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melancholy, and sweet potato hummus

March 13th, 2012 | 7 Comments »

There’s something going around in my life lately, that’s been apparent in this space. And that’s nothing. Nothing at all. I’ve had some posts here and there (five total in February, which is not much at all) and yet they’ve all felt like I’ve dragged them kicking and screaming from my brain. Nothing has landed in me, a late winter melancholia, a heavy weight that’s latched itself around my neck, like I’m just hauling around with no real purpose. My dear friend Angharad, who writes in this lovely space, put it so succinctly in this post that I feel like she reached right inside me, flipping on a light and said, in her delightful lilting English accent “Oh, there you are, you beastly thoughts. Get OUT of there!”

And it’s just this time of year, this wrinkle between the winter that never really was and a Spring that is still so so far away. Without snow coverage on the landscape, it’s been this flat and dull brown for the last six months and it makes my eyes, and my heart ache to look at it. The lack of color punches me in the ribs and knocks the wind out of me, because there is just nothing there, and it’s this nothing that’s dropped like a stone in to my life. I missed my snow, the squeak of my boots, the crystalline cold that penetrates you and takes your breath away, and I missed my cross country skis. And in this space that is neither one season or the other, I’m bored with the foods and the tastes and the textures of a Winter that never came. I’ve been repeating recipes, sticking with simple meals and just coasting. Coasting through the nothing, and waiting, patient, and with eyes on the sky for the breath of Spring to come and lift this nothing away.

And in the meantime, I’m eating sweet potato hummus, coveting every bite because it’s this incredible thing I’ve found and although there are people out there talking about it, it still feels like a secret that maybe you want to keep, but you know it’s worth spreading around. Because, as hummus goes, this one is the bees knees to this hummus loving girl. While I could sit down with a full food processor bowl of freshly made hummus and scoop to my heart’s content, the addition of a soft and fragrant roasted sweet potato turns this humble condiment into something really kind of extraordinary, like that first real Spring day when you wake up and remember that there really is a definitive end to Winter.

And there’s really nothing to it, this Sweet Potato Hummus. One nice sized sweet potato, roasted almost to a point of collapse until it’s juicy and delectably sweet gets mixed in to any standard Hummus recipe, whizzed together in your food processor or high-speed blender and then, best of all, eaten in any manner you would consume this easy snack. Roasting the sweet potato gives it such an incredibly deep flavor, especially if you use the dark orange skinned variety like Red Jewel or Garnet (the ones most people refer to as Yams, even though they aren’t true Yams at all). The darker orange flesh contains more moisture, as well as a higher level of antioxidants. Eat your colors, remember? Sweet potatoes are just brimming with vitamins and minerals, are very low on the Glycemic Index and contain a high level of anti-inflammatory properties. Add in a good source of fiber, without saturated fat or cholesterol and this nutritional workhorse has far more going for it than just good taste or a pretty face. Maybe the consumption of this, chock full of good ingredients, might be the crane that lifts me from this nothing I’ve been experiencing, in to the something that I’m craving, mind and heart, right now.

Another good thing? You can bake off an entire sheet pan of sweet potatoes, slip them from their skins when they’re cool and freeze them in plastic bags to have on hand for any manner of baking or cooking. I’ve had sweet potatoes in the freezer for more than six months (due to getting buried) and the texture hasn’t shown much change at all, other than maybe a bit more watery.

But back to that Hummus. Or better yet, I’ll stop my endless blathering so you can skip in to your own kitchen and make this for yourself. Because there’s some left in my fridge, and I’m off to cut up a few carrots, dip a few crackers and work on stoking my creation fire that I know is still in my brain. Eventually this nothing will lift; it does every year. I hope the grocer has enough sweet potatoes in stock.


Easy Sweet Potato Hummus

1 15-oz can chickpeas, rinsed
1/3 c. tahini
1/4 c. fresh squeezed lemon juice
3 T. olive oil
1-2 t. kosher salt
1 medium roasted sweet potato, cooled and skinned
1/4 c. water (or more, depending on how creamy you like your hummus)

In the work bowl of a food processor, or in a high speed blender, add all the ingredients and process, adding water if necessary, until the consistency you like. Serve immediately, or chill overnight.



