5 min read

Stone Soup #23: Pump Up the Yams - Sweet Potato Soup

Wham, Bam, Thank You Yam

Stone Soup is an ongoing quarantine feature in which I come up with a recipe that uses the impossible thing in your cupboard, without making you go to the store or wasting any of your ingredients. Last time, we made curd.

Michelynah says:

My husband bought large cans of canned yams/sweet potatoes (they might normal size, I've never seen the cans at the store) years ago, and no longer remembers why.

I’m alarmed to inform Michelynah that the giant-size can is the normal size. Why? How much sweet potato do they think we need in a day? Apparently the answer is: a fucking lot.

A quick note about vocab — in the US, we often mix up sweet potatoes and yams because of how they’re marketed, categorized in supermarkets, and sold. The canned yams you can buy at Safeway are usually an orange-fleshed variety of sweet potato, not to be confused with true yams, which are more starchy and dry, and which can rarely be found in big American chain groceries. You can call sweet potatoes by the name “yam” and I won’t be mad at you, but it’s good to know the distinction. If you try to use true yams to make something like American-style candied yams, you’re probably going to have more than the usual allotment of regrets.

Now that we know what we’re eating, let’s get at some

Sweet Potato Soup

As our quarantine stretches on, I’ve been getting highly invested in soups. Not because they’re easy to make and store in large batches, but because of how comforting they are. They sate something other than hunger — something deep and animal that longs for a belly full of warmth. Sweet Potato Soup is perfect for this, because it also sates my longing for a belly full of sweet potato. Two longings, one stone! This recipe is extra-versatile because you can add meat and vegetables to it for a Very Hearty Meal, or eat it by itself for a lighter soup-sperience.

Step One: Tan your Tates. This is a trick I use for canned pumpkin and brown bananas. It’s absolute sorcery — you can actually smell the difference over the course of minutes as all traces of mustiness evaporate, and caramelization sets in.

  • If your sweet potatoes are already mashed, great. If not, you can either smash them in the pot or whip them up in the food processor.
  • Get out a decent-sized saucepot, one big enough for you to wind up finishing your soup in it. Add a tiny pat of butter and let it melt over medium heat. As soon as it’s melted, add your mashed sweet potato to the pot.
  • Stir constantly with a spatula, allowing any excess liquid to evaporate, until the sweet potato mash has darkened in color and the kitchen smells amazing. Remove from heat and set aside.

Step Two: Not just some-ium, let’s use all-ium. I’ll be honest with you. I really wanted to reuse “allium? I hardly know-ium!” but I didn’t, because I respect you all too much for that. I respect the craft too much for that. Anyway, lots of variations in this step; follow your flavor-instincts, and use what you have. Don’t get sweaty about it, you can’t go too wrong.

Chop up some stuff. Shallots, onions, garlic, whatever. I’m not picky. If you use garlic, cut it into large-ish chunks. Shallots or onions should be diced fairly small. If you’re like me and you’re a smug asshole because you have roasted garlic in your freezer, use that. All that matters here is that we have alliums.

Toss ‘em into a pan with a decent glug of oil and a good amount of cracked pepper. Turn the heat to very-very-very-low, until they’re soft and brown and friendly. If you have bacon and you feel like a renegade, cook a couple strips over low heat to render out the fat and cook your alliums in that instead of oil.

A note here: lately, I keep getting unwholesome amounts of celery in my CSA boxes. Like, more celery than any person should possess. To rid myself of it, I’ve started chopping up a couple of stalks and cooking it alongside my onions. It’s been adding a nice freshness to everything I cook — a light, subtle green flavor that doesn’t insist on itself. Highly recommend. You can also add chopped or grated ginger at this step, if you feel like getting rowdy. If you want some heat in your end product, this is a fine time to add some peppers of your preferred spice level. Basically, this is your best step for adding spices and seasonings, so don’t be timid!

Step Three: Liquidation. When your alliums-and-friends are soft and lovely, add a splash of white wine or stock to the pan to deglaze. (Deglazing means adding liquid to get all the Flavorsome Bits off the surface of the pan. It’s a very satisfying process.)

Now, put a half-cup of chicken or vegetable stock into your food processor. Throw the contents of your saucepan in there. Add some fresh herbs if you feel like it, I’ll never know. Pulse until everything is all nice and smooth.

Step Four: Soup it up. Remember that pot of sweet potato mush? Return it to low heat. Take the stuff you’ve got in the food processor and add it to the pot. Add a cup or so of chicken or vegetable stock. Stir to blend. If it’s still too thick for your liking, add more stock. If it’s too thin for your liking, simmer, stirring frequently, until it’s the consistency you like best. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

You did it! You made soup! Serve it in the way that makes you feel most alive. Personally, I like to add a healthy dollop of sour cream (or, more likely, full-fat Greek yogurt, because that’s what I have around) and several lashings of whatever hot sauce is my favorite that day. You can put crusty bread on the side for dipping. You can add meat — if you used bacon in Step Two, you’d damn well better reserve it and add it back in before serving. This soup also loves to have vegetables added to it — sweet corn and kale are my two favorite options, but play around. Throw in some goat cheese and a squeeze of lime for a bright, summery flavor, or grate on some nutmeg and add a sprinkle of brown sugar for a sweet dessert experience.

Keep it in the fridge for a few days, or freeze it for a few months.

Just the recipe:

Sweet Potato Soup

  • Melt a pat of butter in a medium-to-large saucepot over medium heat. Add some mashed sweet potatoes to the pot and cook, stirring constantly, until the kitchen smells like heaven. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  • Chop up an onion or a couple of shallots or a few cloves of garlic. Add to a pan with some oil and a lot of cracked black pepper, and cook until soft and fragrant. (At this stage, you should also add whatever aromatic flavors excite you: ginger and cumin, or hot peppers, or celery and dried green herbs). Deglaze pan with white wine or stock, then remove from heat.
  • Add half a cup of stock plus the contents of the pan to a food processor and pulse until smooth.
  • Add contents of food processor to the pot of cooked sweet potatoes and return to low heat. Add a cup of stock and stir to combine. If it’s still too thick for you at this point, add more stock; if it’s too thin, just simmer, stirring frequently, until you see something you like.

If you have a pantry dilemma, send it to stonesoup.substack@gmail.com. If you’re enjoying this feature, leave a comment below or share it on social media. Stay safe, stay healthy, and for pete’s sake, stay home.