Sweet Potato, Greens, and Beans

We woke to a 64 degree house this morning, and though it felt great for sleeping last night, I had to do some cool acrobatic moves in order to bundle up without actually removing myself fully from the blankets. Just last week I worried that I was too late planting lettuce and chard as DC had a tease of the heavy air of August, which seemed poised to roll right over us for the duration. Today, with a high of 55 or so, it feels like a soup night again. Now I'm worried that I was premature planting my warm weather seedlings!

All winter, I kept finding sweet potatoes in soup recipes. Joe Yonan of the Washington Post had a sweet potato broth based soup with collards and black eyed peas. And then there was the streamlined sweet potato and kale soup in the Arcadia Mobile Market Seasonal Cookbook, written by JuJu Harris of the Arcadia Mobile Market, a service run by the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture in Alexandria. 

I had planned to make a hybrid of these soups for a class I was to teach in March, that ended up snowed out. I had some ingredients around that I didn't want to waste, and things went in a little bit different direction, but, inspired by the above recipes, I ended up with hearty vegetable soup for a snowy day.

This soup is perfect for this time of year as well. Go ahead and substitute any other bean you like for black eyed peas, or other greens for collards. Use turnips instead of rutabaga, or throw in a parsnip or two with the carrots. If you're OK with salt, and the soup seems bland when you taste it, throw in a splash of Worcestershire sauce. Add more hot pepper if that's your thing. Play with this and use whatever you have hanging around the vegetable bin.

Easy Sweet Potato, Greens, and Bean Soup

(inspired by Joe Yonan and JuJu Harris)

makes a big potful

1 small bunch collard greens rinsed and dried

1 onion, peeled

2 stalks celery, washed and ends slightly trimmed off

2 carrots, washed and ends slightly trimmed off

1 Tablespoon olive oil, more if pan looks dry

Sprinkle Aleppo or Maras pepper (or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne)

1 rutabaga, washed and peeled

2 small sweet potatoes, washed and peeled

1 Tablespoon tomato paste

4 cups broth or stock (I use vegetable to keep the soup vegetarian, but can be chicken or beef)

4 cups water

1 can black eyed peas, drained and rinsed in a colander

1 cup small pasta shape - shells or ditalini work well

salt and pepper

Cut out the thick center rib of the collard greens. Put the leafy areas to the side and dice up the ribs. Then cut the leaves into ribbons or thin strips. Reserve those separately from the diced up ribs.

Put a large soup pot over medium heat on your stove. Dice the onion, celery and carrot. Add a little olive oil to your pot and then the onion, celery, and carrot and the reserved diced collard ribs. Sprinkle on a little salt and pepper and the Aleppo or hot pepper. Mix from time to time and cook until the onion begins to turn translucent, about 8 or 10 minutes.

Dice the rutabaga and sweet potato as the other vegetables saute. Add them to the pot, give it a good stir, and let that cook for another five minutes or so.

Add in the tomato paste and another pinch of salt and grind of pepper. Let that cook while mixing for 2 or 3 minutes.

Add in the water and broth or stock, the ribboned collard leaves, another pinch of salt and grind of pepper, and bring to a boil.

Once the soup boils, lower heat to medium low and let it simmer (still bubbling, just not too hard) for about 10 minutes.

Throw in the beans and the pasta, mix gently, and cook for another ten minutes.

Test a piece of the pasta to see if it's done. You want it al dente -- just a little bite to it, not crunchy and not mushy. Check for salt and pepper.

Serve topped with a little grated parmesan cheese if you like.