Curried Sweet Potato Soup

September 29, 2009

Softer than a lullabye
Deeper than the midnight sky
Soulful as a baby’s cry
My Sweet Potato Pie

~James Taylor

Are sweet potatoes and yams birds of a feather? The short answer is no, and a still brief answer follows.

Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) belong to the Convolvulaceae or morning glory family. This fleshy, orange root vegetable is often mislabelled as a “yam,” a name adopted from nyami, a West African word for the root of a completely different genus of plants (Dioscoreae). So, sweet potatoes and true yams are not botanically synonymous. The confusion began in the antebellum era when enslaved Africans called the softer sweet potatoes “yams” because they resembled their beloved nyami from home. By word of mouth, the vernaculars of these vegs became one. Even today, the USDA requires producers to always stencil the label “yam” with the words “sweet potato” on cartons when referring to sweet potatoes.

A sweet potato’s thin skin may be white, yellow, orange, red, or purple, and its shape may be like a potato, or more tubular with long tapered ends. There are about 400 varieties, which are grouped into two categories.

Native to Central or South America, sweet potatoes are one of the oldest vegetables known to civilization. They have been enjoyed since prehistoric times as evidenced by archaelogical digs in Peruvian caves that have uncovered sweet potato relics dating back 10,000 years.

Christopher Columbus bestowed sweet potatoes upon Europe after his first voyage to the New World in 1492. By the 16th century, they were brought to the Philippines by Spanish explorers and to Africa, India, Indonesia and southern Asia by the Portuguese. During colonial times, sweet potatoes began to be cultivated in the southern United States where they have become a culinary tradition.

This is beta-carotene in a bowl. An intensely orange soup brimming with complex flavors and chocked with nutrition—vitamin A, vitamin C and antioxidant rich.


2 T unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 T fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/4 C dried apricots, coarsely chopped
2-3 T curry powder

4 C vegetable or chicken stock
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

2 T honey
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
Plain yogurt

Melt butter in a large heavy saucepan over medium high heat. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, apricots and curry powder, and sauté until soft but not browned. Add the stock and sweet potatoes, and bring to a gentle boil. Cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 25 minutes.

Add the honey, and then purée the potato mixture in a food processor or blender in batches or use a hand immersion blender.

Return the soup to the saucepan over very low heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the soup into bowls, top with a scattering of cilantro and serve each with a dollop of yogurt.

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