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~ Caribbean-Style Sweet Potato & Black Bean Stew ~

IMG_0295A steaming hot and hearty stew on a cold day.  Almost nothing is more comforting than it, except perhaps, enjoying it in front of a roaring fire listening to the wind howl and watching the snow flakes fall.  As a lover of sweet potatoes, I am always on the lookout for a scrumptious new way to prepare them, so, quite a few years ago, when I came across this recipe in January (amongst the pages of a in-flight-magazine on my way to a land of sunshine, palm trees and sandy beaches), I was intent on having it -- I'm the one who tore that page out of your magazine, and I'm not sorry.

IMG_0287It was a joy to add it to my recipe box along with another of my favorite cold-weather stew-type dishes, Winner-Winner Crockpot Dinner: Sweet Potato & Ground Beef Chili, and side-dishes like Maple-Smashed Sweet Potatoes, Sweet Potato & Caramelized Onion Casserole, Sweet Potato & Apple Stuffing for Poultry or Pork, and, Spicy, Crispy Oven-Roasted Sweet Potato Fries, plus, two of my signature desserts: a Seriously-Simple Sweet Potato & Apple Cobbler, and a Sophisticated Sweet Potato & Frangelico Tart.  I do adore sweet potatoes.

IMG_5635Sweet potatoes were introduced to North America when Columbus brought them from the island of St. Thomas, where this large, edible root (belonging to the morning-glory family) is native to the tropical regions of the Americas.  There are many varieties of sweet potato, but the two most widely grown commercially are a pale sweet potato and a dark-skinned variety Americans erroneously call "yam" (the true yam is not even related to the sweet potato).  The pale sweet potato has a thin, light yellow skin and pale yellow flesh.  Its flavor is not sweet, and after cooking, it's dry and crumbly, similar to that of a Russet potato.  The darker variety (pictured here in my photograph) has a thicker, dark orange skin and vivid-orange colored center flesh.  When cooked, it has a very sweet flavor and a very tender, creamy texture. Note:  The dark-skinned, orange-colored variety is the only kind I use in all my recipes.

When buying sweet potatoes, choose firm ones without cracks or bruises.  Because I'm often planning to bake them, I pick even-sized ones so they will all cook in the same amount of time.  While they shouldn't be stored in the refrigerator, they do need to be stored in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place.  If the temperature goes above 60 degrees, they'll begin to sprout, get woody and/or shrivel.  Cooked sweet potatoes, if stored in the refrigerator last for about a week.  Like regular potatoes, sweet potatoes are always eaten cooked, and, you can cook them by all the same methods you cook a potato:  bake, boil, fry, grill, roast, microwave or deep-fry.

IMG_02382  tablespoons aceite de achiote, achiote-flavored vegetable oil (vegetable oil with annatto)

1/4  teaspoon ground allspice

1/4  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon ground cloves

1  teaspoon ground cumin

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt

1/2-3/4  teaspoons red pepper flakes

7-8  cups peeled and 3/4" diced sweet potatoes (1 3/4-2-pounds diced sweet potatoes from 2-2 1/4 pounds sweet potatoes)

1 3/4-2  cups medium-diced sweet onion (8 ounces)

1  14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained

1  cup vegetable stock (8 ounces)

1  13 1/2-ounce can coconut milk

1/4  cup jerk-flavored barbecue sauce, your favorite brand

2  15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained 

1  recipe for my aromatically-spiced yellow Caribbean coconut rice (Be sure to read Cook's Note below.)

fresh, chopped cilantro leaves, for garnish

IMG_0242 IMG_0242 IMG_0242 IMG_0242 IMG_0257 IMG_0257~Step 1.  Place achiote oil in a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot over low heat.  Stir in all of the spices (ground allspice, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, garlic powder, sea salt and red pepper flakes), to season the oil.  Add the diced sweet potatoes and onion.  Adjust heat to medium- medium-high and cook, stirring frequently (almost constantly), until the sweet potatoes are softening and the onion is soft, 7-8 minutes.  Add and stir in the diced tomatoes, vegetable stock, coconut milk and jerk barbecue sauce.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and allow to cook, uncovered, until sweet potatoes are fully-cooked, 12-15 minutes.

IMG_0251 IMG_0251 IMG_0251 IMG_0270 IMG_0272~Step 2.  While the stew is simmering, rinse and drain the black beans.  Remove and place 3/4-1 cup of the beans on a plate.  Using a vegetable masher, mash that 3/4-1-cup portion of the beans.  Add all of the beans, whole and mashed, to the pot.  Stir well, reduce heat to simmer, slowly, for 3 minutes.  Turn the heat off, cover the pot, and, allow stew to steep for 1-1 1/2 hours.  This will allow time for the flavors to marry and the broth to thicken (the whole and mashed beans are going to absorb some of the liquid, transforming it from soupy to stew-like).

Thick & chunky, rich & nicely-spiced, steaming hot & hearty:

IMG_0293Add a scoop of rice to your bowl, ladle in some stew, &, dig in:

IMG_0297Caribbean-Style Sweet Potato Stew & Black Bean Stew:  Recipe yields 2 quarts, and, 8 very hearty servings when served over rice.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; garlic press; wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot; large spoon; colander; vegetable masher

IMG_5162Cook's Note:  This rice is so good, I'm at a loss for words (imagine that) to adequately describe it.  It gets its pretty yellow color from aceite de achiote (achiote-flavored vegetable oil) and bijol seasoning.  Click here to get my recipe for ~ Aromatically-Spiced Yellow Caribbean Coconut Rice ~. Tip from Mel:  Because the stew cooks so quickly in the stockpot, I like to prep the ingredients for the rice before cooking the stew, then cook the rice during the hour the stew is steeping.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)


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