Meatless Monday: Sweet on Sweet Potatoes

Unlike Mister MA, I’m a big fan of the sweet potato and I’m always looking for new ways to play with them. My latest discovery comes from Peter Berley’s “Fresh Food Fast” which suggests pairing up the sweets with coconut milk and ginger, plus other aromatic treats. Even more than the sheer comfort factor of slurping on a coconut milk-infused elixir on a cold evening, I love how versatile this recipe proves to be. Want to make it super spicy? Go ahead. Not interested in the greens? Leave ’em out. I even considered pureeing, but the sweet potatoes are so tender, they practically puree themselves on the tongue.

Sweet potatoes cozy up to coconut milk, rice and fried tempeh. (Kim O'Donnel).

Berley suggests pairing the soup with a scoop of jasmine rice, a lovely idea that makes the soup feel more like a meal. Tempeh also enters this equation; it’s cut into strips and flash fried to make crispy, a terrific garnish for the soup bowl. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this add-on; if you’re new to tempeh -- fermented soybean cakes with a smoky flavor and “meaty” texture -- crisping them up in the skillet is an easy and delicious way to get introduced. Of course, tempeh is optional; the sweet potatoes and coconut milk are fabulous all by themselves.

Spicy Coconut Sweet Potato Soup With Greens

Adapted from “Fresh Food Fast” by Peter Berley


2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups diced onion (about 2 medium onions)
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger, peeled (about half the length of your thumb)
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 small jalapeno pepper with seeds, minced (Use chile of choice)
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and ground or 1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks (about 4 cups – I found this equaled about 4 small sweet potatoes)
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt or Kosher salt (I reduced this amount to 1 ½ teaspoons)
1 small bunch collard greens, tough stems removed, leafs cut into ¼ inch wide strips (kale would work equally well, even bok choy)
1 limes, cut into wedges
½ cup roughly chopped cilantro, for garnish


In a large saucepan over medium heat, warm oil. Add onion and sauté until softened, 3-4 minutes.

Add ginger, garlic, chiles, plus the coriander and turmeric. With a wooden spoon, stir to coat aromatics with spices, creating a bit of a paste. Add sweet potatoes, 2 cups of water, coconut milk and salt. Increase heat, bring up to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes.

Add greens to soup and simmer, uncovered, until tender, about 10 minutes. Add extra water if soup is too thick.

Ladle soup and top with a spoonful of steamed rice and crispy tempeh strips (see details below). Squeeze lime and sprinkle with cilantro.

Crispy Tempeh Strips
1 8-ounce package of soy tempeh, cut into ¼-inch strips (I got about 10-12 pieces)
1 cup neutral oil (Canola, sunflower or grapeseed)
coarse sea salt or Kosher salt

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, warm oil until hot but not smoking. Fry tempeh in batches (don’t crowd pan) until golden brown on both sides, 3-4 minutes. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with salt immediately.

By Kim ODonnel |  October 20, 2008; 7:00 AM ET Meatless Monday , Soup
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This sounds great, and oddly enough I have some leftover coconut milk I need to use anyway.

Sweet potatoes are one of my favorite vegetables, and definitely my favorite fall/winter one. They taste so perfect simply baked with a bit of butter and nutmeg, that I often forget there are other ways to prepare them!

Posted by: DC Cubefarm | October 20, 2008 9:13 AM

This sounds delicious! I often get confused, however, when buying coconut milk about which kind to get (sweetened vs unsweetened, etc). What kind would you recommend?

Posted by: MPY | October 20, 2008 11:26 AM

MPY, about the only time you want sweetened coconut milk is when you're making pina coladas. For any curry dish and for this soup, you'll want the UN-sweetened version. Cheers.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | October 20, 2008 11:32 AM

Sounds tasty, but if you're trying to avoid saturated fat, a 1/3 cup serving of coconut milk contains 140 calories, 130 from fat, 15 g of fat, 14 g of saturated fat. There are 5 of these in a can of coco milk.

For a side dish, I like a simple Japanese cookbook treatment of sweet potatoes: cut into 3/4" cubes, cook in water (as little as possible) till they start to soften, sprinkle with a little bit of sugar, cook till done, sprinkle with soy sauce.

