Taken from Food for Thought by Vanessa Kimbell. Published by Kyle Books. Photography by Laura Edwards.
I often try and use produce from the garden to make lunch. Lunch is about conversation and we don’t just talk about making bread. Conversation is about exchanging idea’s and connecting to the world. It’s about more than just a delicious loaf, most people are also considering the things that connect us to our food, to each other, and to the planet we live on. I’m always conscious that every time I choose an ingredient it is more than just a purchase. It is a choice, but being ethical and sustainable is never just black and white.
This fragrant, slightly sweet and warming vegan-friendly soup is based on one my Canadian sister-in-law cooks. It’s easy to make and just the kind of soup you need to keep you going on a blustery winter’s day. The sweet potatoes in my local shop are imported, of course, but I found that with a lot of determination and care I could actually grow them in my garden here in Northamptonshire. They were tiny and a lot of effort, as I had to protect them from the frost, but tasted delicious and they travelled just 20 feet to my kitchen in a bucket. However, I’m not yet convinced that this was a practical thing to do, when there are alternatives worth considering.
Sweet potatoes are a remarkable food source; originally from Latin America, where they have been cultivated for thousands of years, they spread first through Polynesia, long before the arrival of Europeans, and then to New Zealand, the Philippines and by 1600AD to China. In fact, they will grow in any tropical or warm temperate climate, and are a key crop in southwest India, Africa and the southeastern USA.
In northern Senegal, for example, the Diama Dam project a few kilometres from the old colonial city of Saint-Louis had already spanned the Senegal river, with the twin objectives of preventing saltwater intrusion from the nearby estuary and providing a more secure supply of fresh water for the irrigation of semi-arid land. One project running since 2006 has harnessed this to create a farming venture which grows sweet potatoes, chillies, onions, sweetcorn and more. Replacing animal herding and fishing with horticulture has provided new employment opportunities for young people who would previously have drifted to African cities or even towards Europe as economic migrants; and some of the proceeds from exports have gone into providing schools, medical centres and clean drinking water.
This is far-sighted in two ways: local society is stabilised and sweet potatoes have become part of their diet, providing not just carbohydrates and fibre, but also beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, which is important for good vision and eye health, reducing the incidence of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. The leaves also provide lutein and xanthine, which protect the eyes and may also have wider health benefits. I realise that there are food miles to consider when buying produce imported from Africa, but on balance, I feel that I can use my garden more productively to grow something else for my kitchen, and that a relatively short journey by boat, for Senegalese sweet potatoes which have so many benefits, is a compromise I am willing to make.
- 3 tablespoons coconut oil
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 large onion, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1kg sweet potatoes, peeled diced
- 1kg potatoes, peeled and diced
- 2 litres hot vegetable stock
- a large handful of fresh dill
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Crusty sourdough bread, to serve
Put the coconut oil in a deep pan, add the bay leaves, onion and garlic and sauté lightly. Add the sweet potatoes, potatoes and stock and stir well. Cover and simmer for 18–20 minutes. Check that the potatoes are cooked and remove the bay leaves.
Chop the dill and add half to the pan. Set half the soup aside and liquidise the other half. Mix the two halves back together in the pan to give you a smooth, thick base with chunks. Stir in the remaining dill and season with salt and black pepper. You can adjust the thickness by adding a little water and heat again if needed. Serve with warm crusty bread.
Please note: At The Sourdough School we endeavour to use fresh, seasonal, locally produced ingredients wherever possible. We reserve the right to change certain ingredients depending on availability, and rely on students to contact the school before attending a course if they have any food allergies or intolerances.