Elsewhere on the blog, regarding Sweet Potatoes:

Sweet Potato Biscuits

Oatmeal Sweet Potato Muffins

Whole Wheat Muffins with Squash and Quinoa

Curried Sweet Potato and Corn Risotto

caramelized veggies with couscous

January 5th, 2012 | 4 Comments »

The new year is starting out with a bit less motivation than I was expecting. This isn’t such a bad thing; I did have the last five days off work, and after the busy, frenetic pace of the holidays that was a very welcome change. Maybe the sloth that settled on me was just a reminder to take the time off wisely, to relax, regenerate and just be.

But I wanted to cook and I wanted to stretch. I’ve been lacking in the desire to stretch in the kitchen, to experiment with a few recipes that press against the norm of what I’ve been doing lately, which admittedly, isn’t a whole lot. That work thing sort of stunted my creativity for a while, and before that…. well, I was just coasting. But we’re on a fresh calendar page, with new beginnings for everyone; resolves to take a healthier approach to life, to strive for better in our personal lives; I’ve even seen people who are eager to expand their eating repertoire, promising to try one new food item each week. These are resolves I can get behind. And along with continuing on our meat-free journey, I need to explore more options for our meals. Because while soups, meatless chili and braised greens are all tremendous and satisfying, there is so much more in this vegetable world that can be taken on.

This recipe was bookmarked back in October, most likely. As is the norm, I’m just not sure why I don’t tackle these things as soon as they land in my radar. I could have been enjoying this dish on repeat each week, changing up the vegetables and inhaling it’s deeply dark and sweet flavor through these last few months, but as usual, it languished. And we missed out. That’s too bad. The flavor in this dish was incredible, invading our senses not only as it cooked, but as we gathered over our steaming bowls, forks poised in anticipation. I looked down at my bowl and turned to Mike. “This is a total restaurant dish.” and he nodded as the first bite crossed his lips. His eyes lit up and he smiled.

And there’s another reason why I kick myself for waiting so long to enjoy this. To miss out on seeing that is criminal.

The creation of this dish isn’t difficult; it does require some attention as you methodically caramelize your vegetables in stages on the stovetop. I evolved the process from the original instructions to make it even easier for your average cook. You need a big pan with lots of surface area- I used a 12″ skillet with straight sides- and patience to allow the vegetables to cook, undisturbed, so they achieve that golden flavor and color. The original recipe calls for using orzo, but I’m slightly enamored of pearl couscous these days, so any excuse to throw that in the mix is fine with me. A good hearty brown rice would even work. While there are a lot of steps to this recipe, it flows very well so don’t let the length intimidate you.

Don’t you just love that color? Not only is the dish gorgeous all on it’s own, placing it in the morning sun, as it rose behind a thin band of clouds brought out all it’s burnished caramel-y tones. Even with it being 9:00am when I took these photos, I could have eaten this for breakfast without a second thought. Hmmmm….. don’t mind if I do.

Caramelized Vegetables with Pearl Couscous

2 c. pearl couscous
Grapeseed, peanut, or vegetable oil
1 large sweet potato (about 3/4 pound), peeled and diced, about 1/4″-1/2″
1 large onion (about 1 pound), finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3-inch piece fresh ginger — peeled and chopped fine, about 1 tablespoon
1-8oz pkg portabella mushrooms, sliced, with stems removed
1 T. balsamic vinegar
2 T. soy sauce
3 big leaves chard or kale, stalks removed and leaves finely chopped — about 2 cups (I subbed in the equivalent of arugula) 
Freshly ground black pepper
Parmesan, optional

Heat a large pot of water to boiling and salt it generously. Cook the couscous until barely al dente — about 5 minutes. Drain and toss with a generous drizzle of oil so that the grains are lightly coated with oil. Set aside.