Posted by: Fran | October 20, 2008 1:25 PM

The "lite" coconut milk isn't as bad. 50 cal per 1/3 cup serving, 40 cal or that from fat, 4.5g of fat, 4 of that saturated. No walk in the park, but better.

Posted by: DC Cubefarm | October 20, 2008 1:54 PM

Oh great Kim! What if I can't do spicy? Omit the pepper altogether and let my guy re-spice his with his hot sauce of choice? Replace with sweet pepper?

And made your broccoli/leek soup this weekend with my immersion blender, Creuset and food mill, and some homemade bread -- it was a hit!

Posted by: NC2 | October 20, 2008 1:58 PM

this is way way off topic but i wanted to ask while i was thinking about it; am i the only person that thinks tialpia (am i spelling that right? i mean the fish) taste like dirt? i bought a big package at costco trying to do the right thing & eat the right fish. no matter how i cook it the taste of the fish (dirt) comes through. for what it's worth, cilantro tastes like soap, too.

Posted by: quark | October 20, 2008 2:08 PM

Sweet potato pie. And you could even put coconut milk in it. The variations are infinite.

Posted by: Dave | October 20, 2008 2:51 PM

Hello Quark

Cilantro? When I first tried it, *ages* ago, I too thought it really unpleasant. But over time my palate has changed, and now I'm addicted! Same thing with fish. As a child I couldn't stand it, to my mother's frustration. But now it's my principal protein.

I was just in Costco today. Haven't tried tilapia, so I have no opinion. I bought the pricey frozen halibut filets ($32 for 2 lbs, ouch!) which I plan to low-temperature poach in olive oil seasoned with garlic and other goodies.

Kim, some variation possibilities: Since your sweet potato recipe calls for lime, don't overlook makrud (kaffir limes) which should be easy to find in Seattle's Asian markets. I would use both zest (which is amazing) and juice. And while you're about it, why not add lemongrass and Thai basil. Hmmm, to make it somewhat mysterious, I think I'd add a little belacan (Malaysian fermented shrimp paste). Maybe galangal (pr gah-LAN-gal) instead of ginger. And ramp up the coconut cream. Delicious calories! Yes, yes, it's true, I'm queer for Asian food. Perverted? Definitely.

And Kim, an OT question: Aeons ago, when the Waldorf Astoria's Bull and Bear was my favourite swindle sheet hangout, the best starter was grilled mushrooms stuffed with beef marrow. (My swindle sheet was the only creative writing I did during my mag-editing years!) I want to recreate this dish, but am having trouble figuring out how. Google hasn't helped. So I'm thinking, bake the beef bones, spoon marrow on large mushrooms, with plenty of salt and pepper, and broil them. Any thoughts / counsel on how to proceed?

Posted by: David Lewiston | October 21, 2008 2:59 AM

david, thanks for getting back to me. i've acquired a taste for cilantro. i don't use it unless it is mixed with other ingredients. i read that the cilantro taste like soap thing is real to a minority of people including julia childs. i just wondered if tilapia was the same kinda thing. i bought the big costco bag of tilapia & have been eating it down. i won't make that mistake again. nothing i tried could mask the dirt taste unless i cooked it with something that entirely covered the fish taste all together.

Posted by: quark | October 21, 2008 11:21 AM

Quark, Tilapia is an extrememly mild fish that needs doctoring up, but this is the first time I'm hearing it compared to dirt! Would love to know what label says -- where it's from.

Re: worries about coconut milk: Remember, even tho fats are saturated, they're plant fats, including lauric acid, which is also found in breast milk, contains anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. I'll try to get you a link to some info about coconut and nutrition.

David Lewiston: I like your flavoring ideas for the sweets. I was thinking lemongrass, too. Re: your pursuit of marrow-stuffed mushrooms, I'm going to consult "Bones" by Jennifer McLagan and get back to you.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | October 21, 2008 11:33 AM

kim, i've been trying to like tilapia for years so i've bought a number of bags of frozen tilapia fillets at costco (maybe that's the problem) over the years. the very first time i made it i steamed it so i could get a feel for what it tasted like plain so i could get an idea of what to cook it with. it had a strange taste & the best way i can describe it is it tasted like dirt. i then microwaved it with evoo & garlic. dirt. grilled? tasted like grilled dirt. unless i totally cover the taste with something so spicy that the flavor of the fish can't be detected i taste the same "off" taste. the only reason i brought it up was i was eating the leftovers for lunch. i baked the fillets with taco seasonings to try & get a southwestern flavor. didn't work i could still taste that "off" taste.
is turbot still ok to eat? i liked that. maybe i should just give up on tilapia.

