In March I start my annual passive-aggressive relationship with the remaining winter vegetables in my basement. They deserve better, I know, but I walk past the vegetable bin almost daily and ignore them. Eventually I will look, hoping they have rotted at which point I will get angry because they haven’t inspired me to cook them.
But this year is different, at least for the sweet potatoes. I’ve finally decided to recreate a traditional Argentine dessert that I enjoyed three years ago on a business trip to Buenos Aires. (quick aside: If you love steak make a pilgrimage to Buenos Aires and you will never want to eat in a US steak house again.)
After eating a late afternoon and apparently typical lunch of an assortment of meats and sweetbreads (my first pancreas!) accompanied by an arugula salad, it was time for dessert. I asked my Argentine colleagues to suggest something local and traditional. They recommended and I enjoyed dulce de batata y queso fresco - sweet potato jam with fresh cheese.
When I returned to the Twin Cities, I couldn’t buy dulce de batata anywhere. I searched the Web and found a few recipes, but it remained on my Things To Cook list. This month, I decided to check the Web again and I found a reference to dulce de batata in a 659 page book: “Sweet Potato: An Untapped Resource” by Jennifer A. Woolfe. According to Woolfe, dulce de batata is made from an equal weight of sweet potato and sugar cooked together with a little vanilla added. It can be thickened with agar or the natural pectin in the sweet potato. I thought if someone could devote the time to write 659 pages about the sweet potato, the least I could do is make the dessert.
How thick did I want my dulce de batata? That seemed to be the only important question. I decided to skip the agar that would have allowed me to slice it, but I didn’t trust the natural pectin in the potato to thicken it enough for my liking. I added a small amount of pectin to make it jam-like. The result was a jam that could stand up on its own. The final test was the taste. I spread some of the jam on my queso fresco. The flavor was all Buenos Aires and the memories of my brief, but unforgettable trip.
The cheese I enjoyed in Buenos Aires was a young cow’s milk cheese. I couldn’t find Queso Fresco from Argentina at local cheese shops, but I was extremely happy with Mexican Queso Fresco. I’ve found it at most Mexican grocery stores and at Whole Foods.
Dulce de Batata y Queso Fresco (sweet potato jam with fresh cheese)
4 oz sweet potatoes (about 1), 4 oz sugar, 1/4 t vanilla
Peel and cut the sweet potato into 1” pieces. In a small pan, cover the pieces with water and bring to a boil. Simmer until very tender. Drain and mash or rice the potato. Combine the potato with the sugar and cook until the sugar is dissolved. Boil 1 teaspoon Sure-Jell with 2 T water for one minute, Stir into the potato/sugar mixture and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.
Put into a small container or ramekin and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours. Refrigerate. Spread on top of bite size slices of queso fresco.