Harvest Kitchen Sweet Potatoes

Spring 2009
by Roberta Bailey

When I was just starting to garden in northern Maine, I would stop at a small, local greenhouse to ask the older woman who ran the operation about seedling problems or how to plant something. I no longer remember her name or much of what she looked like, but I vividly recall the lush plants she grew every year on the last 15 feet of bench space. A carpet of growth spilled from half-gallon milk cartons with their tops cut off. These plants were much more advanced than anything else growing there. When I asked what they were, she replied, ”Oh, those are my lima beans. They’re not for sale.”

I hold the memory of those plants as a snapshot explanation, a wordless, complete understanding of the avid gardener’s quest for what is just beyond his or her reach, the plants that don’t quite mature in his or her growing season. After the basics are mastered, the tendrils of curiosity reach beyond green beans and tomatoes. Some raise peanuts, giant pumpkins or watermelons, rice, quinoa, mushrooms, even ‘Silver Queen’ corn (or winter squash, if you live in northern Aroostook County). Others try pawpaws, hickory trees or peaches. (Let us all pause to say a prayer for the generous peach trees that bore so heavily after the last few milder winters. May they come through this past winter with little damage.)

Sometimes these quests reward us with success, and we feed our bodies. Other times they merely feed our souls and our need to learn or play or strive for what is just beyond our reach.

I have grown sweet potatoes off and on with varying degrees of success. I really enjoyed the process of growing my own slips, first using the warmth of a pilot light on a propane stove, later an old crock pot for the heat required to sprout the “slips.” (See the feature on growing sweet potatoes in this MOF&G.) Like all homegrown food, the sweet roots were so much better than those in the markets. Perhaps it is time to try them again. It seems to be a time for hope, a time to feed the soul, and the body.

Sweet Potato Biscuits

1 c. all-purpose flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
2 Tbsp. butter
3/4 c. mashed sweet potatoes
1/4 c. milk or other liquid

Preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C). In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in the butter until it is in pea-size pieces or smaller. Mix the maple syrup with the sweet potatoes, then mix with the dry ingredients and add enough of the milk/liquid to make a soft dough. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and roll or pat it to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut circles of dough with a biscuit cutter or a drinking glass. Place biscuits 1 inch apart on a greased baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden brown.

Sweet Potato Burritos

1 Tbsp. vegetable or olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 green sweet pepper, diced
6 c. cooked pinto beans
1 to 2 c. bean cooking water
3 Tbsp. chili powder
2 tsp. ground cumin
4 tsp. prepared mustard
1 pinch cayenne pepper to taste (or add fresh minced hot pepper to sauté step above)
3 Tbsp. tamari
4 c. cooked and mashed sweet potatoes
12 10-inch flour tortillas, warmed
8 to 12 ounces grated Monterey Jack cheese
1 c. sliced black olives (optional)
1 c. chopped cilantro (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C). Heat oil in a medium skillet and sauté onion, pepper and garlic until soft. Stir in beans, and mash. Gradually stir in bean water as needed to make a creamy puree, and heat until warm. Remove from heat. Stir in the chili powder, cumin, mustard, cayenne pepper and soy sauce. Divide bean mixture and mashed sweet potatoes evenly between the warm flour tortillas. Top with cheese, olives and cilantro. Fold tortillas burrito style and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 12 minutes.

Apple Sweet Potato Bake
(Peaches or pears can substitute for apples.)

3 c. sliced, peeled, cooked sweet potatoes
3 c. sliced, peeled, tart apples
1/2 c. honey or maple syrup
3/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. salt
1 dash pepper
3 Tbsp. butter

In a mixing bowl stir together sweet potatoes, apples, honey/maple syrup and spices. Place in a greased, 1-1/2-quart baking dish. Dot with butter. Cover and bake at 350 for 15 minutes. Baste with pan juices. Bake, uncovered, 15 minutes longer or until the apples are tender.

Caribbean Sweet Potato Salad

1 large Russet potato, peeled and quartered
1 large sweet potato, peeled and quartered
1 c. corn
1 tsp. prepared Dijon-style mustard
2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
1 clove garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. canola or olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1 cucumber, halved lengthwise and chopped
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 c. finely chopped peanuts (optional)

Steam the Russet potato pieces and the sweet potato pieces in a saucepan with a steamer rack until tender. Remove a piece of each potato and cut it in half to see if it is cooked enough. Once the potatoes are tender, add corn kernels; cook for another 30 seconds. Place in a colander and cool under running water. In a large bowl, whisk together mustard, lime juice, cilantro and garlic. Slowly whisk in oil. Mix in salt and black pepper. Cut cooled potatoes into 1-inch cubes and add to dressing along with cucumber and red onion. Toss well. Serve at room temperature or chilled. Toss the peanuts in just before serving.

Sweet Potato and Chicken Curry
Serves 4

2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. cardamom, ground
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
1 green chili, deseeded and chopped
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 2/3 c. (1 can) light coconut milk
8 chicken thighs or 4 chicken breasts, skinned
4 c. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
Juice of 1 lemon
Fresh cilantro or parsley leaves
Rice to serve

Heat the oil in a pan and add the onion, garlic, ginger and chili. Fry gently, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Add the cardamom in the last minute. Stir in the turmeric, ground coriander and light coconut milk. Salt to taste and bring to a boil. Cut each chicken breast into six large pieces or thighs into four pieces. Put the chicken into the sauce, reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Stir in sweet potatoes, cover and simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove the cover from the pan, increase the heat slightly and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through, the sauce has thickened and the sweet potatoes are tender. Stir a couple of times toward the end of cooking to prevent the sauce from sticking. Stir in lemon juice to taste. Sprinkle with cilantro or parsley leaves and serve over the rice.

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