Sweet Green

Sweet Potato Greens 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!Cooked Sweet Potato Greens

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

  1. Wash the greens well and remove any especially long stems.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Sweet Potato Pancake

There’s only 1 week until Thanksgiving–my favorite food holiday of the year. My Thanksgiving is pretty traditional — turkey, stuffing and seasonal side dishes, but I often like to try a new recipe with the old familiar ingredients.

I love sweet potatoes, but I’ve never been a big fan of the ubiquitous super sweet Candied Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows. This year I decided to make this Sweet Potato Pancake. Quick to prepare, the pancake is shaped by filling a non-stick or cast-iron pan with grated sweet potato and pressing on it as it cooks, until it conforms to the shape of the pan. The natural starch in the potato helps the pancake hold together and gives it a crispy, delicate texture.

The only tricky part of this pancake is the flipping. Its difficult to do with a spatula, so I usually employ a different method: After the pancake is browned and crispy on one side, I slide the pancake onto a plate and invert the empty pan over the pancake. Then, with one confident motion, flip the two over together, returning the pancake to the pan.

I serve the pancake with a dollop of creme fraiche– the French version of sour cream– mixed with a little chile pepper for heat. To me, the tangy-spicy mixture balances the sweetness of the potatoes, much better than marshmallows.

Sweet Potato Pancake with Chile Crème Fraiche

Makes 1 large pancake

3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and coarsely grated (about 2 cups)

2 teaspoons minced garlic

2 teaspoons chopped sage

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Clarified butter or canola oil for cooking

½ cup crème fraiche

1 teaspoon minced jalapeno or Serrano chile

1 teaspoon lime or lemon zest

2 teaspoons fresh lime or lemon juice

¼ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  1. Combine the grated sweet potato, garlic, sage, salt and pepper in a bowl.
  2. Warm an 8-inch non stick sauté pan over medium heat. Add enough clarified butter to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the sweet potato mixture and press with a spatula to fit the grated potato neatly in the pan.
  3. Cook the pancake over medium heat, pressing the surface periodically to encourage the potatoes to stick together and help the pancake form. If the pan begins to look too dry, drizzle a little more clarified butter around the edges of the cake. When the bottom of the potatoes are amber brown and beginning to crisp, flip the pancake over. Add a little more clarified butter to the pan. Continue to cook the pancake until the second side is crispy and brown and the potatoes are tender. Remove the pancake from the pan and drain on paper towels.
  4. Combine the crème fraiche, jalapeno, lime zest, lime juice, salt and pepper in a bowl. Cut the pancake into wedges and serve with the crème fraiche.