Posted by: quark | October 21, 2008 4:56 PM


Regarding turbot: There are at least two kinds of fish sold under this name. In Europe, turbot is the most expensive aristocrat of fish, served with pride in the priciest restaurants. It's worth all of the encomia that are heaped on it.

But in the US a lowly uninteresting fish masquerades under this name. Good enough for fish sticks, perhaps, but that's all.

Posted by: David Lewiston | October 21, 2008 6:14 PM

Kim, I wrote you recently about having been inspired to go to culinary school by your blog. Well, in another little twist, Peter Berley teaches at the school from which I just graduated - the Natural Gourmet Institute in Manhattan. We had our final cooking test two weeks ago, and I had great fun with it. The school focuses on plant-based cuisine but for the final I did a burger and fries!
The "burger" was a tempeh and roasted mushroom patty on a "bun" of quinoa and onion pilaf, served with a side of oven-roasted sweet potato fries, homemade ketchup and a quick-pickled red onion slice garnish.

The burger was easy and flavorful. Cut an 8-oz block of soy tempeh into four pieces and simmer for 30 minutes in 2 cups water, 1/4 cup shoyu (soy sauce), 1/2 small onion, 2 cloves garlic, 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme, 1 sprig oregano. Cut 3 portobello mushroom caps into small dice and roast at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes. After simmering tempeh, grate or mash into small pieces; mix with roast mushroom dice, and about 1/3 cup whole wheat bread crumbs to bind. Form into patties and then dredge in mix of bread crumbs and minced parsley. Pan fry patties in olive oil/canola mix.
For quinoa pilaf, prepare quinoa per instructions, substituting veg stock for water. Cut about 1/2 small onion into small dice and saute in olive oil. Mix sauteed onion into quinoa and add 2-3 tablespoons minced parsley.
Serve tempeh-mushroom patty atop a mound of quinoa. And enjoy!!

Posted by: conniecooks | October 21, 2008 11:49 PM

Conniecooks, congratulations are in order! Way to go! I have just rediscovered tempeh -- I much prefer its texture than than of tofu, and I'm tinkering with an idea on using it as substitute for 'shrooms, to which I am allergic. Thanks for sharing your final exam recipe -- do you have a photo?

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | October 22, 2008 11:42 AM

My latest favorite thing to make with sweet potatoes is groundnut stew. It's African in origin, and very savory. There are lots of recipes out there, both veg and non-veg. Here's my take: Saute half an onion until golden. Add a teaspoon or two of grated ginger, some chopped garlic, and diced chilies and saute for a minute. Add half teaspoon each of cumin and turmeric, and a pinch of cinnamon. Add 2 diced sweet potatoes and stir to coat with spice. Add 1 cup of water, bring to a boil, then simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Add half a 14oz can of diced tomatoes, half a can of small red beans, drained, a quarter cup of peanut butter thinned with water, and sriracha hot sauce to taste. Cook for a few minutes. Add chopped cilantro to taste and serve with brown rice.

Posted by: DC | October 22, 2008 3:07 PM

Thanks for the recipe, Kim! Made it last night, and threw it over some egg noodles since I forgot to start up the rice early on. It was great. I'll probably throw in a bit more chili pepper next time (mine was serrano). Your veg Monday idea is great; I know I don't need as much meat in my diet as I typically include so the inspiration is so helpful.

Posted by: hm | October 23, 2008 9:23 AM

Hm: I'm really glad you're enjoying the series. Like you, I enjoy my meat but know that I need to have less and so the conscious effort to set aside one day a week has been really helpful at Casa Appetite -- and increasing my appetite for even more meatless meals. Let me know what you'd like to see featured in the MM slot, if there's a recipe or ingredient you're curious about. Cheers.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | October 23, 2008 11:23 AM

Kim, unfortunately I didn't get a photo of my tempeh burger - too nervous about the test to remember a camera! :-) Completely agree with you on the tofu-tempeh texture thing. If I find any good recipes for mushroom substitution, I'll send them your way.

Posted by: conniecooks | October 23, 2008 8:19 PM

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