Hong Kong has been miserable for what feels like forever. The grey skies and living, almost literally, in a cloud has been a mood damper for all of us. On days (or in this case months!) like this I crave comfort food – and this bowl of warming soup does just the job. Beautifully spiced (with some of the most treasured Ayurveda spices known for their important role in digestion), with a comforting creaminess of sweet potato and coconut milk, this soup does not only delivery a feeling of cocoon-like comfort, but is also a great source of lean protein and packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory characteristics that give us that much needed boost on grey winter days.
The spices in this soup not only elevate the dish to a new level of colours, aromas and tastes, but, more importantly, are known to possess therapeutic and healing properties. In fact, the spices used here form an essential part of Ayurvedic approach to food – rich in antioxidants, minerals and multivitamins, these naturally increase your metabolism and have been known for their healing benefits for centuries.
Ginger not only brings an invigorating flavour, freshness, gentle spiciness and sweetness to food, but has antibiotic effects, can help digestion, neutralise toxins, fight infections and ease inflammation. Turmeric – a member of ginger family – is a very strong antioxidant (considered to be stronger than vitamin C!) and anti-inflammatory; and has been used as traditional Ayurvedic medicine for more than 5,000 years to support digestion, treat infections and inflammations, and help remove toxins. Turmeric and black pepper is a great match as the black pepper helps to enhance the bioavailability of curcumin (an active phytochemical in turmeric) by a thousand times. Cumin is considered invaluable for digestion and is known to help flush toxins out of the body. Coriander – whether it’s the green fresh leaves or the ground earthy coriander seeds – is known to be a powerful aid to digestion and has anti-bacterial properties.
But it is not only the spices that make this soup magic. Sweet potato is another ingredient that is not only comforting, but also filled with so much goodness. Sweet potatoes have nothing to do with a white potato a lot of us grew up with and actually belong to a morning glory family, not the potato family. They have a much lower GI index than white potatoes, helping control our insulin levels, and, in fact, have been shown to have the ability to improve blood sugar level regulation in the body (even for those with type 2 Diabetes). The science behind this is that these beautiful orange-fleshed roots (sometimes they can be purple-coloured as well) are able to increase levels of adiponectin – a protein hormone produced by our fat cells which is an important modifier of insulin metabolism – and hence regulate the way your body metabolize insulin. Sweet potatoes are also rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients which may be able to lower the potential health risk posed by heavy metals and oxygen radicals; and the deeper the colour of the flesh of the sweet potato, the higher the antioxidant content. The strikingly bright roots are also a great source of beta-carotene (the intake of which is significantly increased if you include some fat along with your sweet potato in your meal) and contain resin glycosides that show strong anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.
2 tablespoons of coconut oil (for sautéing)
1 white onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
A large thumb-size piece of ginger, grated
A small green chilli (or more to taste), de-seeded and diced
2 level tablespoon freshly grated turmeric root* (or a teaspoon of dried one if you can’t find the fresh root)
1 teaspoon of coriander seeds, crushed in pestle and mortar
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, crushed in pestle and mortar
1 teaspoon of black peppercorns, crushed in pestle and mortar (or a good grinding of black pepper)
2 medium size free range chicken breasts, diced
1 large sweet potato, sliced into thin half rounds (do not peel them as the skin is actually more nutritious than the flesh. Just given them a good scrub)
1 can of organic coconut milk (400ml)
800ml home-made chicken stock
Juice of 1 lime
A large handful of frozen spinach (I use the one frozen in little disks, about 8 of them)
1 ripe avocado, diced
Coriander or parsley, chopped
(Makes enough for 4 generous portions)
Heat some coconut oil in a large cast iron casserole dish and sauté the onions, garlic and ginger on low heat until onion is translucent. Stir regularly to make sure nothing browns. Add chopped chilli and ground spiced and turmeric and stir for a minute to let the heat release the aromas. Now add the stock and coconut milk and bring to simmer before adding diced chicken and sweet potato. Bring back to gentle simmer and let is cook for 15-20 mins, until chicken is cooked through and sweet potato is soft. Add the frozen spinach, cover and let simmer for a few minutes.
At this point you can either mash some of the sweet potatoes with a fork to achieve a thicker consistency or leave them whole (which is the way we prefer it). Add the lime juice and taste and see if any more is needed to ‘lift’ the soup a little more.
It is now ready to serve topped with diced avocado and coriander / parsley leaves. A comforting bowl of this earthy, aromatic, beautifully orange coloured from both turmeric and sweet potatoes, this soup brings a ray of sunshine even when the skies are grey. Let the magic begin!
*Please remember that turmeric root stains everything orange really easily. No matter how cautious I am grating it, I always end up walking around with orange fingers after handling turmeric… Not a pleasant sight. Lemon juice – a solution we usually go to when it comes to stains and smells – does not help remove turmeric stains. After numerous experiments, I have found that sugar used as a scrub, as well as washing your hands in milk, are the best solutions when it comes to reducing the orange staining.