Thursday, May 27, 2010

Home Grown Greens/Herbs: Sweet Potato/Yam Leaves (Ipomea batatas)

I like the idea of having something growing so that I can pick a few leaves to add freshness as well as nutrition to the day's menu. Sweet Potato/yam (Ipomoea batatas) leaves are very easy to grow and absolutely delicious; for clarification of the name yam, check here. It is another dark green leafy veggie that you can add to your repertoire of home grown leaves. Whether you get heart-shaped or deeply divided leaves, the plant is quite handsome as a potted plant.

All one needs to grow the leaves is a sweet potato; there are two methods that can be used for growing it:
  1. Place the whole potato in a dark cupboard and leave it undisturbed for a few weeks; it will sprout in its own time. You will see vines sprouting out.
  2. Place the potato in a jar of water and wait for it to sprout; soon roots and vines will start to grow.
Choose either method (or both) and once sprouts start to grow, you can plant the whole potato with the vines attached in a large pot and watch the vines grow. Sweet potato is a member of the morning glory family; one would realize that when the beautiful flowers appear - mine had lovely lavender ones.

Although the greens are very delicious as well as nutritiious, they don't get the attention or love, because most people have no idea that sweet potato leaves are edible let alone that they even have leaves! with a  and less bitter taste than kale or chard.

Sweet potato leaves/greens are powerhouses of vitamin C, vitamin B6, and riboflavin; way more than the sweet potatoes themselves. Nutritionally speaking, this makes the softer textured greens similar to spinach. Use them anywhere you might use spinach; sweet potato leaves have none of the astringent quality of spinach at all.

I grow sweet potatoes specifically for their delicious leaves and not the roots as they require lots of space and time; also the roots are readily available but the greens are not :D. Although most supermarkets don't carry sweet potato greens, I have seen them (and purchased) them from farmers markets and Asian markets. I find that growing my own is easy enough to assure me of a crop when I want it. I harvest the older leaves and growing tips and let the new ones keep growing for the next crop.

Sweet potato leaves taste similar like spinach. So I use them just like spinach; I have steamed, stir fried, sautéed, or added the leaves to soup and they turned out great in every case. They are very mild and lend themselves to all sorts of possibilities. One of the simplest yet tastiest way is to sauté them with a little hot chile, garlic, in a tiny touch of olive oil just until they wilt; the remaining heat in the pan completes the cooking. Add a little tamari or soy sauce and you would have a dainty dish of succulent greens! Try them in any curry, soup, Asian dishes, ThoranAloo Palak, etc. 

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