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Sweet Potato Stew: Updated


Sweet potato stew!
A white bowl with orange soup, beans, and pieces of sweet potato.

Sweet Potato Stew has been my standard response at the first sign of a sniffle since forever. Based on a recipe I found in the early days of our marriage, I've hung onto it and tweaked it as we've moved cities and countries. The current version is much different than the early version, and the response to a recent Instagram post about it makes me realize an update is much needed. This is the vegetarian version, but I will add instructions at the end for adding chicken.

Sweet Potato Stew Updated

2-3 medium sweet potatoes, washed and cubed

2 Tbsp olive oil

1-2 tsp whole cumin seeds

3 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed

2 inches ginger, peeled and slivered

1-2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp allspice

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp curry powder

1 tsp chilis 

1-2 15-oz cans of colorful beans, i.e. kidney, black, or adzuki beans, drained and rinsed

2 cups dashi or broth

2+ cups of orange juice

Splash of mirin (optional)

Splash of cooking sake (optional)

Wash and cut up the sweet potatoes and submerge the pieces in water to prevent browning. If exposed to air, Japanese sweet potato quickly turns black or brown. While unattractive, it is still edible. The peels, though, are attractive, so I don't peel them. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil and cumin seeds in the soup pan. When the cumin starts to "dance," add in the pressed garlic and ginger slivers and stir about one minute or so. Add the sweet potato pieces (without the water they've been sitting in), beans, turmeric, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, curry powder, and chilis, and thoroughly mix for about two minutes. (Don't dilly-dally here. The heat is on, and the aim is to mix everything and start drawing out flavors.) 

Add the dashi and orange juice and stir. You want enough orange juice to have a pleasantly orange broth and to cover the ingredients. If you like a thicker soup, cut back a bit on these two. Splash in the mirin and cooking sake at this point, too, if you're using them.

Bring it to a boil then lower to simmer until the sweet potato pieces soften.

Serve with sourdough bread or whatever suits your fancy! 

Adding chicken

I sometimes also add chicken to this as it pairs well, but it is by no means necessary. When I do add it, here's what happens.

3 chicken breast pieces (In Japan, these resemble chicken strips, but are different. I'll find a photo to add.)

Sprinkle the pieces with salt and a combination of the above-listed spices. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in the soup pan. Place the chicken pieces spicey side down and saute a few moments. Add roughly 1/4 cup water (or wine!) to the pan and put the lid on so the chicken steams. Flip the pieces over and steam until cooked through. (It's ok to cut them to check for doneness as you're going to cut these up into bite-size pieces anyway.) Remove from pan and set aside to cool while you make the rest of the soup.


Friends, I always have caveats and asides. 

If you make the chicken in the soup pan, you might be able to use less oil for the initial soup stage. See how you go. 

My dashi is always made from konbu and dried shiitake. There is a process for making it that is not difficult, and it's very worth it. More on that later.

You can also use dried beans. This will add some time and steps, but it would give you a better selection of beans to add and possibly even richer flavor. The best advice I've ever seen on beans comes from Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo. No matter where you are in the world, his books and newsletter are worth reading. 

Questions? Recommendations? Thoughts on the soup? Bring it!


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