I had no idea one could eat sweet potato vines until earlier this year. Like every good European gardener I knew that every part of the regular potato above the ground was poisonous and just assumed the same was true of the sweet potatoes. How wrong I was!
When we got sweet potato vines in the pick box this week I immediately thought about a Chinese stir fry but I also wondered whether they were eaten in Africa as well.
We tried Frog Song’s vines in a stir fry from Katie Cannon. We had them with brown rice and Fuchsia Dunlop’s Pock Marked Mother Chen’s Bean Curd (Ma Po Dou Fu, sounds better in Chinese doesn’t it, but delicious in any language) and her Steamed Eggplant with Chile Sauce that I mentioned in an earlier post. But I have to say, the addition of the fish sauce did not make this a Bethany favorite. Just a bit too pungent. Next time I will stir fry them in a hot and garlicky sauce.
Getting the vines from Frog Song made me look at the vines in my own garden, which at this time of year are rapidly taking over. So I send Bethany out to bring back a laundry basket full of vine clippings (I kid you not) and began preparing a version of this recipe. I couldn’t get goat, so I used lamb, find a nice fatty cut. I also didn’t pound the leaves, just cut them and I didn’t cook the leaves for so long. No need to boil them to death, they will meld in the stew nicely enough. Finally, I just used a few fried anchovies instead of making a fish stock. Also, note in the recipe at Shepherd’s Song the cooked leaves are “set aside” and, as far as I can tell, never make it back into the stew!
1 half cup of peanut butter (I used Smucker’s Natural Chunky. Use one with nothing but peanuts.)
Salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to boiling. In the meantime, brown the lamb chops in the oil until nicely browned on both sides. Remove from the skillet and place in the bottom of a casserole. Add the diced onion, the anchovies, garlic, and eggplant to the remaining oil and brown. Grind one chili and add it to the onions. Add the spring onions. Place the chopped sweet potato leaves in the boiling water and cook until bright green. Remove from the water and place in the casserole on top of the meat. Then place the browned onion mixture on top of that. Season the whole thing generously with salt and pepper. Add the second chili, whole. Add enough of the water from the vines to almost, but not quite cover the meat and vegetables. Mix the peanut butter with another half a cup of the cooking water and add that to the casserole. Cover and bake in the oven for approximately one hour. Remove the casserole from the oven. Fish around in the stew to remove the chops. The meat should easily fall away from the the bone and remaining fat. Return the meat to the stew, stir and adjust the seasoning.
Serve over brown rice. We drank a Californian Pinot Noir with it, but you could choose a more full bodied red.
Yet another thing I had never heard of. I regard myself as a reasonably knowledgeable gardener and eater, but that is now twice in four weeks that the folks at Frog Song
have stumped me. First with papalo and now with this sweet pepper. This was not in the CSA box this week, we just picked it up at the market.
John assured us that this was a sweet pepper. But come on! Look at them, they look just like a red hot pepper, maybe an Anaheim or a fresh arbol. So, somewhat dubious, we brought them home. I nibbled the end of one, no heat. So I sliced one and ate a seed. Most of the heat of a pepper is in the pith and the seeds, not the flesh. Still no heat. So this is what we did with them.
Sausage with mushrooms, peppers, and onions
2 mild Italian sausages (Wholefoods or The Meat House have good ones.)
2 red onions, sliced radially (stem to root.)
1 clove of garlic, chopped.
8 oz crimini mushrooms, quartered.
8 oz Nardello peppers, cut in half with the pith and seeds removed.
1 tbsp olive oil. More if necessary.
1/2 cup of red wine.
Salt and pepper to taste.
Brown the sausage in the oil in a skillet. Remove, slice, and set aside.
