Sweet Potato and Spinach or How To Break Rules

One of the things I love most about cooking is that breaking the rules is almost always a good thing. In life this is true about 51% of the time, but in cooking it goes up to 90%.

Take root vegetables. Due to the wonders of ancient technology (like cold storage), you can still find root vegetables in May – tugged from the earth’s embrace in October, preserved all winter long. I like hearty vegs in springtime when everyone else has turned their back and moved on to salads.

I am also a fan of skipping the roasting part of roasted vegetables and “roasting” them on the stove top instead. You get the same results in 10 minutes that would normally take 45. (Not including the 30 minutes of oven-heating time if you’re like me and own an exceedingly lazy oven.) For how-to on roasting vegs on the stove top, click on the recipe (a little further down) and read about roasting outside the oven.

Since spinach is now plentiful at the market I wanted to use it too, but I don’t love plain steamed spinach and get tired of spinach salads, so I created a spinach, sweet potato (as seen above), chickpea dish, with harissa seasoning and coconut milk. I call it Springtime in Morocco.

Here are the other rules that were broken during its creation:

  • Mixing strong spices with light leafy vegs
  • Cutting/breaking up the ingredients after you place them in the pan (chickpeas lend themselves to this practice)
  • Using coconut milk as an accent in a light dish as apposed to using it as a heavy sauce
  • Distrusting a farmer. Like when he has a sign next to his spinach that says “Pre Washed”. In farmer-speak this means all large mounds of earth have been removed. To you and me it means, I don’t have to wash it at home. Think like a farmer. Wash it at home.
  • Adding new ingredients to a dish a day after you make it. (The roasted sweet potato actually got added 24 hours later, when I was eating the sweet-potato-free leftovers. I had a big sweet potato I wanted to use up and felt this dish needed something. It made the dish! A “recipe” is never finished until the food has been entirely eaten.)

The result of those broken rules is an outstandingly light but immensely flavorful dish that can be eaten warm or room temp, on its own as a meal or as a side with say pork, chicken or salmon.

See the photo and recipe here (and learn how to roast on the stove top!)

Common Q’s

Can I use frozen spinach, since it gets cooked anyway, and it’s guaranteed to be washed?
Yes, it’ll just be a bit mushier

What is harissa?
It’s a North African spice medley, similar to Cajun spice. If you don’t have it/can’t find it, a combo of chile powder, cumin, and ginger will do.

What if I don’t like coconut?
I don’t believe it.

Are sweet potatoes better for me than white?
Unlike white, orange potatoes have high levels of beta carotene which the body converts to Vitamin A. And keep the skins on! There is loads of flavor and fiber in the skin.

Why does cooked spinach leave a chalky film on my teeth?
Spinach is high in oxalate crystals (mineral salts) which are released when it’s cooked. Under cooking spinach will help minimize the effect.


Share your favorite ways to eat spinach. Or alternatively, tell us your favorite food rules to break … If you’re reading this in email, click here to leave a comment or on the title at the top.

PS: Only one more day of voting for the Saveur.com best food blog award!  If you have 2 minutes, please drop in a ballot! And many many thanks to those who already have.

Related Posts
Dill and Spinach Omelet (A super basic, incredibly versatile meal)
Greens Powder: What’s In It, What’s Not
(Can you skip the greens and get all the nutrients in a powder form?)


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  • Belinda @zomppa

    All about breaking the rules – especially a lovely dish like this.

  • @yumivore

    Great tips and details. I love roasting. Would be curious to learn more about:
    how-to on roasting on the stove top, please share!

    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com Michelle Madden

      I give a few tips and hints right in the recipe here….http://www.thesweetbeet.com/spinach-chickpeas-sweet-potato/

      But the key is: cut small, get oil hot, sear to create the “brown”,turn heat way down, cover to cook.

      • Anonymous

        Can’t wait to try it. When I’ve roasted root veggies in the oven they came out rubbery.

  • http://twitter.com/alanroettinger Alan Roettinger

    “tugged from the earth’s embrace…” Nice!

    But a true harissa is a sauce, made with fiery red chilies, garlic, olive oil and caraway seeds. Oddly enough, what characterizes harissa is not the chile, but the backnote of caraway.

    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com Michelle Madden

      Thanks for this clarification! I have only ever used harissa in dried spice form! I didn’t know it was usually served as a paste. Then by all means use the paste instead of the dry for this dish. Have you had harissa that did NOT have chile at all in it? Or were you just noting the importance of the caraway? Thx Alan!

    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com Michelle Madden

      Sorry Alan, just read your comment more carefully so you can ignore my follow up! You were indeed simply noting the presence of caraway in its classic sauce version!

  • Anonymous

    What if I don’t like coconut?

    I don’t believe it. Lol

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=738695256 Jess Mahler

    “I don’t believe it” – That’s goo d stuff Michelle. 😉

  • Anonymous

    and P.S….can’t wait to try this at home!!

    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com Michelle Madden

      Good! It is unbelievably simple. The only thing that takes anytime at all is the sweet potato, but once they’re done, you’re about 3 minutes away from a feast. Don’t skimp on the seasoning as the chickpeas and sweet potato need it and can handle it … Let us know how it turns out!

      • Anonymous

        ooo…the only problem is i only have collard greens at home right now….y’think that’ll work? i’m gonna try it anyway, will let you know for sure!

        • http://www.thesweetbeet.com Michelle Madden

          For sure it will work! Remember, this is break-the-rules cooking… Do report back post mealtime…

  • Wolfboat

    I like to saute spinich on olive oil adding garlic, julienned red bell pepper. After plating I add crumbled feta…yum!

