[Eds: 365 Foods welcomes back Deb, of National Buttercrunch Day fame!]

Let me take you on an amazing journey. It turns out that sweet potatoes are one of the best-traveled vegetables around! Domesticated 5,000 years ago between the Yucatán Peninsula and the mouth of the Orinoco River in Venezuela, they spread to the Caribbean and South America by 2500 BC. From there, the adventurous tuber’s distribution forms the basis for one fairly mind-boggling theory of early human migration:

The presence throughout Polynesia of the kumara, a sweet potato native to South America, is a bit of a puzzle. It grows from a tuber and could not have been carried by birds; nor could it have survived being swept there by ocean currents from South America. Moreover, the plant is known to Polynesians by its South American name. The current theory is therefore that it was brought to central Polynesia around 700 AD by Polynesians who had, remarkably, traveled to South America and back – a distance of about 7,000 miles through open sea, with no navigable landmarks other than the stars…

The first Europeans to taste sweet potatoes were with Columbus’ expedition in 1492. Nowadays they are used throughout the world for everything from flour to noodle starch to our very own candied Thanksgiving side dishes – not to mention the yummy recipes presented below. One example I like is “amukeke” (sun sweet potato dried slices) and “inginyo” (sun dried crushed sweet potatoes) – a staple breakfast food for people in northeastern Uganda, where they are eaten with peanut sauce, generally with a cup of tea, around 10 am.

But I. batata’s uses don’t stop there. A feature in folklore around the world, sweet potato was used in Moche (early Peruvian) ceramics, and Taiwanese companies are now making alcohol fuel from this multi-purpose tuber. One Caribbean wise woman claims that eating sweet potato cures night blindness.

Important note: Sweet potatoes are not yams! Yams are the orange-fleshed, red-skinned potato most commonly served as fries here in Canada. Sweet potatoes, while a similar shape, have light yellow flesh, light brown skin, and a milder though still delightfully sweet taste. According to Wikipedia, “To prevent confusion, the United States Department of Agriculture requires that sweet potatoes labeled as “yams” also be labeled as “sweet potatoes.”

How this approach helps to avoid confusion, I can’t imagine.

I have chosen two recipes to share with you for National Cook a Sweet Potato Day. The first is a fresh-tasting, healthy soup with peanuts. As this will be off limits to some with allergies, I also made sweet potato pancakes. The latter can be accompanied with an easy-to-make chutney, though I left this out as well as the curry powder, and made them plain for brunch. Enjoy!

Sweet Potato and Peanut Soup (serves 6)

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger root
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 pinch ground cloves
  • 3 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped, unsalted dry-roasted peanuts (I crushed mine with the mortar and pestle)
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
  • 1 bunch chopped fresh cilantro

Instructions:

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute the onion 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Mix in the garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and cloves. Stir in the tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and carrot, and continue to cook and stir about 5 minutes.

2. Pour water into the saucepan, and season the mixture with salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes.

3. Remove the soup mixture from heat. In a food processor or blender, blend the soup and peanuts until almost smooth. Season with cayenne pepper. Return to the saucepan. Whisk in the peanut butter, and cook until heated through. Serve warm topped with fresh cilantro.

Sweet Potato Cakes with Mango-Pineapple Chutney (serves 6)

Ingredients:

Chutney:

  • 1 1/3 cups 1/3-inch cubes peeled cored fresh pineapple
  • 1/2 large mango, peeled, cut into 1/3-inch cubes (2/3 cup)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Potato cakes:

  • 1 8-ounce sweet potato
  • 1 8-ounce russet potato
  • 3 tablespoons grated onion
  • 2 large eggs, beaten to blend
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro plus sprigs for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup Greek-style yogurt*

Instructions:

For chutney:

Combine all ingredients in heavy medium saucepan. Simmer over medium heat 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and set aside.

For potato cakes:

Heat oven to 300°F. Peel both potatoes and coarsely grate into medium bowl. Place grated potatoes and onion in clean cloth and squeeze out excess liquid. Place potatoes and onion in large bowl. Add eggs, chopped cilantro, flour, curry powder, and sea salt; mix to incorporate evenly.

Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Measure scant 1/4 cupful of mixture, shape into ball, and add to skillet. Using spatula, gently flatten ball to 1/3-inch-thick, 3-inch-diameter pancake. Repeat, forming 3 more pancakes. Fry until golden, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer pancakes to prepared baking sheet; keep warm in oven. Repeat with remaining mixture for total of 8 pancakes.

Place pancakes on plates. Spoon yogurt, then chutney atop pancakes. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper; garnish with cilantro sprigs.

Or, serve as brunch with eggs over easy, crisp bacon, coffee, and good company!

~ Deb

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