You COULD use the Beaureguard and Georgia Jet sweet potato for this recipe, but I chose to go with an exotic–a reddish-purple skinned, creamy fleshed Japanese sweet potato. I only needed one medium sweet potato, about half an onion, a handful of carrots, some spices, some broth and a few spinach and greens and it made a a delicious winter soup. The recipe is not so much African as it is inspired by Africa and her Diaspora, especially East Africa which is now coming into my focus as a very unexplored and interesting part of the African culinary experience….read coconuts, curry, spices like cinnamon, cloves and the like, basmati rice, and mangoes, bananas, plantain and other fruits and starches. Add in temperate carrots, cabbage, onions, and garlic and the repetoire of East Africa comes full circle. Thanks to the monsoon winds, a lot of food came through the Swahili trade going from ancient times to the colonial period (including the Arab-based Indian Ocean slave trade) as well as the Portuguese colonial intrusion which spread seeds and plants across Africa through the opening of trading forts. East Africans to be sure were not the only beneficiaries of the cultural exchange–cowpeas, okra, sorghum, millet, lablab and other African staples went East. To this day okra, pigeon peas, cowpeas and sorghum grow across India and China sustaining millions. We need not repeat the myths of the past that suggested Africa got far more out of the diffusion of food and exchange of food than it put in. There is new evidence to suggest that while the banana–not just the sweet one you know–and the plantain may have had waves of introduction going back as far as 500 BCE and even evidence that there were wild bananas growing on and off the coast of East Africa. East Africans took both plants both the wild indigenous ones and the introduced and diversified them far beyond what was initially cultivated. To this day, Africa remains a powerhouse for the domestication and diversification of the banana and plantain beyond their home in Southeast Asia. Both plants from an early date went into Central and West Africa–and the Portuguese and Spanish–brought them to the plantations of the New World where they became a staple plant across Latin America and the West Indies. Some of that culture ranged as far North as Lousisiana and Florida where Creole gardens historically had a hardy banana or plantain tree or two; and in the maroon hammocks of African-Seminoles and their Mikasuki allies and tribesmen, banana plants grew to sustain the resistance that fueld the Seminole wars.
That having been said–you can do the unripe banana thing or plantain thing in the soup—but I can only take so much of either.
Japan Meets East Africa Meets Pan-Africa Soup
1 medium or large Japanese sweet potato, scraped and cut into one inch chunks..
1 medium yellow or white onion, cut into small chunks..
2 cloves of garlic
1 tsp of grated ginger or powdered ginger
1 cup of baby carrots
4 cups of chicken broth or vegetable broth
(NOTE: YOU CAN USE PAREVE CHICKEN BROTH (KOSHER) TO ADD THE FLAVOR BUT NOT PRESENCE OF MEAT IF YOU ARE VEGAN OR VEGETARIAN).
1 sliced unripe banana or plantain (optional)
Flavorings: a pinch of each–cinnamon, cloves, curry powder (a pinch—don’t go crazy…)
Black pepper to taste.
One small dried chili pepper to taste…make it warm but not hot…use your wits!
Salt to taste…(keep in mind the sodium content of the broth you use and adjust for personal taste)…
1 cup of sliced spinach
1 cup of cooked basmati rice (you can use leftover pilaf even!) or in a pinch a cup of cooked long grain rice or even wild rice…
Heat the broth to boiling in a one quart pot. (You may add water if necessary depending on what your needs.)
Take the sweet potato and scrape the skin off and cut into one inch chunks. USE A VERY GOOD SHARP KNIFE AND BE CAREFUL–THIS IS A TOUGH MONKEY TO CUT! The best thing to do is cut it into rounds and then divide those up with a good, sharp, knife–I can’t emphasize that enough. Throw them in the boiling broth with the onion, garlic and ginger and your particular mix of spices. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 30 minutes until soft. Add carrots and green banana and plantain and cook another 15 minutes until soft. Add spinach and rice dried chili and cook another 5 to 10 minutes. Give it a few good stirs! Enjoy!
This is a main dish. Don’t be fooled. It will fill you up….Enjoy with a salad with a peanut dressing and fresh hot bread!