    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com Michelle Madden

      It’s been so long since I’ve used crumbled feta but you’ve reminded me that I need to bring it back into the kitchen – soon! One of my fave ways to eat is it with summer figs … that may have to become an August post ….

  • DHB

    If you love sweet potatoes…try my favorite..a Japanese Sweet potato. It is a deep red skinned potato with white sweet meat…MUCH tastier than a sweet potato or yam and great with spinach, chard or kale!!!!!

    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com Michelle Madden

      I will def look for it ! Is it hard to find?

  • Delucam25

    Last week avocados, this week sweet potatoes and spinach – all of my favorite things! I can’t wait to try the new recipes!

  • Delucam25

    Last week avocados, this week sweet potatoes and spinach – all of my favorite things! I can’t wait to try the new recipes!

  • Jack

    I’m not a coconut fan… but what the heck!

    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com Michelle Madden

      If you really really really don’t want to use coconut oil or milk, you can easily substitute with olive oil and then broth to add some moisture … you might want to add a bit more garlic or onion or seasoning or all 3, to compensate for the lack of coconut accent ..

  • jmacncheese

    Gosh darn! I have some asparagus roasting in the oven and as I was putting this in the oven I thought, hm, I should be able to this on the stove top. next time!

    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com Michelle Madden

      Well pull it out!! I’m kidding, but yes, def next time consider the stovetop route. I also find that in the summer, the heat that my oven gives off is enough to power a small city, so anything I can do to never turn it on is a very good thing.

      • jmacncheese

        Ha ha! I LOOK for recipes to turn the stove on in the winter. Too bad I don’t make roasts anymore. I have a little countertop oven that I use when it’s a small batch – and in the summer.

  • http://www.healthyeatingforordinarypeople.com Rivki Locker

    I break loads of comments when cooking but I never thought to stovetop roast. Great idea. One of my favorite shortcuts in the kitchen is to use whole unpeeled heads of garlic in soup and stews instead of peeling and chopping. then, I can remove the entire head before serving. You get all the powerful garlic flavor without the hassle.

    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com Michelle Madden

      Oh that’s a good one … though what if you actually love the taste of the garlic itself and not just the infused flavor! One of my fave things to eat is slow roasted garlic … sweet beyond belief!

  • http://www.healthyeatingforordinarypeople.com Rivki Locker

    Oops, typo in my last comment. :) I break loads of RULES in cooking. (Not loads of comments.)

  • Anonymous

    Two words: nom nom nom nom nom.

    here’s how i broke the rules: used collard greens instead of spinach, 1 whole tin of chick peas (also referred to as “The Flying Garbanzo Brothers”), grape seed oil, (only otherwise use xtra virgin from spain) a3 cloves of garlic and added tumeric to the spice (lately, i’ve been adding tumeric to anything that stands still long enough b/c it’s SO good for you)

    dude even kinda liked it and he HATES anything green! thanks for the recipe michelle! please post more! xoxo

  • Anonymous

    When I want a simple spinach side dish I cook it with some garlic – just like Mom did.

  • vivaciousgourmand.com

    Great and informative and beautiful pics. I liked the roasting on the stove idea too, such a time savor. I thought of your article as I roasted kobucha squash with berebere spice and lemon zest!

    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com Michelle Madden

      I have never used lemon zest when roasting but love the idea!

  • Julie

    Looks tasty and can’t wait to try it.

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  • Alipet813

    I’m new to this, and have a question.  You can buy small cans of coconut milk or you can buy a container of it next to the soy milk, almond milk, etc.  Which are you using?  I used a can on coconut milk recenlty adn it seems to be much thicker and different.  Thanks for your help! 

    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com Michelle Madden

      Good question! There is a lot of variation in consistencies when it comes to coconut milk. The kind you buy next to the almond milk is going to be much much thinner (more like milk) than the kind in the tin (which is more like heavy cream). The one I used for this recipe came in a tin, but I ended up adding a touch of water as it was quite thick.

  • http://www.katherinemartinelli.com Katherine

    Rules are meant to be broken right? Love the coconut milk, sweet potato, spinach combo at play here.

  • Pru Borland

    Just discovered your delightful and informative blog.  And just made this yummy concoction since I happened to have all the stuff on hand.  Though I forgot the onion!  For the spice I used something called “Persian Spice” that came from Sofra in Cambridge MA.  I always have little bags of frozen cooked chickpeas in the freezer; I make big batches in the pressure cooker. 

    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com Michelle Madden

      Persian spice sounds like it would be perfect with this combo of foods! I have a bag of “Turkish Spice” that I bought in Turkey last year and which I have no idea of its contents! I’ve been shaking it on all sorts of things with great results. Sounds like your Persian version is similarly versatile…

  • Anonymous

    Oh my goodness. SO good. Made it for dinner last night and even my coconut-hating partner enjoyed it. Looking forward to my leftovers!

    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com Michelle Madden

      Oh I am SO happy to hear that!! The leftovers are even better. The only thing with the leftovers is spinach has a way of turning food that its mixed with, a muddy color, so the visuals may not be quite so strong day 2, but close your eyes and feast again ….

  • Anonymous

    Such a wonderful dish is present here. I loved fried potatoes very much. It
    is easy in made, very delicious in taste.  I loved to eat this tasty
    recipe again and again.
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  • Scoutsweeney

    Wow.  I bookmarked this several months ago but just got around to making it last weekend when i had some sweets and some spinach that needed using.  I ended up wrapping it in a pita with some falafels and hummus – now I’m not sure I can ever eat plain falafels again!  Just amazing.  Thank you for another delicious way to eat more veg.

  • Angelnorth

    Delicious! Eaten it as a veggie main dish with both rice and quinoa now, enjoyed it very much each time.