Sweet Potato Vine Stew: a Recipe from West Africa
Are sweet potato vines edible? Absolutely! (Sustainable Sheep FtF assignment, Bilasso, Mali, June 2013). I was introduced to sweet potato leaves in cooking (also referred to as camote tops) while instructing on sheep and goat nutrition in Mali and Guinea on a Farmer-to-Farmer Assignment. Sweet potatoes, along with groundnuts (peanuts) and cassava, are very common crops throughout tropical Africa. Sweet potato vines are a perfect food for newly weaned lambs and goat kids as the nutrient levels are very similar to small ruminant milk and easily digested. But while the village shepherds in southern Mali commonly use excess sweet potato vines for animal feed and transport it in huge heaps on back of motor bikes, sweet potato leaves are too valuable to the Guinea villagers I worked with to be considered for animal feed.
Sweet potato vines are a good source of protein (in short supply in rural, tropical Africa) Vitamin A, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, lipids, essential minerals and nutrients such as calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, sodium, potassium, sulfur, iron, copper, zinc, manganese among other nutrients. Cassava and groundnuts are also popular as they grow well in poorer soils and dryer conditions. Cassava leaves and ground nut vines are cooked similarly to sweet potato vines but cassava contains a toxin in both the leaves and tubers so needs to be handled a little differently during the preparation process and the water from the leaves discarded.
For this recipe the young, green leaves of sweet potatoes can be substituted with cassava leaves (see photo below) or peanut vines. The raw fish can be substituted with fish stock and the ground peanuts with peanut butter—or follow the traditional method to experience the unique flavors.
Exact measurements are difficult to obtain as it depends upon availability, the occasion and the judgment of the cook. The addition of meat may be standard for some families and rare for others. Lamb meat is generally the most highly valued for special feasts. Chicken, fish, goat and beef are used more routinely.
If you have better or more accurate recipes using these vines I would love to try them.
- 1 lb goat meat, (traditionally bone-in stew meat but lamb, beef or chicken or no meat can be used).
- Raw fish (substitute: 2 Tbs fish stock).
- 2 lb young sweet potato leaves, finely chopped or pounded in a mortar (substitute: peanut vines, cassava or other coarse greens).
- 2 lg onions, finely chopped or pounded.
- 1 leek, finely chopped or pounded.
- 2 green pepper, finely chopped or pounded.
- 1 eggplant, diced.
- 4-6 okra, diced.
- 1-2 red (hot) peppers – whole.
- 3 Tbs palm oil (substitute: vegetable oil).
- 1 Tbs lemon juice.
- Salt and pepper to taste.
Optional: ½ C peanuts, finely ground– skins off (substitute: peanut butter).
Optional: other vegetables as available.
- Wash the sweet potato leaves (substitute peanut or cassava leaves) and remove from the stems.
- Finely chop the leaves with the leek, onions and green peppers or pound in a mortar.
- Bring a pan of salted water to a boil, add the mixture and boil for about 30 minutes, or until tender. Thoroughly drain and rinse if using cassava leaves. Set aside.
- While boiling the greens in the previous step: 1) boil the raw fish for 30 minutes, then remove the fish bones and reserve the fish stock and flesh; 2) brown the goat meat.
- In a large pot or casserole add the goat meat, oil, okra, eggplant pieces, green pepper & red (hot) pepper to the fish sauce and flesh. Add water to completely cover.
- Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for about an hour and the meat is tender. Add additional water if necessary.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Add lemon juice before serving.
- Optional: Add ground peanuts (or peanut butter mixed with a little hot water). Continue cooking for another few minutes.
Ladle over rice, millet or couscous. Place meat chunks on top. This is traditionally eaten from one common bowl placed in
Ladle over rice, millet or couscous. Place meat chunks on top. This is traditionally eaten from one common bowl placed in middle of the table so all can reach.
Sustainable Sheep Production Assignment, Bilasso, Mali, West Africa. June 2013.