We all know and love sweet potatoes, and we look forward to harvesting them in the fall. However, we don’t have to wait until the cooler months to start enjoying the sweet and flavorful roots. While the plant is busy developing its delicious tubers, it has to seek out nutrients from the surrounding soil and does so by sending out many vines that root as they expand their domain. They are in the same family as morning glories, so these vines grow in prolific abundance. In this way, the sweet potato can take more and more nutrients from the soil to develop the starches and sugars that we all enjoy through the winter and, if you grow enough, early spring. Once the vines have established themselves, we can begin harvesting the greens without any detriment to the plant itself, and they are incredibly delicious. During this time of year it is hard to find leafy greens at market, and we get excited to make available healthful crops like these, as opposed to forcing less seasonal crops like kale and chard through the height of summer.
The really cool thing about the greens themselves, is that from a business perspective, it gives us extra incentive to grow sweet potatoes in the first place. Just to get them started takes a few weeks of work growing slips from last years plants; they take up a lot of space where you could be doing multiple crop rotations, and they’re very labor-intensive to harvest. To top it all off, we have been in an epic battle with a number of groundhogs that find the tender leaves of the young plants very appetizing. But having a market for the greens creates extra money for the farm that can justify the extra work involved in cultivating these highly nutritious, multi-faceted root crops.
When we harvest them, we include the vine itself as well as the big, beautiful leaves. Usually, the best thing to do with them is treat them like you would chard or kale. The leaves can be separated easily from the stems, and set aside while you chop up the stems into smaller pieces. These should be fried in butter, oil, or animal fat until they are tender, at which point you can add the leaves, season with salt and cook until they are fully wilted. Just last night we made a stuffing with them for pork by mixing in caramelized onions and sauteed green tomatoes. It was delicious! Add them to stir fry, soup, or even try making pesto by combining them with garlic, cheese, and your favorite nuts in a food processor. You can’t really go wrong when adding more and more unique ingredients to your cooking arsenal.
Sweet Potato Green Stuffing
One bunch of sweet potato greens
4 green tomatoes
4 very sweet onions
One head of garlic
A few sprigs each of Rosemary and Thyme
Salt and Pepper
Start by heating a nice heavy-bottomed pot and adding the delicious butter to it. Dice the onions and green tomatoes, mince the garlic and add them all to the pot after the butter has melted and begun to brown. Add the whole sprigs of herbs, and mix in. This will allow the flavors to slowly infuse the vegetables, while eliminating the extra hassle of picking and chopping them. After they have been in the pot for a good thirty minutes, you can just fish out the woody stems and discard them. We would suggest playing around with the amount of time they sit in the stew pot and also the amount that you add. Continue cooking everything at a very low heat for a number of hours until the tomatoes and onions have become very reduced and jam-like. At this point, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, cool and set aside. For the greens, do as described in the paragraph above, cool and set aside as well. I think it is worth doing these two processes separately, due to the fact that they have extremely different cooking times. If you feel like doing it all in one pot, by all means be our guest! The two can be mixed together at this point, and stuffed into whatever floats your boat. We recommend pork, of course.
Pro-tip: You could really expand on this recipe by incorporating apples, nuts, and diced, dried bread for a next-level, late-summer stuffing for early-season squashes and pumpkins. Damn, that sounds real good.
They store and keep like any leafy green. It may be advantageous to wrap the base of the stems in a damp paper towel and keep them in a perforated bag in your refrigerator crisper drawer. They should last up to a week if they are kept in this manner, but use them sooner than later so as to get them at their peak flavor!