Sauté the onions in the same pan until beginning to brown. Remove and set aside. Add the peppers to the pan, try and keep as much of the skins on the skillet bottom as possible so that the skins brown and blister. Add the onions back in and the garlic until they are thoroughly cooked through. Add salt and pepper. Remove everything and set aside. Add the mushrooms and sausage to the pan. Add the thyme. You may need to add a little more oil. Cook covered until the mushrooms are cooked. Add the wine and reduce. Then put back the peppers and onions and cook until the favors meld. Not long. At this point you can leave the dish on a warm stove top, or simmering, covered until you are ready to serve. Correct the seasoning, serve in a large serving dish with a splash of balsamic vinegar. It is great with crusty bread and a green salad.
Jimmy Nardello peppers came from Italy in the 19th century. Jimmy Nardello donated them to the Seed Savers Exchange. They are a lovely Italian frying pepper.
One of my oldest and most beloved cookbooks is Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery which Bethany and I must have bought in London back in the mid eighties. The pages of favorite recipes are stained with the rich colors of Indian spices and splattered with oil.
Here is her lovely way to prepare okra, or as they were traditionally known in Britain, ladies fingers (yuck) and, much more evocatively called by Jaffrey, bhindi.
Sweet and Sour Okra.
14 oz okra
7 cloves of garlic
1 whole dried hot red chili
7 tbsp of water.
2 tsp of ground cumin.
1 tsp of ground coriander
1/2 tsp of turmeric
4 tbsp of vegetable oil.
1 tsp of cumin seeds.
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
4 tsp lemon juice.
Cut the okra into 3/4 inch rounds. Put the garlic and chilli in a blender with 3 tsp of water. Blend to a paste. Add the ground cumin, coriander, and turmeric, blend briefly to mix.
Heat the oil to medium in a skillet. When hot, add the whole cumin seeds. As soon as the seeds begin to sizzle, turn the heat down and add the spice paste. Stir and fry for a minute. Add the okra, salt, sugar and lemon juice and the rest of the water. Stir to mix and bring to a gentle simmer. Cover tightly and cook until the okra is tender, no more than ten minutes.
My new favorite way to cook amaranth leaves. This is another variation on a Fuchsia Dunlop recipe from Land of Plenty.
Amaranth can be a somewhat fibrous vegetable, so prepping is well worth the time. Nip off the smallest leaves and set aside. Nip the leaves from the petiole at the base, so that the petiole remains on the stem (not sure about your parts of the leaf? See here.) using a paring knife, strip the petioles from the stem pulling them down the stem so that you remove the petiole and some of the fibers from the stem, just like you would peal a stick of rhubarb. Wash everything thoroughly. Amaranth can be gritty as well. Chop the stems in half inch pieces and roughly chop the leaves. Now you are ready to begin. By the way, this prep is pretty much what I use for any amaranth recipe. Here is the recipe.
Amaranth in Hot Garlicky Sauce
One bunch of amaranth, prepped as above.
Four tablespoons of sweet aromatic soy sauce (fu zhi jiang you).
Four tablespoons of chili oil.
2-3 cloves of crushed garlic.
2 teaspoons of sesame oil.
Chopped papalo (or cilantro) for garnish.
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. In the meantime mix the soy sauce, chili oil, garlic, and sesame oil in a small bowl. Blanch the amaranth for about 3-5 minutes. Test a leaf to check if it is cooked. Strain the amaranth from the water. Thoroughly mix the sauce into the amaranth and place in a serving bowl, sprinkle with the papalo. Serve warm.
We had this with dry fried yard long beans (gain bian si ji dou) and we just couldn’t resist traditional corn on the cob with lashings of butter, since it was so fresh. So this was an all-CSA meal tonight. The pork in the beans is just a flavoring and the beans are crunchy, the amaranth is very garlicky and somewhat spicy. All in all a great combination. ll washed down with a Vouvray.
* My Chinese is virtually non-existent. So I hope I have this right. Let me know if I need to correct it.
Thursday evening and this is the last of the week’s CSA. Roasting green beans is one of my favorite preparations. The combination of olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic dressing and a hot oven leads to a lovely charring and really brings out the sweetness of the beans. We ate them warm, but they make a good cold dish as well. Finish them with some good balsamic vinegar from Ancient Olive.
