Savvy cooks with a mind for dollars and cents know how valuable it is to save, reuse and recycle -- but I'm not talking about paper and plastic. One kitchen philistine's garbage is an old kitchen hound's epicurean treasure trove. Nothing gets tossed, if at all possible, because it has a second and possibly a third life waiting in the wings. A cook worth his salt knows that shrimp shells beeline past the trash bin and instead go into a pot, morphing into a briny marine stock in about 15 minutes; that the oft-maligned turkey giblets make the richest gravy; and that those dark, unwanted scallion tops are great for poaching fish and chicken. Orange peels are destined for cake batter, pasta water is meant for sauce, and don't forget to braise those turnip greens, young lady.
I've taken all of these notes under advisement, and when time and freezer space permit, I'm a disciple of the waste-not cause. The knowledge doesn't come naturally; somebody's gotta show it to know it. Imagine my surprise when I discovered at my local farmers' market that my beloved sweet potato is not a jewel unto itself. As a root vegetable, it starts off as a little green sprout that pushes through the soil showing its pretty leaves, and those leaves aren't just for show or harvesting ease -- they're mighty good eating.
Below, a duet of recipes that pay tribute to the entire sweet potato, a meal with above ground and underground perspective. My only complaint is this: Why did it take me so long to wake up and taste the greens?
Mashed Red-Curry Sweet Potatoes
Adapted from the November 2007 issue of Martha Stewart Living
6 medium sweet potatoes (about 4 pounds)
10 ounces coconut milk (about 3/4 can)
1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste
1/4 cup good quality maple syrup (optional; if sweet potatoes are freshly and locally harvested, they are likely to be sweet from the get-go)
A few tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prick sweet potatoes all over with a fork. Place on a baking sheet and bake until soft, about 1 hour. Let cool slightly. With a spoon, scoop flesh out of skins and transfer to a bowl. Mash with a potato masher.In a saucepan, combine coconut milk and curry paste and bring up to a simmer. Cook for 5 minutes and stir, ensuring that curry paste is integrated. Add mashed sweet potatoes and 2 tablespoons of butter and salt, stirring well. Taste and add maple syrup if sweeter result is desired.Butter small gratin dishes or a larger 6-cup baking/casserole dish. Spoon sweet-potato mixture into dish and dot with another tablespoon of butter. Place under broiler and allow to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Makes 6 servings.
Ad Hoc Sweet Potato Greens
Vegetable oil of choice for sauteing
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 chili pepper of choice, seeded and minced
1/4 pound sweet-potato greens, thoroughly rinsed, stems removed
1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauceHeat a skillet over medium heat and add enough oil to coat surface of pan. Add garlic, onion and chili, and allow to soften, about 3-5 minutes, making sure vegetables don't burn.Add greens, and with tongs, toss and coat well with aromatics. Allow to cook for at least 5 minutes, until greens wilt and soften. Add soy sauce just before serving. Makes 2-3 side-dish servings.