I can’t believe I spent most of my early life disliking sweetpotatoes. The very sight of them made me cringe. Thankfully, the only time they were served in my family was at Thanksgiving. And then they were that nasty concoction of sugary sweetpotatoes with marshmallows on top. You know the dish.
Today though, sweetpotatoes have a respected place in the LunaCafe kitchen. I have learned to use their inherent sweetness, creaminess, richness, and gorgeous color as a foil for numerous complimentary ingredients, particularly bold, spicy, and acidic counterparts. When a savory sweetpotato dish fails, it is usually because of blandness and sweetness that are not balanced with sufficient acid. I rarely buy a bag of sweetpotatoes without also thowing in a couple of juicy limes or a bottle of fresh, acidic apple cider — both are perfect sweetness balancers, and add interesting and complementary flavors as well.
I love to browse the local farmer’s markets in the fall to check out all the available varieties of sweetpotatoes: Beauregard, Hannah, Jewel, Nemagold, and Centennial, to name a few. The yams that are available in the Northwest, such as Red Garnet, are actually a variety of sweetpotato, so I look for those too. There are subtle differences that beg to be explored in the kitchen.
This fall, inspired by the bounty at the farmers markets, I developed several new soups using sweetpotatoes and yams, one of which I am sharing with you today. If you love sweetpotatoes, you will love this soup. But even if you don’t, try this recipe. It will change your mind.
By the way, I learned at the Oregon State University website that sweetpotato is now considered one word, to distinguish it from the potato family, to which it does not belong.
INGREDIENT NOTE Many of the winter squashes also make fine substitutes for sweetpotatoes: baby pumpkin, acorn, butternut, carnival, the smaller kabochas, or delicata, to name several commonly available varieties. For more information on winter squash varieties, selection, preparation, and storage, check out the Winter Squash Fresh Primer.
Curried Sweetpotato, Ginger, & Coconut Bisque with Cilantro Lime Oil & Toasted Coconut
This is a sublime, intriguing, golden-orange bisque–creamy, spicy, and bold. Although you may be tempted to skip the garnish elements, don’t. They lift the flavor, adding a surprising and welcome counterpoint. Also, sweetpotatoes demand salt in the same way that potatoes do. You will need to add more than you think reasonable.
vegetable oil spray
1 pound sweetpotatoes or yams, peeled and cut in 2-inch chunks
1 head garlic, top ½ inch cut off to expose the garlic cloves
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups, peeled, finely chopped yellow onion (1 medium onion)
2 cups finely chopped leek, white and pale green portions only (about 1½ large leeks)
1 cup, peeled, finely chopped carrot
3 tablespoon peeled, minced fresh ginger
1-2 jalapeno chiles, stemmed, seeded, ribbed, and minced (use gloves)
finely grated zest of one lime
1 tablespoon best-quality curry powder (Madras brand is excellent)
1 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
6 cups chicken stock
One 13.5 ounce can coconut milk
1 cup heavy cream
3-4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
fine sea salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper
unsweetened coconut shards, lightly toasted (Bob’s Red Mill Unsweetened Flaked Coconut is available in supermarkets)
Cilantro Lime Oil (see recipe below)
- Lightly coat an edged baking sheet with vegetable spray.
- Arrange the sweet potatoes, along with the head of garlic in a single layer on the sheet and roast at 375° for 35-45 minutes, until fully tender.
- Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large casserole or soup pot and slowly cook the onion, leek, carrot, ginger, and chilies until softened, but not browned, about 20 minutes.
- During the last 5 minutes, add the lime zest, curry powder and thyme. Remove from the heat and hold until the sweet potatoes are ready to add.
- When the sweet potatoes are tender, remove to a food processor fitted with the steel blade.
- Squeeze the garlic from the papery shell and add to the processor.
- Puree the sweet potatoes and garlic, slowly adding 1 cup of the chicken stock to get a smooth puree.
- Scrape the mixture from the bowl of the processor, measure out 3½ cups, and add that to the soup pot, along with the remaining 5 cups of chicken stock and the coconut milk. (Any remaining sweet potato puree can be refrigerated and used later. I like to add it to mashed potatoes.)
- Stir until incorporated, and then gently simmer until the flavors are melded and the liquid has reduced slightly, about 15 minutes. (For a more formal presentation, puree the soup with a hand-held immersion blender.)
- Finally, add the cream and then adjust the flavor by adding salt, pepper, and plenty of lime juice until a flavor balance is achieved.
- To serve, ladle 1 1/2 cups of soup into each bowl, drizzle sour cream and Cilantro Lime Oil over the top, and then scatter a few toasted coconut shards in the center of each bowl and sprinkle with chopped cilantro.
Makes 10-12 cups; serves 6-8.
Cilantro Lime Oil
small handful cilantro
3-inch length of a bunch of green onions
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
- In the bowl of a processor fitted with the steel blade, finely chop the cilantro and green onion.
- Slowly add the oil and process until well blended.
- Add the lime juice, and then add salt to taste.
- Refrigerate until ready to use.
Makes ¾ cup.