Heat a large sauté or frying pan (the largest you have — you want plenty of room and hot surface) over high heat. Drizzle in a little grapeseed or vegetable oil (not olive oil — you want an oil with a high smoke point) and heat until very hot. Add the sweet potatoes and arrange them in one layer. Cook them over high heat until they are beginning to caramelize and turn brown — about 4 minutes. Flip them over and cook for another 3 minutes or so.

Turn the heat down to medium and add the onions, sprinkling them with about a teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are beginning to turn brown. Add the minced garlic and chopped ginger and stir them into the onions. Push the sweet potato and onions to the edges of the pan, making room in the center.

Add the sliced portabella mushrooms to the hot center of the pan and cook them for 4 minutes without turning them. Then flip and stir them and cook for another 4 minutes. Once browned, stir them in to the sweet potato and onions. Keep the heat at medium, or slightly higher. Stir the vegetables occasionally. You want them richly browned.

At this point everything should be getting well-cooked; the onions should be quite dark brown and the garlic should be golden and soft. The potatoes should be softening.

Whisk together the vinegar, soy sauce, and 2 tablespoons of oil. Pour this into the pan with the vegetables and mix everything together, scraping the bottom as you go. Cook all the elements together for about 3 minutes on medium heat. Then turn the heat up to high, as high as it will go.

Add the couscous gradually, shaking in about a cup at a time, stirring and scraping constantly. Cook the couscous over high heat with the rest of the vegetables for about 5 minutes, letting the couscous get browned on the bottom of the pan, then scraping it up. You are developing a little more color and flavor on the pasta, and helping all the flavors combine. (I cooked this a bit longer to get more flavor in the couscous. The browning of it smells glorious)

Finally, toss the greens into the mix and cook for 1 more minute or until the greens are barely wilted. Turn off the heat and taste. Add salt and pepper if needed. Serve hot, with shavings of Parmesan if desired. (We didn’t even consider the parmesan. And I don’t think it even needed it.)


Original recipe from The Kitchn, by Faith Durand. Here with my own modifications.

spiced sweet potato waffles

January 3rd, 2012 | 2 Comments »

January is a good month for waffles. Just the word ‘January’ in the Midwest conjures images of bracing wind, snow whipped sidewalks, scarves and thick mittens. It’s the aftermath of December, a holiday-less month of Winter. Nothing but winter. It needs something to lighten it up a bit, to warm us against the long dark months ahead.

My most favorite Buttermilk Cornmeal Waffle was born in January, bringing it’s crunchy warmth to a bitterly cold sub-zero day, just about 2 years ago. I’ve relied on that waffle recipe without question, reaching for it time and again to stir myself to face Winter’s white bite, to fill me with the gumption to dress for a day that rattles the windows like an angry giant. Our December was so uncharacteristic for Minnesota; unseasonable warmth, no snow and mild temperatures. We celebrated Christmas without a trace of snowflakes, then came New Years Eve, and rain began to fall, quickly changing over to the fattest, wettest flakes I’ve seen in ages, and by the time the sun rose on 2012, it looked a bit more like January should, and it felt like it too. Waffles needed to bridge the gap between the past year, and the start of this one. But not just any old waffle.

That burnished beauty isn’t exactly showing off it’s best in the photo, but that plain looking waffle is hiding a rich, spicy secret; cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg, mingling with tiny chunks of tender sweet potato. A bit of inspiration, and an urge to start off the New Year with more than just the same old waffle, I reached for a container of cooked squash, opened the spice cabinet and crossed my fingers. The scent rising from the steaming waffle iron was heady and enticing; the first bite, amazing. Tangy with buttermilk, hearty with wheat flour and altogether a knock-out way to start 2012, this will definitely be on ‘Repeat’ for the remainder of Winter, whether it chooses to snow like crazy as it did last year, or remain mercilessly un-winter-like, there is one thing for sure; bellies will need filling, and this is the key that slips perfectly in to place.