The whole onions, with the sweetness of the peppers, and a mild Italian sausage from Wholefoods all fried together are great way to use a surfeit of peppers.
Here are the recipes.
Roasted Green Beans
One pound of whole green beans, topped.
Two tablespoonfuls of Olive oil
Juice of one half lemon
Two cloves of garlic, sliced
Salt and Pepper
Good balsamic vinegar
Heat the oven to 450F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Wash the beans and place in a large bowl. Mix the other ingredients together and add to the beans. Toss until the beans are thoroughly covered. Spread thinly on the parchment paper and roast for 15-20 minutes or until nicely browned. Place in a suitable serving dish and dress with some good balsamic vinegar.
Peppers with Sausage
Six small onions, peeled but left whole
One mild Italian sausage
Six small sweet peppers, halved with seeds and pith removed.
Two cloves of garlic
Heat a suitable cast iron skillet with some olive oil. Add onions, when brown in parts, add the whole sausage. When brown, remove the sausage and cut into slices. Return to pan. Add peppers and salt and pepper. Reduce heat and cook covered until flavors blend and peppers are thoroughly soft and their skin charred. Transfer to a suitable serving dish and deglaze the skillet with red wine. Add wine sauce to the serving dish. Adjust seasoning.
goes very well with a cheap and cheerful Primativo and a crusty loaf of bread.
My favorite thing to do with a bunch of amaranth leaves is to make Jamaican Callaloo. Callaloo seems to be one of those words that is used to mean the soup, the cooked vegetable, and the growing vegetable, at least in Jamaica. Callaloo soup in Trinidad seems to be made with a different plant. I use a a variation of this recipe.
Amaranth grows very well in Florida. Once you have it in the garden, you will never get rid of it and it is a green that will survive the heat and humidity of a Florida summer, so I am not surprised to find it in Frog Song’s CSA box this week.
Here is the recipe that makes enough for four.
One large bunch of amaranth leaves.
One onion, sliced.
One clove of garlic, sliced.
Few sprigs of thyme.
Half a dozen okra.
Four cups of chicken broth. I like to make my own, but we didn’t have any in the house today.
Half a pound of crab meat (more about that later.)
One whole scotch bonnet or habanero pepper (I got mine from a friend’s garden.)
One cup of coconut milk (I have seen various callaloo recipes with this, but having made the soup with it, I don’t think it adds much to this recipe.
Wash the callaloo thoroughly. It can be one of those gritty greens. Separate the leaves from the stems and chop the stems roughly. Add all the ingredients, except the crab and the okra, to a soup pot and simmer down until cooked through. Perhaps 20 minutes. Remove the scotch bonnet pepper and be very careful to keep it whole. This way it adds great flavor but not intense heat to the soup. If you purée the pepper, watch out! It will be very hot. Strain the solids and place in a food processor and purée. If you prefer a non-puréed texture, strain the solids from the liquid and chop finely. Return to the liquid. Add the crab meat and the chopped okra. Add salt and pepper to taste and heat through. I served it with lovely Olde Hearth whole wheat levain bread.
So the verdict? Bethany likes it, but would prefer better crab. Sam is not so keen. Deborah is too polite to say. I agree, a can of crab from Publix is not a great ingredient, but this is why I titled this post the fish issue. Getting good seafood is a big problem in Central Florida. Wholefoods has some good choices, but they are very expensive. Lombardi’s isn’t great. Publix’s is slightly cheaper, but the quality is not great and you are buying into the global seafood industry (my crab came from the Philippines) with all the problems that come with it; unsustainability, poor labor conditions, and environmental damage. See this interview with Paul Greenberg on NPR’s Fresh Air for more on this issue.
My callaloo would have been great with fresh crab caught from the end of the pier by the kids on a family vacation. But is that the only way to have seafood in my diet? That doesn’t strike me as globally sustainable either. We will return to this issue when I write about our second course.