Photo by Ashley Meyer
My daughter with one of her finds from our garden.
I should know never to go into the vegetable garden without a basket and shears. I’d ended up there with my toddler, following her as she wandered aimlessly about our property on a sunny autumn afternoon. Several days had passed since I’d last been out in the garden, and in that time we’d had the first cold snap of the season. The tomatoes, eggplant and peppers just showed the faintest nip of frost in their upper canopy, lush with foliage and laden with fruit. The sweet potato vines, however, had thoroughly succumbed to the cold. This was my first attempt at growing this garden staple, and I’d been impressed with the plants’ resilience all summer long. Several times the vines were eaten down by deer, only to regrow with gusto in just a few days.
Out of curiosity I pulled back some of the straw beneath the now-dead vines, revealing a glorious cluster of vivid orange tubers. It was like unearthing a glorious hidden treasure, and before long baby and I were digging through the dirt with our bare hands, pulling up sweet potatoes that ranged from massive to tiny. What started with a single six-pack of plants that I purchased from Suttill’s Gardens back in May ultimately yielded nearly 40 pounds of sweet spuds.
Luckily, sweet potatoes are good keepers. I roasted some of the freshly dug spuds that night for dinner, but the rest I arranged on a table covered with newspapers in our basement to let them cure for about two weeks. Air drying them like this makes them sweeter and allows a sort of second skin to develop on them, which will help them keep longer. After they have cured, I’ll wrap each potato in newspaper and stack them in an old milk crate. Stored in this way, in a cool dry place, these sweet potatoes will keep for about six months.
Because of their high fiber content, low glycemic index and high nutrient content, sweet potatoes have been embraced by various diets, from Weight Watchers to Paleo to Whole 30. Sweet potatoes are as nutritious as they are delicious, and there are myriad ways to prepare them. Most of the sweet potatoes I dug out of our garden will simply be roasted whole before being topped with butter and fresh herbs for dinner, but some of them will make their way into savory soups and hearty hash topped with poached eggs. And I’ll be sure to save some to make into a pie for a homegrown finish to our Thanksgiving dinner.
Spicy Sweet Potato Chipotle Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt, to taste
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
½-1 chipotle in adobo sauce, to taste
1 heaping teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
2 quarts chicken or vegetable broth, unsalted or low sodium
Sour cream and chopped cilantro to serve
In a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat, sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil until it softens and begins to turn golden brown. Add a healthy pinch of salt, then add the chopped sweet potatoes, cumin and cinnamon, and chipotle (if you want to make this soup less spicy, just use a small spoonful of the adobo sauce in the can, rather than the whole chili. You can also omit the chipotle entirely and substitute a teaspoon of smoked paprika if you want it totally mild). Pour in the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the sweet potatoes are totally soft, about 15-20 minutes. Let the soup cool slightly. Working in batches, purée the soup in a blender until smooth. (Use caution when blending hot liquids as pressure can build up and blow the top off the blender.) Return the soup to the pot and reward over low heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish each bowl with a dollop of sour cream and chopped cilantro. This soup tastes even better the next day and freezes wonderfully.
Brown Butter Sweet Potato Pie
I’ve come to prefer sweet potato pie over pumpkin pie. The flavor is nearly identical, but the sweet potato version has a much silkier texture.
1 pre-baked pie shell (get my mom’s recipe for classic pie crust here: https://illinoistimes.com/article-10684-as-easy-as-pie.html)
2 ½ pounds sweet potatoes
½ cup unsalted butter
½ cup half and half
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
Prick the sweet potatoes with a fork and roast in the oven or microwave till cooked through, about 1 hour in a 350-degree oven or 8-10 minutes in the microwave. Set them aside to cool.
While the sweet potatoes cook, brown the butter. Place the butter in a saucepan over medium heat and melt it, stirring continually with a heatproof spatula. The butter will foam, then the foam will dissipate, then it will foam again. Meanwhile you will start to see little brown specks form as the milk solids begin to caramelize. Once it has foamed up a second time, remove from the heat and pour the hot brown butter (be sure to scrape up all the yummy brown specks) into a heatproof bowl and set aside to cool.
When sweet potatoes are cool, slice them in half and scoop out the flesh and place in the bowl of a food processor. Purée until totally smooth. Then add the cooled brown butter, half and half, brown sugar, eggs, spices and salt. Pour the sweet potato filling into your prepared pie shell and place in a preheated 350-degree oven for 45-60 minutes, until the filling is set and the pie doesn’t jiggle in the middle. Transfer to a rack and let it cool completely. Serve with whipped cream.