Posts Tagged ‘vitamins’

The Greens of Summer: sweet potatoes

This year, for the first time, I learned that there’s more to the sweet potato than its tuber. It came as news to me that throughout Africa and southern Asia the vine that we know as the sweet potato (Ipomea batata) is often grown for its leaves. Mine were started by putting an organic sweet potato in a pot of dirt in a warm place. It needs to be organic, because the grocery-store kind are treated with chemicals to stop them from sprouting.  I planted a few in a pot thinking that they would be lush and green and heat-resistant, and any tubers that they produced would be a bonus. After reading about the use of their leaves in other countries, I cautiously broke off one and nibbled on it. It had a crisp texture and a mild pleasant flavor, and I started adding them to salads. As the vines grew, I had enough to start cooking them. I used them in greens mixtures (see the “recipes” page on my website, and found that they balanced the stronger-flavored greens very well. I especially liked using them to make Hawaiian creamed greens. Here in the high desert, a source of fresh green leaves that takes our summer sun and heat in stride is a valuable commodity, and even after a summer of snipping them to bits, I got some roots in the fall. Not as many as if I’d left them alone, of course, but the total harvest of salads, greens, and tubers over 3 months was considerable, and all from one 19″ pot.

By the way, I couldn’t find any exact assays, but I’ve read that they are unusually high in protein for greens, high in lutein, and full of all the other vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants typically found in leafy greens.

Hawaiian Creamed Sweet Potato Leaves

Pick over and wash well about 6 quarts of sweet potato leaves. This measure is the very loosely packed leaves just as they come off the vine. Chop 2 cloves of garlic and a 1X2″ peeled section of ginger into fine bits. Heat about 2 tablespoons of coconut oil (preferable) or canola oil in a pan and when hot, add the garlic and ginger bits. As soon as the fragrance comes up, but before the bits brown or burn, toss in the leaves, a can of coconut milk, a small green chile (Serrano or similar) chopped up, and a tablespoon of Asian fish sauce. Bring to a boil, simmer about 10 minutes, check whether any salt is needed, and serve. To make a full meal you can serve with a good turmeric rice pilaf, and if you aren’t a vegetarian, some good peeled shrimp simmered with the rest are really delicious. I like a squeeze of fresh lemon juice over the top, too.

If you have the energy to make your own coconut milk, well, more power to you. I used to be that sort of purist but tend to use organic canned these days. Just make sure it’s pure coconut milk (no sugar), and avoid the “lite” low-fat versions, which lack both creaminess and flavor.

Waste not


On the “recipes” page of my website,, I have a section of recipes and techniques for leafy greens. I discuss there how I mix all sorts of greens, blanch them, and then proceed with a recipe or freeze them for later use. When I’m processing a lot of greens, five or six large bunches may go through the blanching water. When I’m done, there sits the stockpot, full of a fluid brimming with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and flavor. No way does it go down the drain.

Boil the greens broth hard, until it’s reduced to about 2/3 of its former volume. Now pour it into a big bowl, wipe your stockpot clean, heat it well over medium heat, film the bottom with a few tablespoons of decent olive oil, and put in a yellow onion cut in half but skin left on (naturally you wash it well first), a good fresh carrot scrubbed and cut in thin slices, and two shallots cut in half, skin and all. Saute’ the vegetables for at least ten minutes, probably longer. You want the cut sides of the alliums to be cooked-looking and browned in places but not scorched anywhere. The pour in the greens broth, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and simmer at least half an hour, up to an hour if you have time. I like to put the carrot greens and a few sprigs each of parsley and leaf celery in to simmer with the rest. A few old Parmesan rinds simmered in with the vegetables give a great flavor.

When finished, you have a very good vegetarian broth which can be used immediately or frozen for later use. It can be canned if you have a pressure canner, and this is a good way to save freezer space. Whenever pressure canning, scrupulously follow the directions in the Ball Blue Book for our altitude, to ensure a safe product.

You can use it in soups, as a cooking liquid for rice or other grains, or anywhere you might use a meat broth, although you will achieve a different flavor and a different look. The onion skins give it a nice color if you used yellow onions. A greens risotto with made with this broth and with sauteed greens in olive oil and garlic stirred in just before serving is truly delicious. On a simpler note, it makes a good light lunch just salted to taste and poured over a grilled piece of good sourdough bread, with good Parmesan grated in generously. Perfume it by grinding some black pepper into the bowl just before eating.