If I lived near to Russia’s meteorite crater, I’d think this was a lump of outer space rock. Known on earth as a sweet potato, despite its rough, off-putting exterior, it makes a warming bowl of comfort soup on this gloomy Malta day. Combined with coconut and coriander, it speaks of South American flavours, lifts the soul and certainly makes a no-frills, easy main course soup.
Most sweet potatoes I’ve come across are smaller, elongated and have flesh in shades of orange. Baffled by the basket of huge muddy lumps, I asked the market stallholder what they were; apparently these are a less commonly grown variety of white-fleshed sweet potatoes. I’ve not seen them in Malta before. They were huge and round, somewhat difficult to peel (as are all sweet potatoes, I find, so mind your knuckles!) but yielded an impressive amount of soup ingredient.
Sweated down with some leeks, a handful of fresh-chopped coriander and then combined with some stock and a can of light coconut milk, the potatoes created a creamy, thick soup that was sweet but not too sweet and dreamily tasty. In Malta, market stall veg comes clad with soil and is not manicured for sale like supermarket fare. Don’t be put off by the exterior of sweet potatoes; they have impressive nutritional value compared to any regular potato, to which they are only a distant relative.
As I made this, I thought it would be my last wintry soup for the year, but with the blustery grey skies outside my window now, in early March, I have a feeling I’ll be cooking up this tuber as comfort food a while longer. And when BBQ season starts, I’ll try it sliced and griddled with herbs. Sweet potato crisps sound tempting.
All images © Liz Ayling 2013
- 1 large sweet potato or 2 medium-sized, peeled and cut into 1-2 cm cubes
- 2 leeks, trimmed and sliced finely
- knob of butter
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 x 400ml can coconut milk (you won’t need it all)
- handful of fresh coriander, finely chopped + some to garnish
- 1 tsp dried coriander seeds
- 500 ml water or stock
- freshly-ground black pepper & sea salt to season
- Gently heat the butter and olive oil in a heavy-based pan over a low-medium heat.
- Add the diced sweet potato and leeks, the crushed coriander seeds and just a little of the chopped coriander. Sweat off the vegetables gently, ideally with a lid on the pan, until leeks are tender and slightly translucent. Toss around a bit to stop potato sticking.
- Add the water or stock, and 250 ml coconut milk (retain some to water down soup later on to your desired consistency). Season.
- Simmer for around 10-15 minutes until the sweet potato is tender.
- Adjust with more coconut milk or stock/water for your desired consistency.
- Remove from the heat, leave to cool a little, then blend. You can keep the diced vegetables unblended or just blend half the soup as desired – I blended the lot, but it’s up to you.
- Reheat gently to serve. Garnish with some chopped coriander and a swirl of coconut milk.