What kind of sweet potato person are you? A. Eat sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving meal and don’t eat them otherwise; B. Eat sweet potatoes year round; C. Don’t eat sweet potatoes. I predict most folks fall into the holiday eater group and these lovely tubers get ignored the rest of the year. What a shame because they are nutritionally loaded with Vitamins A and C. And, the better part (for some), they taste great even under the simplest of cooking methods (boiled or baked) and without added fats and spices.
Here, however, we’re using the spice rack . . . Jamaican style! Sweet potatoes are simmered in a warm spice mixture common to Carribbean cuisine: ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, cloves and allspice. Then, it’s made luscious with coconut milk. For an added touch of Caribbean influence, I’ve added okra and I served it all on a bed of sautéed kale, since it was easier to locate in my neighborhood than the Jamaican spinach callaloo.
This is a vegetarian curry that can be enjoyed as a main or a side. It’s nutritious comfort food when the weather outside is frightful. It is hearty akin to the consistency of a thick butternut squash soup. And, the taste is deep – the Indian influence is certain. Each spoonful makes me close my eyes and long to transported to an island far away.
The recipe is adapted from the Jamaican Fish Curry recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks, The Caribbean: Central & South American Cookbook by Jenni Fleetwood and Marina Filippelli (2007). It’s definitely a go to book for Caribbean cooking with make-you-want-to-cook recipes, beautiful photography and easy instructions.
Enjoy! With this dish I bet some C. types would convert.
Tidbits on Sweet Potatoes
- The origin of sweet potatoes is believed to be located in Central America with its ancestral roots in the Mexican wild yam. They have been cultivated for more than 5,000 years, although fossilized remains in the Andes date back 8,000 years.
- Sweet potatoes were the second most important root crop in the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1920, per capita consumption was 31 pounds. In 1999, consumption dropped to a mere 4 pounds per person.
- China grows about 87 percent of sweet potatoes grown worldwide; with nearly half used as feed for animals. Asia produces 6 percent, Africa 5 percent, Latin America 1.5 percent, and the United States 0.45 percent.
- Sweet potato flesh comes in a spectrum of colors: white, yellow, purple, red, pink, violet and orange. Nutritionally, all varieties are good sources of Vitamins C and E as well as dietary fiber, potassium, and iron, and they are low in fat and cholesterol. The orange and red fleshed sweet potatoes are an excellent source of beta-carotene (Vitamin A).
Source: Encyclopedia of Food and Culture.
This is not a difficult dish to make, it’s just a long list of ingredients. Key to this recipe is prepping everything in advance.
Jamaican Sweet Potato Curry
2 tablespoons oil (canola or vegetable)
1 cinnamon stick
2 cardamom pods
1 large onion, diced medium
3 teaspoons fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 – 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, optional*
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced 1 inch pieces
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes with juice
1 cup coconut milk
3 cups water
1 large bay leaf
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 cups okra, diced (fresh or frozen)
- Prepare all ingredients in advance: peel sweet potatoes, dice into 1” pieces and place in bowl of cold water until ready to use; dice onion; grate ginger; mince garlic; measure out remaining ingredients.
- Heat oil in a deep skillet or a large pot, add the cardamom pods, cinnamon stick and cloves and stir for about 2 minutes until aromas begin to release. Add onion, garlic and ginger, stir frequently for about 5 minutes until onions soften. Add ground dry spices: allspice, cayenne, cumin, coriander and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Stir constantly to distribute and release flavors for 1 – 2 minutes. Add sweet potatoes, tomatoes, coconut milk, water, bay leaf and salt. Bring to boil and simmer on low heat covered for about 20 minutes or until sweet potatoes are cooked throughout.
- Once tender, remove 1/3 to 1/2 of the sweet potatoes with some of the liquid to a separate bowl for emulsifying or to a blender (do not remove cloves, cardamom pods or cinnamon sticks; if using blender puree in batches to avoid mess and burns). The pureed sweet potatoes will thicken the curry, use more or less for the consistency you prefer.
- Return pureed sweet potatoes to pot. Mix well. Add okra (no need to defrost) and simmer until okra is heated through. (NOTE: do NOT overcook the okra because it will get slimmy – if you are in doubt, cook it separtely such as steamed – and fold it into the curry after they are both hot). Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot, garnished with fresh cilantro over a bed of sautéed kale or your favorite rice.