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Monday, August 8

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If Spring is really here, where are my fresh, locally-grown vegetables? I mean, c'mon! It's not like we had snow just two weeks ago. Oh, wait. Yeah, it's going to be a while before I get those fresh, locally grown vegetables. And root vegetables are still very cheap and abundant at the local grocery stores. So I guess I'll keep eating them for a few more weeks. sigh...

This ennui came about while I was staring at a few sweet potatoes we've had for a while and thinking about what I would do with them. I turned to my beloved internet and came across a recipe presented by an ex-Drive-Thru staffer named Meghan for a curried Sweet Potato Soup. It sounded delicious and got me to thinking that I should really focus on enjoying what I have, instead of dreaming of what I want and being disappointed with what is on my plate.

Sweet potatoes are easy to come by all year, but they're especially prevalent at grocery stores in the late fall and during the winter. They keep for a long time in a cool, dry place. And even if they start to get wrinkly on the ends, you can cut off any bad areas and cook the rest with good results. They're even pretty good for you.

A 7-ounce serving of sweet potato that was baked in its skin contains no fat, no cholesterol, 14 percent of your daily carbohydrate requirement (or limit), 26 percent of your required fiber intake, 65 percent of your recommended daily intake of vitamin C, and 769 percent of your daily vitamin A. It also only contains 180 calories so you can enjoy a simple baked sweet potato which will fill you up, in a good way.

Here are three recipes that will hopefully keep you (and me, too) held over until the spring vegetables begin to arrive: Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Spinach and Goat Cheese, Sweet Potato Tart and Sweet Potato Soup with Lentils.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Spinach and Goat Cheese
I have admittedly been on a huge spinach kick the past few months. If you're not done with the green food, you can omit it from the recipe and still have a tasty dish.

1 pound of sweet potatoes
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 small red or yellow onion
1-2 tablespoons of honey
1 tablespoon of butter (if desired)
6-8 ounces of fresh spinach
2 ounces of mild goat cheese

Preheat your oven to 350° F. Peel the sweet potatoes and chop them into 1/2- to 3/4-inch cubes. Place them in a bowl, drizzle the olive oil over them, and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Toss the potatoes so they're evenly coated in the oil and seasoning before spreading them out on a baking sheet. Place them in the middle of the oven and roast them for about 10 minutes. Chop the onion finely, wash the spinach leaves, and remove the stems. Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle the onion over the potatoes, then return it to the oven for 15-20 minutes. Transfer the potatoes into a serving dish, drizzle the honey over the top and add the butter. Toss everything with your hands to coat before adding the spinach to the bowl. Sprinkle with a little more salt, and then toss. The heat from the potatoes will cause the spinach to wilt and become soft. Place the goat cheese into a ricer (or small amounts into a garlic press) and squeeze the goat cheese over the potatoes. Once the cheese is sprinkled evenly across the top, serve.
Makes 2-4 servings.

Sweet Potato Tart
This is great for a brunch, or even baked ahead and then warmed up in smaller portions for breakfast.

1 cup of freshly squeezed orange juice
zest from one orange (avoid the white pith)
1 cup of plain greek yogurt (or vanilla yogurt)
1 tablespoon of honey
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
2 pounds of sweet potatoes
salt to taste

Preheat your oven to 350° F. Grease a 9-inch pie plate or round baking dish. In a large bowl, combine the orange juice, orange zest, yogurt, honey and cinnamon. Whisk until everything is well-combined. Place in the microwave for a few seconds if you need to melt the honey.

Peel the sweet potatoes and use a vegetable mandoline or a box grater to create very thin slices of potato. Place a layer of potatoes in the bottom of the dish, then pour some of the mixture on top and sprinkle with salt before adding more sweet potatoes and then more liquid mixture. Repeat until you've used up the potatoes and pour any remaining yogurt mixture over the top of the potatoes. Place this in the oven and bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. The sweet potatoes should be tender clear through when poked with a fork or a knife. The liquid should be absorbed by the potatoes. Cut this into wedges and serve immediately, or when cold, or refrigerate to serve later.
Makes 8-10 servings.

Sweet Potato and Lentil Soup
I know there is going to be at least one more cold snap before Chicago's Spring gives way to Chicago's Summer. This recipe will hopefully help me survive that snap.

1/2 cup of dried lentils
1 medium yellow onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 quart (4 cups) of chicken or vegetable broth
1 teaspoon of cumin
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of coriander
1/4 teaspoon of dried ginger
1/8 teaspoon of dried cloves or mace
1 bay leaf
several grinds or fresh-ground pepper
pinch of cayenne powder or chili flakes
1 pound of sweet potato, peeled and cut into cubes
1/4 cup of dry white wine (optiional, or add 1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar)
salt and pepper to taste

Soak the lentils for 30 minutes in a bowl with enough water to cover. Pick out any stones or discolored lentils and discard. Place a large sauce pan or small stock pot over medium-high heat and add the onion, garlic and olive oil. Cook while stirring constantly for about 3 minutes. Add some of the vegetable broth if the garlic looks like it is starting to brown. Sprinkle the spices and herbs over the onions and sauté for about 2 minutes or until the spices smell very fragrant and the onions are soft and translucent. Add the remaining broth, the sweet potatoes and the white wine. Bring this to a boil and add the lentils, then bring it back to a boil while stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to low and let the soup simmer for about 20 minutes. The sweet potatoes should start to fall apart and the lentils should be very soft. If you want a thicker soup, increase the heat and let some of the liquid evaporate. Or you could use a stick blender to puree some of the lentils and potatoes. Taste before adding salt and pepper and then serve over rice, quinoa or couscous. If the dish seems too spicy, add a dollop of yogurt to the top before serving.
Makes 4-6 servings.

It's a struggle to not be anxious for the next set of vegetables to begin arriving at the farmers markets I'm eager to see reopen. But I'm hopeful that creatively using the ingredients I've been cooking with for months will help make the waiting easier. If you have a sweet potato recipe, or any other that you care to share that might help us escape the winter-food doldrums, feel free to add it in the comments.

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Wayne Gunn / April 10, 2008 9:44 PM

There were three foods which allowed southerners to survive after the civil war:
turnips, cornbread, and sweet potatoes.
These are also discussed in the book, 'Diet for a Small Planet' which states this, and that the foods form a perfect chain of proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, and as importantly, enzymes.

Try the sweet potatoes as fried chips. They're quite yummy....

Cinnamon / April 13, 2008 7:06 PM

Thanks for the book tip, Wayne.

And I agree, sweet potatoes make great chips. And fries, too.

E / April 14, 2008 2:28 PM

I made the Roast Sweet Potato & Goat Cheese recipe. It was tasty, but 30 minutes was not NEARLY enough time to get the potatoes tender. I ended up throwing them in the micro for a good 10 minutes to get the dish ready in time.


About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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