Zestful Sweet Spuds

November 12, 2009

Said Aristotle unto Plato,
“Have another sweet potato?”
Said Plato unto Aristotle,
“Thank you, I prefer the bottle.”

~Owen Wister

A moist, spicy autumn darling. The sweet, dense flesh of sweet potatoes is enhanced by the variegated zing of coconut milk, curry paste, nutmeg, cinnamon…and that hint of orange on orange on the finish. Something about redheads.


4 lbs sweet potatoes
4 T unsalted butter

3/4 C coconut milk
1 T Thai red curry paste
1 T honey
1/2 T light brown sugar
1/4 t freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 t ground cinnamon

Sea salt and freshly ground black (or white) pepper

Zest of 1 orange

Preheat oven to 400 F

Prick potatoes with a fork in several places. Bake potatoes until quite tender, about 1 hour. When cool enough to handle, peel and mash well with butter.

Meanwhile in a medium heavy saucepan, heat coconut milk with curry paste, honey, brown sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon over low heat and whisk until well mingled. Stir enough coconut/curry mixture into mashed sweet potatoes to achieve the desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Immediately stir in orange zest and serve.

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.

Flatfish & Mussel Ceviche

August 24, 2009

A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.
~William Shakespeare, (Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 3)

A friend just returned from Peru where she visited the mystical pre-Columbian Inca site of Machu Picchu. Our mummy bag accompanied and warmed her at night on her life journey. Machu Picchu by osmosis. Her homecoming was a shameful reminder that, to date, only one ceviche recipe appears on the site (see Ceviche: Debated Ancestry 03.27.09). Time to remedy that oversight.


1 lb white skinless fish fillets, such as flounder or sole
1 lb fresh shelled mussels, cleaned and rinsed
1 C fresh lime juice, freshly squeezed

1/2 t salt
1 plump fresh garlic clove, peeled and finely diced
2 fresh serrano peppers, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped

1 T chopped parsley
1 T chopped cilantro
1/4 C yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
1/4 C red onion, peeled and finely diced

2 C corn kernels
1 lb sweet potatoes, roasted, peeled, and cut into 1/2″ slices, then half disks
1-2 avocadoes, halved, peeled and sliced

Chill bowls in the freezer.

Cut the fish fillets horizontally into 2″ x 1/4″ slices. Soak the fish and mussels in lime juice for at least 2 hours. Add the salt, garlic, and chili and refrigerate for another hour before serving.

Roast the sweet potatoes in the skin until a fork pierces the meat easily, about 45 minutes in a 375 F oven. Cool, then peel, and cut into 1/4″ slices, then half disks

Just before serving, fold in the parsley, cilantro, and onion and slice the avocadoes.

Divide and mound the ceviche in the center of each bowl. Surround with fanned sweet potato and avocadoes slices topped by corn. Serve immediately.