Spiced Sweet Potato Waffles

3/4 c. whole wheat flour
3/4 c. AP flour
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 t. ground cardamom
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1 T. sugar (or honey would work too)
1-1/2 c. buttermilk (I like to use vanilla soymilk, and add two tablespoon vanilla yogurt for tang)
2 eggs
1/3 c. neutral flavored oil, such as rapeseed or canola
1 c. cooked mashed sweet potato or other cooked squash

In a large bowl, whisk together the wheat flour, AP flour, powder, soda, salt, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar. If using honey, add that to the wet ingredients.

In a separate medium sized bowl, add the buttermilk, eggs, oil and squash. Whisk until smooth. Add to the dry ingredients and gently fold together using a rubber spatula. Be sure to scrape across the bottom of the bowl to mix thoroughly. Do not overmix the batter. Allow to rest for 15 minutes. You’ll see bubbles form on the batter. Don’t stir it anymore.

Bake waffles according to your individual waffle maker. Mine makes 8″ round waffles, and I used 1/3 c. batter per waffle. This recipe made 6-8 waffles.

The original recipe used for this batter comes from The Breakfast Book, by Marion Cunningham.

curried sweet potato & corn risotto

December 13th, 2010 | 7 Comments »

Risotto is one of those dishes that scares people. Somehow it’s considered a demonic culinary principle, a dish that’s reserved for restaurants and someone willing to stand over a steaming pot and stir, stir, stir, stir until their arm falls off. Who has that kind of discipline?

While there is some truth that risotto is time consuming, and does need attention, I’ve managed to make beautiful creamy pots of it by simply standing by, keeping the flame tempered and making sure the rice doesn’t stick. And I don’t focus on it diligently, spoon in hand, because I’ll tell you something that may force some die-hard, principled professionals to throw rotten tomatoes at me in dispute-

risotto does not need to be stirred constantly.

So there, I said it, and I will uphold this truth until the day I die. I’ve done it both ways. I’ve stood by that pot stirring until I am completely zoned out by the motion, and I’ve dumped in the broth, given it a couple of whirls with the spatula and walked away. Yes. I’ve walked away from risotto and lived to tell the tale. While this is no meal to get on the table quickly, with some time and a bit of care, you can make it without making yourself crazy.

And one comforting thing you ought to know about me, for as many pots of creamy perfect risotto that I have managed to get out of my kitchen, there have been plenty that have failed miserably. They’ve gotten over-cooked and mushy and just downright wrong. Both from being constantly stirred and not, just so you can’t point out a fault to my procedure. Make it perfect one time and you feel like a genius. You do it again, bursting with confidence of your skill and the next pot is like sloppy porridge. Ugh. My only suggestion to mastering risotto is to just make it. And make it again, and again and again because you will learn to watch the rice kernels and see how they change (whether you are stirring constantly or not) and you will see how it transforms with the broth and added ingredients from singular grains to a homogenous dish.

And please take comfort in the fact that this particular risotto that I’m going to talk about came out a bit overcooked.

But it tasted amazing, and that’s the focus of whatever risotto you make, whether the texture is perfect or not, think more of the taste and the flavors in your mouth and less that it needs to be some level of award-winning achievement. There is no such thing as perfection, especially in cooking. Risotto is one to never give up on, too.

This Curried Sweet Potato & Corn Risotto was another Iron Chef moment for me; I needed a dinner plan, yet again at 3:30 and scanned the cupboards and fridge for options. There was arborio rice and there was a stack of sweet potatoes on the counter. And there was corn in the freezer. My brain suddenly jumbled this all together, along with the bright sunny curry colors and I sat down to determine the best way to make it work. I settled on shredding the sweet potato in order to incorporate it more evenly in the cooking process, and adding the frozen corn in the last 5 minutes to cook it just enough but to preserve some of the crispness of the kernels. The end result, despite being, like I said, slightly overdone, was a superb flavor, and so cheerful in our bowls.

