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Spicy Peanut and Sweet Potato Soup

March 31, 2015

Gone are the bitterly cold, short days of winter. Here are the teasingly warm days of spring. Since the time changed, the evenings are a bit lighter for longer, but an arbitrary hour-hand sweep of the time piece does not a warm evening make. Many of our early evenings still bear the hallmaks of the season past. We can warm up with a hearty meal in a bowl. The sweet potato teams up with peanut butter for a stick-to-your-ribs meal that satisfies for the entire evening.

In the days of old, before food trends, the internet and buzzwords invaded the kitchen, the sweet potato held the lofty position of complete nutrition in a single food—minus protein, of course. The sweet potato is believed to be one of the oldest domesticated foods in human history, its origins dating back thousands of years in Central America. It was among the first foods brought back to the Old World with Christopher Columbus, and its adaptability and hardiness allowed it to flourish in its new environments.

Packed with calcium, potassium, vitamins A and C and other necessary vitamins and minerals, the sweet potato was the nutritional powerhouse that kept early settlers, pioneers and revolutionary war combatants alive. It has been described as the single most nutritionally important plant in the vegetable kingdom, and it’s in your bowl tonight. The sweet potato is not to be confused with the yam, an Old World root vegetable that can grow to over 100 pounds and is almost exclusively cultivated in Africa and Asia. Here in North America, the yam is only available as a canned product. Should your grocer erroneously label his sweet potato display as “yams,” rest assured you will be choosing from good ole’ New World sweet potato produce.

The sweet potatoes we’ll be using should be fairly evenly shaped. This is more for prep than anything else. Since we’ll be cubing the potatoes, even, cylindrical shapes work best. Those enormous specimens you see and can’t imagine roasting for anything less than 2 hours would be perfect for this soup. We don’t typically recommend boiling sweet potatoes since that releases and then washes away their coveted sugars. But for this soup, the sweet potatoes are added raw, cooked in the soup, and the sugars stay in the pot.

So as not to be labeled a one-trick pony, this sweet and creamy soup gets a spicy kick from dark chili powder, ground cayenne pepper and fresh ground black pepper. If your palate leans toward the mild side, consider halving the cayenne and black pepper. The chemicals that give each its unique pungency, capsaicin from the chilis and the piperine from the black pepper, both affect the mucosal membranes in much the same way. Measure for measure, black pepper produces a more intense heat without the accompanying flavors of a chili pepper, so adjust accordingly.

Since we mentioned protein—or rather the lack thereof—above, we’ll round out our nutritional powerhouse with sliced rotisserie chicken breast. Added at the end, and just heated though, we won’t have to worry about the chicken disintegrating in the soup.

If the chilly evening temperatures and the artificially extended evening sunlight hours are giving you a case of dinnertime schizophrenia, a bowl of this delectable soup should put you right as rain in no time.

Spicy Peanut and Sweet Potato Soup

  • 1 cup onion, diced
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, minced finely
  • ½ cup carrot, chopped
  • ¼ cup red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 tablespoon celery seeds
  • 1 tablespoon dark chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne powder
  • ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon finely ground kosher salt
  • 14 ounces diced tomatoes in their liquid
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • ½ cup creamy or chunky peanut butter
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, diced into ¾-inch (about 2 pounds)
  • whole breast of rotisserie chicken, sliced into ½-inch thick pieces 

Heat 2 tablespoons of canola or mild vegetable oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots and bell pepper, sautéing until the vegetables are tender and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for an additional minute. Do not allow the garlic to burn. Add the spices and stir to combine and lightly sauté the spices, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, peanut butter and chicken broth and stir to combine.

Bring the soup to a simmer, adjusting the heat as necessary so the soup doesn’t boil hard. Add the diced sweet potatoes. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the potatoes are tender, but not soft. A sharp knife should be able to pierce through the potato cubes. Add the sliced chicken and heat through, about 2 minutes. Garnish with sliced green onions and dry roasted peanuts.

Pictured with Jicama Slaw

  • 1 large jicama, peeled and shredded (2 cups)
  • ½ cup carrots, peeled and shredded
  • 5 scallions, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons chili garlic paste
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • salt to taste 

Combine all ingredients in a glass bowl, stirring to combine. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving.

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