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December 2008

Warm-Your-Soul Southern Sweet Potato Chili

Vegetarian Chili

I am going to try a slightly sketchy recipe with you today - sketchy in the way my grandmother was when asked how to make her melt-in-the-mouth buttermilk biscuits or spongy, perfect-for-mopping-up-collard-juice cornbread. How perplexing it was to receive a recipe that was measuring-utensil free; "a piece  of butter the size of a bantam egg" or "a child's handful of White Lily" - more like poetry than food prep instructions.  

This recipe won't be so poetic, but it will be a little hard to pin down - in a practical, use-what-you've got and fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants way.  You are going to LOVE this chili. The hundred hungry, meat-eating men who dined at our house between noon and six would think so anyway.


  • Garlic, a couple diced cloves if you're not crazy about it, up to a head if you are
  • Onions, chop enough to fill about 1/8 of your soup pot
  • Olive oil, enough to cover bottom of your soup pot generously
  • Chili powder, enough to strongly color the onions and garlic
  • Water to bring level up to about 1/4
  • Diced tomatoes to bring level up to about 1/2
  • Chopped sweet potatoes, enough to raise level to 5/8 or so
  • Chopped greens, a handful
  • Cooked kidney beans, to bring level to 3/4, or slightly more
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Honey to taste (opt.)

Saute onions and garlic in oil till onions are translucent. Add chili powder and stir just a minute. Add water and diced tomatoes and bring to a boil. Add sweet potatoes and greens and cook till softened. Add pre-cooked kidney beans. Taste for seasonings. Add salt and pepper as needed. I always add a little honey - a holdover from a past recipe that I loved. I think it helps tone down the acidity of the tomatoes. And it's just good.

If you try this recipe, please comment and let me know how it turns out. And remember, sweet potatoes and greens are abundant at the farmers market!

December Market Soup

December Soup

We were gifted recently with some bulk beans and grains, and it's been a treat to come up with soups that use both these staples and the lovely fall vegetables from the farmers market. I think I am getting the hang of making soup that uses what's on hand. I was feeling quite virtuous about my frugality and creativity when I rememinded myself that this what cooks have been doing for eons - using what's on hand and making it attractive and tasty. It makes sense for this generation to relearn the trick of making do - and doing it well.

Today's soup used garbanzos, canned tomatoes and curry from the pantry - and sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, greens, and turnips from the market.  The curry seemed to me to go with the garbanzos. I think a nice substitute might be white beans with rosemary and thyme (which grow here) or kidney/red beans/pintos and chli powder. Here's the approximate recipe we used today (I made 200 servings, so the proportions might be slightly different):

December Market Soup - 6 servings or so

One onion, chopped
Two garlic cloves, minced
Two tablespoons olive oil
Two teaspoons curry powder
Two cups diced tomatoes
One cup water
One sweet potato
One large turnip
1/2 cup washed and chopped greens (collard, mustard, turnip, or kale)
One cup cooked garbanzo beans
Salt to taste

Saute the onion and garlic in olive oil until onion is translucent. Stir in curry powder and saute about a minute more, till aromatic. Toss in the canned tomatoes and the water and bring to a boil. When boiling, add chopped sweet potato, turnip and greens and cook on medium (low boil) till veggies are tender. Add garbanzo beans and season to taste.

The Humble Turnip


The turnip is an ancient vegetable; there is evidence that by 2000 B.C. they were being cultivated in Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, and India. The first Jack o' lanterns were carved in Ireland out of turnips. They contain a number of health-promoting nutrients including several that are believed to fight cancer and arthritis.

In the north, turnips are grown for their roots. But in the south, the actual turnips are considered just an appendage to the turnip greens. In traditional recipes, they are diced and added to the greens as they are boiling.

Growing up, that was the only way I ever ate turnips. But as an adult, I learned that I actually prefer them raw and grated on salads. They add a nice crunch that is lost when they're cooked, and good turnip-sweetness. If you like mashed potatoes, another way to enjoy them is to cook and mash them along with the potatoes.

I have always had the suspicion that things that grow so well here should be eaten, not only because they're abundant (and thus inexpensive), but because - if the world makes this kind of sense - they might be just the thing we need. I imagine that in a time of real hunger, root vegetables like these could grow to be a lot more appreciated. I'm adding their sweetness to the soup this week.