How to cook Southern-style, tender young sweet potato greens
As I sit here contemplating the wealth of purple and orange sweet potatoes contentedly gestating under an ever-thickening blanket of lush leaves I can’t help but be grateful for my luck – a delicious bonus crop of tender and healthy young greens.
All those leaves spilling into and over the garden, smothering weeds with their fragile strength, are actually edible. They’re also really tasty – less bitter than chard or kale and with 3 times more vitamin B6, 5 times more vitamin C, and almost 10 times more riboflavin than the actual sweet potatoes themselves, according to Prevention Magazine.
The best part? They actually taste really good. If you pick them young and cook them in a slow cooker, they are milder and more tender than just about any other green – even collards.
And the best part is, if you don’t cut the vines back too much, you can enjoy fresh greens right up until you harvest the tubers in the fall. (English pea leaves and shoots are edible too, but harvested in a during a different season.)
- Harvest the sweet potato leaves and shoots in the morning or in the evening, when they are less likely to have become bitter from the heat
- Use a sanitized pair of scissors to cut so you don’t spread plant diseases
- You can cook the whole new end shoots, but the larger leaves taste good, too
- Snip off up to a foot of the vines if they are long enough to have trailed onto and covered the ground but not every day; try harvesting every couple of weeks.
- If you love them too much to wait, you can root some shoots in water in your house – they make gorgeous and edible houseplants!
Jenn’s Southern-style sweet potato greens
Here’s a simple recipe for Southern style sweet potato greens. Serve with cast-iron skillet cornbread, savory Southern peas and a sliced tomato fresh from the garden. Some people love to douse theirs in homemade hot pepper sauce or a store-bought version like Texas Pete.
- Enough sweet potato leaves and shoots to fill up a 16-quart slow cooker
- Smoked turkey leg, hamhock, country ham or other seasoning
- 8 cups water
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Tip: To make this recipe vegetarian, use a high-quality (preferably homemade) vegetable stock in place of the water, and add a little olive oil or – better yet – vegan bacon strips
- You can cook the whole shoots, stem, leaves and all. However, cut the larger leaves from the stems.
- Wash well (they get sandy), and bury the stems and scraps back into the ground to improve soil
- Put the greens into the slow cooker along with the meat or seasoning
- Cover with the 8 cups of water
- Cook on low for up to 8 hours