no idea if the two are related.

The point is. Yams and I have a history.

Cut to five years later.

"These are my favorite. I make a killer mashed yam dish," I said, tossing them into our Whole Foods cart. It was winter in Providence. This was our first grocery trip together. We both wore plaid, flannel shirts and my long wavy brown hair was as perfect as his yellow curls. It was an intimate, cozy affair. We were loving it. And each other.

"No way. It's my favorite food too," he said. We smiled. Think corny romantic movie. "But wait. Those are sweet potatoes."

"Nope. They're yams." I had a "trust me, I would know, I ate them exclusively for a time" look on my face.

"OK. Well, no." He had an "I come from a family of vegetarians and this is one our go-to starches" look on his face.

Both of us are pretty laid back by nature. But this. This root vegetable debacle unleashed something fierce.

I no longer remember what exactly was said. Or even what the argument was about ostensibly. I think it had to do with the difference between the two vegetables and which was better for you. Neither of us really knew the hard facts. Just that one was from Africa.

Underneath it all, we were just getting to know each other and laying claim to our own favorite vegetable. I felt ownership over the yam just as Jonathan did over the sweet potato.

And so we were stuck. In the produce section. I wouldn't say yelling, but arguing loudly. With no iPhone to give us answers. Only nasty looks and budding love.

What we did was challenge each other. Silently. We would buy yams and sweet potatoes and that night for dinner each would prepare his or her favorite dish with said root. I made my mashed Yam dish, which I first concocted a few Thanksgivings ago, and Jonathan made Sweet Potato burritos.

We sat at my candle lit kitchen table, totally full and most likely gassy.

"I really liked your dish," I admitted.

"Yeah. Yours too."

Ten months later, I still make yam dishes and Jonathan makes ones with sweet potatoes. Every once in a while, we combine forces and call it yamatoes. Because that's what cooking with someone you love is about.

Lily's Mashed Yams

5 large Yams
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup brown sugar
some nutmeg
some cinnamon
pinch of cayenne pepper

Preheat over to 400 degrees F.

Poke the hell out of the yams. Put them in the microwave for a few minutes to get the cooking started. Bake until you can poke through easily. (Around 40 minutes) Let them cool until you can handle without burning yourself.

Peel the yams and mix with all other ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add more or less spices according to your preferences. When YOU think it tastes perfect, put mixture into a large baking dish. Sprinkle some extra brown sugar on top. Reheat for thirty minutes. Enjoy!

Jonathan's Sweet Potato Burritos

There are a few parts to this dish.

The sweet potatoes:

Two large sweet potatoes
1/2 onion
One clove garlic
Cayenne pepper
Garlic powder

Cut the sweet potatoes into two-inch cubes. Boil in water until barely soft. Combine onion and spices in a pan and saute until onions are browning. Add the sweet potatoes and let cook for ten minutes.

The Mexi-Veggies
1/2 of a cabbage
1/2 onion
2 cups mushrooms
one clove garlic
couple pinches salt
couple pinches pepper
cilantro (as much as you like)
a little vinegar

Chop onion, mushrooms and cabbage into half inch wide slices. Sautee oinions and finely chopped garlic for two minutes in a pan with a splash of olive oil. Add the mushrooms and cabbage. Add the rest of the ingredients - as much spice as you like and when the mushrooms and cabbage are browning, remove from heat. Add half of a fresh squeezed lime.

The Beans
1 can re-fried beans
1/2 onion
6 cloves garlic

Sautee onion, garlic, salt, pepper and cumin in a pan. Cook until the onions are "crispified." (up to ten minutes). Then add the beans. Heat the beans until they are at an almost liquidy state. Remove from heat, let them cool and get crusty.

Set these three dished out with whatever combo of tortillas, salsa, guacamole, cheese and sour cream you like.

-- By Lily Spottiswoode