Curried Sweet Potato & Corn Risotto

The entire process for making risotto will take 35-45 minutes. For the last 15 minutes or so, you probably will need to stick close to the stove and stir more, but the first part of it can be somewhat unattended.

Many risottos use wine, and are finished with parmesan cheese. For this curry version, I did not use wine or cheese as I didn’t think it would match with the flavors of the curry.

1 c. arborio rice (or carnaroli works too)
2 qts chicken stock
2 sprigs fresh thyme
4 cloves fresh garlic, divided
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and grated on a box grater
1 c. frozen corn kernels
1-2 T. curry powder

In a medium saucepan, heat the stock to a bare simmer with the fresh thyme sprigs, and two cloves of the garlic that have been roughly chopped. Stir and keep warm over low heat.

For the remaining two cloves of garlic, mince very fine. In a large, deep skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil (or use butter, or both- that’s what I prefer) add the garlic and saute over medium heat until fragrant, stirring to prevent scorching. Add in 1 tablespoon of curry powder and stir to blend, then add in the rice. Stir to coat the rice with the garlic and curry powder, and cook, stirring regularly, until grains are somewhat translucent, about 5 minutes.

Ladle about two cups worth of the warm stock into the skillet with the rice and stir to blend. Maintain a gentle simmer, stirring on occasion, until the stock is absorbed. Be sure that the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pan. The mixture should simmer gently, but never boil vigorously. When the grains have absorbed the stock, ladle in about 2 more cups worth. Repeat, allowing this to absorb and keeping the grains from sticking. You won’t need to watch it constantly, but stay close and just check it occasionally.

After the second round of stock is absorbed, add about a cups worth of shredded sweet potato to the rice, and a ladle or two of stock. You want to give it enough liquid to loosen it and allow it to simmer, but not so much as before. Stir and allow to absorb. Add another ladle, and repeat. Now test a grain or two. They should begin to yield to your bite, with some firmness remaining. Add in the corn, a few more ladles of stock and simmer until the liquid is absorbed. Test the grains again. At this point, the mixture should look smoother and beginning to come together with a creamy sauce. Keep testing the grains and adding just a little stock if needed. If you like the idea of more curry flavor, go ahead and stir more curry powder in to the grains. By now, you will probably be stirring a bit more to prevent sticking. Stir, test the grains and add a little more stock until the mixture has a wonderful creamy texture.

Season it with salt and pepper and serve as soon as possible. Risotto doesn’t always hold well.

Sweet Potato Love…..and a muffin

September 30th, 2009 | 12 Comments »

sweet potato

You’re not a potato, my chalky tuber. You are not even really considered a yam, by the true means of the word. But to avoid confusion and misunderstanding, you are required to carry the moniker ‘Sweet Potato’. You are golden, bright orange, pale yellow and the color of a sunrise, at once starchy and dry, as well as moist and tender. You make amazing oven fries, stunning side dishes, distinct risottos and perfect pies. You have that multiple personality trait down to a science, don’t you? Who would have thought that you were distantly related to gorgeous Morning Glory flowers? And aren’t you the healthy one? Rich in antioxidants like beta carotene and Vitamin A, complex carbs and fiber, you rank awfully high on the nutritional value chart, giving us iron and calcium to boot. Oprah is a big fan of you, lucky spud. That pretty much guarantees you’ll be the talk of the town, doesn’t it?  We can come by you quite inexpensively too, although no one can call you cheap- you are a class act, my friend. You hold up well to storage too. And thankfully, you are in great supply, for our demand for you is high and you’re readily available all year round. And if we choose to cook you, mash you and store you in the freezer, you never complain. And patiently you wait for us to bring you back out and make something wonderful from you.

Like these muffins. Thanks for offering up all your golden glory to a humble breakfast and snack food.

Sweet Potato Muffins6385

You and I, though, we haven’t always been friends, and I’m sorry I ignored you all those years. Think of the fun we would have had! But no matter. We’re tight now, and that’s all that counts. I love it hanging out with you, and am so glad I introduced you to my good pal oatmeal. The two of you make quite a pair in this delicious and stout muffin, don’t you?

