By Emma Waverman and Eshon Mutt
Some of the world’s hopes for Africa are resting on the lowly sweet potato. Long a staple in many African diets, sweet potatoes are the world’s seventh largest crop. The white starchy sweet potato indigenous to Africa, however, pales in comparison to the nutrient-rich orange sweet potato so familiar to North Americans.
Orange sweet potatoes are a rich source of beta-carotene—the chemical the body uses to produce vitamin A, which in turn strengthens our immune system and eyesight. Because the lack of vitamin A in the East African diet has led to a prevalence of disease, especially among children, crop scientists and world organizations are working hard to encourage the growth of the orange sweet potato.
But it’s a complicated process, involving planting the new crop, teaching farmers how to maintain it and encouraging the population to cook and enjoy the sweeter, wetter variety of sweet potato. Currently, there are programs motivating African mothers to incorporate the new variety into their families’ diets.
Originating in South America, the sweet potato spread around the world because it is easy to grow and has relatively few natural enemies. Sweet potatoes belong to the Convolvulaceae or morning glory plant family. In East Africa, the white variety has been cultivated for many centuries; small farmers rely on it as a dependable crop and tasty food source, sometimes the only one available.
The combination of peanut butter and sweet potatoes in our soup recipe here may seem incongruous, but think of it as a savoury peanut butter and jam entree, with the vegetable’s sweetness countering the richness of the nuts. The flavours of this West African soup are satisfying and delectable, and its combination of protein and nutrients (especially when using orange-coloured sweet potatoes) makes it a delicious dish on its own or with a freshly dressed salad.
West African Sweet Potato and Groundnut (Peanut) Soup
This healthy and exotic-tasting soup is satisfying and rich without being heavy. We’ve taken some liberties with flavouring; adding lime juice is not a traditional addition, but very suited to our modern multicultural taste buds.
2 tbsp peanut or vegetable oil
2 cups chopped onion
1 tbsp chopped garlic
2 tsp chopped ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground coriander
½ to ¼ tsp cayenne
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1 cup chopped, peeled carrot
3 cups chopped, peeled orange sweet potato
1 cup canned tomatoes, chopped with their juice
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
¼ cup smooth natural peanut butter
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
¼ cup chopped green onion
¼ cup chopped cilantro
1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions and sauté for 10 minutes or until soft and lightly golden.
2. Add garlic and ginger and sauté for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add cumin, coriander, cayenne and cloves and stir until onions are coated with spices. Add carrot, turn heat to low, cover pot and let cook for 5 minutes or until carrot is beginning to soften.
3. Add sweet potato, canned tomatoes and stock, stir, turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Cover pot, turn heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes or until vegetables are very soft.
4. Use a hand-held immersion or regular blender to purée soup until it is smooth. Return to pot, add peanut butter and whisk until combined. Season soup with salt and pepper to taste and stir in lime juice.
5. Serve soup topped with green onions and cilantro.
Serves 4. Enjoy!
- Emma Waverman and Eshun Mott are longtime food writers and recipe developers who penned a column for Outpost magazine, and co-authored the family cookbook Whining and Dining: Mealtime Survival for Picky Eaters and Families Who Love Them. You can find Emma regularly at Here and Now on CBC Radio One.