Saturday, December 3, 2011

Dark Days Week One - Cabbage and Sweet Potato Slaw

I had no idea until this year that you could grow sweet potatoes in New England. Sweet potatoes are a tropical root vegetable - not a cold-hardy friend of kale and red potatoes and other favored New England crops.

Like potatoes, sweet potatoes are not true roots like carrots or parsnips, but are tubers, underground stems that store starch. Unlike carrots and parsnips that are grown from seed, potatoes and sweet potatoes are grown from sprouted pieces of tuber. The "eyes" are clusters of buds, which will grow new leafy stems. Despite the similarity in common name, these two tubers are not closely related - sweet potatoes are in the morning glory family (Convolvulaceae) and potatoes are in the nightshade family (Solanaceae). They are both "New World" plants, native to the Western Hemisphere.

Apparently, it takes some trickery to make the sweet potato plants believe that they are living in a warm climate with a long growing season, rather than in Zone 5A... it's a matter of starting the sprouts indoors early until it heats up enough outdoors to plant them in the ground. The enormous sweet potato shown here was grown at Spring Ledge Farm a few miles down the road. A new crop for the list for next year - sweet potatoes!

On Tuesday, Adam and I cooked up one of our 20-minute go-to weeknight dinners. This dish doesn't really have a name - it's a skillet saute of cabbage, apple and bacon and whatever else you happen to have on hand, such as a gigantic sweet potato.

Still life with dinner and (some of the) ingredients

We were doing great with the local-eating challenge of Dark Days - (what's Dark Days, you ask?)
Bacon, slivered cabbage and sweet potato, sliced apples and caramelized onions fried in a cast-iron pan and sauced up with maple syrup boiled down from our sugar maple trees this March...
But then, Adam added some mustard, salt and wine to balance the flavors - not local ingredients.

I think this is pretty good for a first attempt, and actually, I was sort of impressed that we didn't need to use any oil or spices to make a really tasty dish. Of course, we could have used New Hampshire wine or hard cider and maybe next year, I could grow mustard, let it mature, harvest the seeds and make my own mustard using vinegar that I made myself. (That would be truly ambitious.)

Here's rough instructions on how to make this dish - I wouldn't call this a true recipe because it's a thrown-together dish with whatever you happen to have. It would be good with any number of sliced-up winter vegetables.

Cabbage and Sweet Potato Slaw

Fry up 1/2 pound of bacon; once crispy, remove from the pan.
Add 2 cups of thinly sliced or slivered sweet potato to the pan and brown.
Add 2 cups of thinly sliced or slivered cabbage and a thinly sliced apple; cook 2-3 minutes.
Add 1/4 cup of caramelized onions and a few tablespoons of maple syrup and grainy mustard.
Cook another minute, add a splash or two of wine and a sprinkle of salt.
Turn off the heat, add the bacon back to the pan, and toss so that the bacon gets coated with a bit of the mustard-maple sauce.

This is one of those dishes that doesn't look great, but tastes awesome.

Source citations:
Bacon - North Country Smokehouse
Cabbage and sweet potato - Spring Ledge Farm
Apple (a Calville Blanc d'Hiver) - Poverty Lane Orchards
Onion - Musterfield Farm
Butter (for caramelizing the onion) - Cabot Creamery
Maple syrup - the backyard
Organic mustard - no idea - it's made by Westbrae, which is part of Hain Celestial Group
Cheap white wine - somewhere in California
Salt - I do not know, but here's a map of all of Morton's facilities.


  1. This sounds delicious and I think I've got the ingredients in the house.
    I just had dinner but this may be tomorrow's meal!

  2. wow, looks like a great fast meal.

  3. Thanks, Elizabeth and Margo. This is truly adaptable to whatever you have in the house - delicata squash, mushrooms, dried fruit or nuts.