Sweet Potato Muffins6383

I’m not at all jealous that you get along so well, in fact, I really like it when my friends find something good about each other, something they enjoy that has little to do with me. I was happy to introduce you two; it seems to be a match made in heaven, and how easy is it to get you two to hang out? Really, it takes little effort, and for my gain I get delightful and simple muffins that speak poetically of Fall, warm with cinnamon and nutmeg and the hearty toothsome bite of whole oats. Not to mention that sweet tender tang of you, my tuberous pal. I’m so glad I gave you more than a passing glance. We’re great friends for life, yes we are.

Oh by the way, have you met another good friend of mine, her name is sweet cream butter?

Sweet Potato Muffins6387

Oatmeal Sweet Potato Muffins
from the Louisiana Sweet Potato Commission

1 c. old fashioned rolled oats
1 c. flour (AP or Whole Wheat, or both)
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1 T. ground flaxseed
1 c. cooked and mashed sweet potato
3/4 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. canola oil
1/4 c. skim milk
1 large egg
1 t. pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400°. Line two standard muffin tins with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk oatmeal, flour, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and flaxseed. In another small bowl, combine sweet potato, brown sugar, oil, egg, milk and vanilla, whisking to blend well. Pour over dry ingredients and stir to combine. Mix until just moistened. Scoop into muffin tins and back for 15-20 minutes. Check at the 15 minute mark- these bake up quickly.

This recipe doubles really easily. I doubled it using both AP and whole wheat flour and the result was nice and firm. You can substitute pumpkin for the sweet potato, or use garnet yams. Be sure that the vegetable is cooked and mashed well. I used soy milk in mine and it works just fine. For one batch of these, I added 1/2 c. of flaked coconut, and I think chopped and toasted pecans would be wonderful in these.

For an extra level of flavor, you can top these with a crumb topping made from 1/4 c. oats, 1/4 c. flour, 1/4 c. brown sugar, 1-2 T. softened butter and 1 t. vanilla extract. Combine these well and sprinkle over the muffins before baking. I have not used it, but imagine it would be excellent.

Curried Lentils w/Sweet Potato and Chard

January 3rd, 2008 | 5 Comments »

Curried Lentils With Sweet Potatoes and Swiss Chard

Yield: 8 to 10 side-dish servings; 6 main-course servings.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded if desired, then minced
4 to 5 cups vegetable broth as needed
2 pounds orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into
1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
1 1/2 cups dried lentils
1 bay leaf
1 pound Swiss chard, center ribs removed, leaves thinly sliced
1 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Finely grated zest of 1 lime
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/3 cup finely chopped tamari almonds, for garnish (optional), available in health food stores
1/4 cup chopped scallions, for garnish.

1. In large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, garam masala, curry powder and jalapeño. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

2. Stir in 4 cups broth, sweet potatoes, lentils and bay leaf. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium, partially cover, and simmer for 25 minutes. (If lentils seem dry, add up to 1 cup stock, as needed.) Stir in chard and salt and pepper, and continue cooking until lentils are tender and chard is cooked, about 30 to 45 minutes total.

3. Just before serving, stir in cilantro, lime zest and juice. Spoon into a large, shallow serving dish. Garnish with almonds if desired and scallions.

RECIPE NOTES: I am not a fan of swiss chard, so I used spinach instead. I added several diced carrots to the dish as well as the potato and that was delicious. At the end of the cooking time I dumped in a cup of cooked wheat berries (i keep them in the freezer). It adds more nutritional value to the dish and a nice nutty and chewy texture.
I cooked this for at least an hour and I think it could have cooked much more as the lentils still seemed a tad chewy. It’s hard to determine how much time is needed, but the potato was getting mushy and I didn’t want to cook it too much longer for fear they would fall apart. The spinach, if used, can be stirred in just a few minutes prior to serving; it won’t need much to make it wilt. It can be eaten alone, no doubt; we love the rice; so for us that was perfect. We did not top it with almonds.