As a chef, when it comes to food I’m always on the lookout for underappreciated-readily available-edible plants. They appeal to my curiosity about trying and using all things edible and satisfy my ingrained frugality about wasting food. Last week a friend who always grows a big vegetable garden, gave me some sweet potato greens that were destined for her compost pile. I’ve never seen them for sale at my farmer’s market, but I knew they are eaten in many parts of the world, including the South. Unlike the root, they can be harvested multple times in the year and can be eaten raw or cooked. Often compared to spinach, sweet potato greens contain a lot of the same nutrients, but they lack the oxalic acid found in spinach, which is responsible for the chalky film that can coat your teeth after eating –a definite plus.
After a good washing, I trimmed away the bigger, tougher stems and gave them a quick 2-3 minute sauté. Like spinach, the leaves wilted and shrank down to nothing almost instantly. The stems stayed much crunchier and had a mild flavor with a lingering citrus-y finish. Delicious!
My usual go-to-in-a-hurry-never-go-wrong recipe is greens, olive oil and garlic, but here, to play off the delicate tangy flavor of the sweet potato greens, I left out the garlic and used spices, a small amount of hot chile and toasted coconut flakes. This combination of hot and spicy with the toasted richness of the coconut creates a balanced contrast to the fresh greens.
Sweet Potato Greens with Mustard Seed, Cumin, Chiles and Toasted Coconut
Makes 2 servings
½ pound sweet potato greens
2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut flakes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (or try coconut oil for a more pronounced coconut flavor)
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon minced chile pepper
Salt to taste
- Wash the greens well and remove any especially long stems.
- Warm a 10” or 12” sauté pan over medium heat. Add the coconut flakes and stir for 1-2 minutes until the coconut begins to turn a golden brown color. Scrape the coconut into a small bowl and set aside.
- Wipe out the pan, return it to medium he and add the olive oil. Add the mustard and cumin seeds and cook briefly, 1 or two minutes, stirring, until the seeds darken slightly and begin to pop. Add the chiles and continue to stir for an additional minute.
- Add the sweet potato greens and season with 1-2 pinches of salt. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the greens are gently wilted. Sprinkle the toasted coconut over the greens and stir to mix. If the greens have released an excessive amount of water, transfer them to paper towels and drain briefly before serving.