BY JENNY EVERETT - OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2014
Move over, kale—sweet potato greens are the leafage du jour
Last fall, Kim Floresca and Daniel Ryan, co–executive chefs at Chapel Hill, North Carolina’s One restaurant, got a whiff of something unexpected at the local farmers’ market. Their noses led them to an older woman braising sweet potato greens in coconut milk, using a recipe from her mother and grandmother. One bite and the chefs were sold. “It’s not only a beautiful green, but also wonderfully sweet,” Floresca says. “Kale has been the fad, but sweet potato greens are on the rise.” Sweet potatoes have been a staple of Southern cuisine since at least the seventeenth century—North Carolina produces more of the tubers than any other state—so it’s a wonder the greens are just now resurfacing on market and dining tables. More tender than collards and less astringent than spinach or chard, they work well in stir-fries, stews, omelets, and pasta. But they can also stand alone, sautéed in a bit of fat or plated raw in a fall salad. At the market, ask anyone selling sweet potatoes if they have greens available. If not, they’ll most likely bring you a bunch the following week. The leaves don’t last long—maybe three or four days—so use them right away or store briefly, wrapped in a dry paper towel, in the fridge. The chefs use sweet potato greens in several dishes at One (see their recipes at right) and often share the tale of their surprising farmers’ market find. “What I love about the South is that there are stories that go along with food,” Floresca says, “which create long meals with family and friends.”
Sweet Potato Greens Three Ways
Green Pasta Sauce
"We use this on various forms of pasta, and it's one of the most popular dishes at the restaurant. It sums up fall in a beautifully basic way."
Sweat 2 tsp. chopped garlic in 2 tbsp. olive oil. Add 2 cups heavy cream and reduce by a third. Add 1 tbsp. horseradish and 3 cups sweet potato greens. Cook until lightly wilted. Add cooked pasta—sweet potato ravioli would be outstanding—and stir to combine. If desired, top with 2 tbsp. dried or pickled cranberries, 4 tbsp. toasted pumpkin seeds, and ¼ cup shaved Parmesan.
Spicy Coconut Shrimp
"Sweet potato greens lend themselves to the toasty coconut flavor. We use Carolina shrimp."
In 2 tbsp. olive oil, sauté 1 chopped yellow onion, 1 chopped red bell pepper, 1 chopped Thai chile, and 1 tbsp. each chopped garlic, chopped ginger, turmeric powder, and curry powder. Add 1 cup coconut milk and cook 5 minutes. Add 2 lb. peeled shrimp, and simmer 2 minutes more. Wilt in 4 cups sweet potato greens. Spoon mixture over 2 steamed sweet potatoes and top with 1 bunch chopped green onion.
Green Eggs and "Ham"
"This dish is a perfect starter, especially served individually in ramekins. And it's topped with bacon—everything's better with bacon."
Blend 6 cups blanched sweet potato greens with 1 cup heavy cream and 4 eggs. Pour custard into 12 4-oz. ramekins, cover with foil, and bake at 325 degrees in a water bath for 15 to 25 minutes, until just set. Cool. Meanwhile, sauté 2 chopped yellow onions and ¼ lb. chopped bacon until caramelized. Season bacon jam with 3 tbsp. sherry vinegar, 1 tbsp. mustard, and a pinch of salt, and use to top egg custards.