Every once in a while you learn something about the plant kingdom that makes you stop and think, I need to grow that.
So it was with sweet potato leaves, or when I learned that sweet potato leaves are edible. At the time, I did nothing about it. But on a recent visit to One Straw Farm in Baltimore County, owner Joan Norman mentioned that she had been selling sweet potato leaves in the farmers market. She said she had heard about them at an agriculture conference from a man from Africa.
Suddenly I was not only glad I had planted sweet potatoes, but made a priority of finding some way of working the leaves onto our dinner table. The occasion finally arrived last week when I struggled to find something green in the garden to put in our newest most favorite dish, curried okra. We're still harvesting okra on an almost daily basis and this stew with coconut milk, tomatoes and potatoes (basically, anything we can forage from the garden) proved to be a perfect place to use some of the Tuscan kale we were growing.
Well, the kale is gone, but it turns out sweet potato leaves work even better . They have a mild but dense flavor that reminds me a little of purslane. They stand up very well to cooking, maintaining their dark green color and a pleasantly easy texture. As a bonus, the leaves are a good source of vitamins A and C. And like purslane, they can be eaten raw.
Being a vine, the sweet potato plant produces a prodigious amount of leaves in addition to the tasty tuber we'll be harvesting later. At one time I was cursing our sweet potatoes for escaping their bed and traveling all over the yard where I needed to mow. They've climbed up, over and around the tomato cages. Now I'm cheering them on. I say, give us all the leaves you want.
If you are making the okra stew I posted about recently, just add a heaping cup (or two) or sweet potato leaves cut into a chiffonade instead of the kale originally called for. And if you planted sweet potatoes, be happy knowing that you have an almost endless supply of nutritious leaves.