while the last of the snow melts away and trickles down the stormdrains, and while it’s still a bit too cold to keep the windows open for more than a few hours in the afternoon, the smell of their air blowing through the apartment has that peculiarly humid, loamy quality that is an undeniable signal that spring is on its way.
and i am very excited.
in my anxiety for the farmer’s markets to open up, replete with fresh vegetables, i made a sojourn to a few of the asian grocery stores located in catonsville, just west of baltimore city. these stores are immense, nearly culture-shock inducing, and have a dizzying array of fresh produce from all over the globe. the wide assortment and unseasonableness of the produce all point to questionable business practices, but the amazingly low prices help me to ignore the obvious use of chemical fertilizers and be thankful for vegetables in the deep end of winter.
the vegetables available at these grocery stores are also, often, obscure, which is a lot of fun. like this japanese yam and these sweet potato greens. this dish, of course, can be made with ordinary sweet potatoes and ordinary greens, like collards, but the starchy toothiness of the purple-skinned yam is unique, and therefore interesting, and i recommend trying it out if you like variety where variety is not often found. the sweet potato greens have a wonderful aroma, which reminds me of a hot summer day, late in august, where the dense, thick undergrowth at the edge of a forest gets baked by the sun. which is a pretty great aroma to have around in the beginning of march.
fried plantains are a favorite of mine and are a great starchy substitute for ordinary rice, potatoes or other carbohydrates. they are a little more indulgent, what with the deep-frying and all, but it’s worth trying them out, why not?
peanut and sweet potato stew
makes enough for 4
2 c raw, shelled peanuts
6 c vegetable broth
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
1 2 inch knob ginger, minced
1 tbl hot harrissa or sambal oelek
1 large Japanese yam, 1/2″ cubed, or 2 large sweet potatoes
– roast the peanuts in a 350F oven for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently, or until golden and fragrant
– in a dutch oven or soup pot, sautée garlic, shallot and ginger in a little oil for 2-3 minutes, or until shallot is translucent
– add the stock, the can of tomatoes, the chili sauce and roasted peanuts, bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes
– blend the soup with an immersion blender until smooth, or carefully blend in batches in an upright blender
– return to a simmer and add the cubed yam
– simmer for 25 minutes or until the yam is fork-tender and soup is thickened
– salt to taste and serve steaming hot, garnished with cilantro and toasted peanuts
sautéed sweet potato greens
1 1/2 lb sweet potato greens, washed and picked over for tough stems
1 tbl oil, preferably coconut
1 shallot, minced
2 clove garlic, minced
1 inch knob ginger, minced
4 thai red chilis or more, to taste
2 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp rice vinegar
– in a large, lidded frying pan, sautée shallot, garlic, ginger and chilis in hot oil for 3 minutes or until garlic starts to caramelize
– add greens and about 1/4 c water and lid the pan to steam.
– steam 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the soy sauce and vinegar and steam another 5 minutes
– check a stem for doneness, salt to taste and serve very hot
3 yellow plantains, peeled and cut into 4 segments
2 c oil for frying
– bring the oil, in a small saucepan, to frying temperature, about 350F
– carefully drop in the plantain segments, 4 or 5 at a time, and fry until golden brown, about 4 minutes
– remove to cool and fry the remaining segments
– with the flat end of a spatula, squish each fried plantain straight down to make a flattened disc
– return to the hot oil and fry for another 4 minutes
– drain on a paper towel, salt to taste, and serve with a thick hot sauce