• Kathryn Hedges

How To Make Sweet Potato Curry

This is the recipe from my Curry Feed fundraisers for a biology club at Humboldt State University back in 2008-09. We had people lined up across the lobby, waiting for a bowl of this vegan curry ladled over rice with a cookie and a drink for $5. I realized it would be popular when I was cooking dinner for the club and random students kept poking their heads in the door asking what smelled so good! I probably should've quit school and opened a food truck, but instead I spent a day cooking and a day serving once a semester to raise funds for the club after we lost our HHMI sponsorship.

It's a great recipe for potlucks and I've never seen a carnivore turn up their nose at it. It's colorful and savory, with a bit of heat and balanced sweet and sour tastes in a creamy sauce. You can adapt it easily to your preference of spice level and what vegetables you like or are in season. It's Indian-inspired but I've never seen anything like it in an Indian cookbook. The golden sauce in this picture doesn't even have turmeric (I forgot to add it this batch)--it's based on coconut milk with spices, caramelized onions, and the smaller bits of sweet potato dissolved into a rich creamy sauce. I guess you can call it a Humboldt curry?

You can cook it on the stovetop in a big saucepan, a Dutch oven, an electric skillet, or a rice cooker. However, I have no experience with an Instant Pot so I have no idea how to get all the vegetables cooked but not mushy.

Sweet Potato Curry (Serves 4-6: Feel free to multiply for potlucks!)

Serve over rice or other fluffy grains


2-3 tbsp oil (any type)

1 tsp black or brown mustard seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

1/2 tsp coriander seeds

1/2 tsp fennel seeds

3 cloves

5 allspice (optional)

1 cinnamon stick (optional)

3 cardamom pods or 1/4 tsp cardamom seeds

1-2 bay leaves (optional)

1 brown onion, chopped

1" cube ginger, diced or grated

2 cloves garlic, chopped (optional)

1 chili, chopped (adjust to taste: seeded jalapeno is mildest, I use serrano with seeds) (can use 1 packet pizza pepper if you don't have fresh chilies) - can omit if using canned tomatoes with chilies

1 sprig curry leaves (optional)

1/2 tsp turmeric powder (optional)

1 tsp garam masala (can substitute 1/2 tsp Chinese 5-spice but omit fennel seeds and add a few dashes cinnamon, cumin, allspice or maybe just pie spice--probably pie spice + cumin would be close enough in a pinch)

Large pinch of hing (asafoetida) (optional)

1 1/2 lb sweet potatoes (garnet yams are good), scrubbed and cut into bite sized slices 3/8" thick -- make sure to include any smaller bits (I don't peel them but if pieces of peel will bother you, you can peel them)

Hot water to barely cover sweet potatoes, about 2 cups

12 oz can diced tomatoes including their juice (with green chili is OK but cut back chilies, do not recommend tomatoes with basil)

6 oz Thai style coconut milk (sauce will be thinner if you substitute beverage style coconut milk)

12 oz can garbanzo beans, drained (You can use tofu, seitan, tempeh, or other meat substitute, but add those later in cooking so they don't disintegrate. If you eat dairy, paneer cubes would be good to add later in cooking.)

You do NOT need all the vegetables! You just need about 4 cups total of veggies, and this list is just suggestions of what I've used and liked. If you're making a double or triple batch for a potluck, it works well to have more kinds of veggies. I don't recommend potatoes because that's just more starch, but they're pretty good in it. Winter squash is too similar to sweet potato for my taste, but it's not bad, if you have some squash you need to use up.

When I made potluck size batches for the club, I typically used carrots, eggplant, cauliflower, green beans, zucchini, and red bell peppers.

Carrots, sliced 1/4" thick (add early)

Eggplant, 3/4" diced (add early)

Turnips, sliced 1/4" thick (add early)

Cauliflower, broken into 3/4" florets (add midway)

Broccoli, broken into 3/4" florets (add midway)

Celery, sliced 1/4" thick (add midway)

Green beans, broken into bite sized lengths (add midway)

Zucchini or other summer squash, quartered lengthwise and sliced 1/4" (add late)

Red/yellow/orange bell peppers, quartered and sliced 1/4" wide (add late)

Spinach, rinsed and shredded (add late)

Snow peas or sugar snaps (mange-tout), cut into bite-sized pieces (add near the end)

Mushrooms, sliced 1/4" thick (add near the end)

Frozen peas (add last)

1/2 tsp garam masala (optional)

1 lemon or lime (use juice of half, cut other half into wedges to garnish)

2 tbsp chopped cilantro, chopped (optional)


Chopped cilantro, yogurt or raita, Indian pickle


Heat oil in pan, add whole spices in order. Fry on medium heat until cumin seeds are toasty but not burned. (If they burn, throw it out and start over.)

Add onion, fry till it starts browning, turn down heat and caramelize while cutting sweet potatoes.

Add chopped ginger, garlic, chili and stir till they cook a bit. Add powdered spices and fry a bit.

Put sweet potato pieces in pot and shuffle them around till the layer is fairly uniform. Add hot water and bring to a boil on high heat. Turn down heat to medium and start checking for for them to be about half-tender in about 15 minutes. You can cut up the other vegetables, in the order you need to add them, while cooking the sweet potatoes. (If you're doing a big batch, though, you probably want to pre-cut and do mise en place.)

Add the tomatoes, stir, and add coconut milk. If you are using garbanzo beans, this is a good time to add them.

Add vegetables in order of their cooking time, letting them start tenderizing before adding the next one.

When the vegetables are done, stir in the lemon or lime juice (to balance the sweetness of the sweet potatoes), half the cilantro if you and your guests all like it, and some dashes of garam masala. Salt to taste or have salt on the table.

Serve over rice (or other grain) garnished with a lemon or lime wedge, and pass dishes of cilantro, yogurt, and/or Indian pickle. (Sriracha is good if it's not spicy enough.)

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