While working on my upcoming book, The Jemima Code, a historical look at the evolution of soul food, I came across the work of Adrian Miller. In his compelling new book, Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine One Plate at a Time, he celebrates the social and culinary history of iconic African American foods, including one of my holiday favorites, candied yams. His fascinating study of the deep orange vegetable traces yam and sweet potato popularity to West Africa, explains its importance in the plantation economy, and explores the place of roasted sweet potatoes in history as a nutritious “fast food” and an economical accompaniment to possum.

Today sweet potatoes are still important, revered for their naturally-sweet character, and appreciated as a nutritional superfood.They are de riguer on my table at this time of year. This creamy bisque combines sweet potatoes with butternut squash to create a soup rich in vitamins A, C, E, calcium and potassium.

It’s a great alternative to syrupy-sweet tubers topped with marshmallows. African spices, hot pepper sauce, and ginger complement the potatoes instead. Serve this as a sophisticated prelude to a Thanksgiving feast.


2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped carrots

1 large green apple, peeled and chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon minced ginger root

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1 (2-pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced

1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

2 (14-ounce) cans low-sodium chicken broth

1 bay leaf

Salt to taste

1-2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon sriracha, Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce

2 tablespoons reduced-fat sour cream

Chopped fresh cilantro, optional

Melt oil and butter in a Dutch oven or large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrots, apple, garlic and ginger. Sauté until vegetables are tender-crisp, about 5 minutes. Stir in seasonings and cook 2 minutes. Add squash, sweet potatoes, chicken broth and bay leaf. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer covered, 1 hour or until squash and sweet potatoes are very tender. Discard bay leaf.

Season to taste with salt, honey and hot sauce. Puree soup in blender, working in batches, until smooth. Return to same pot. Reheat, is necessary.

Spoon into serving bowls and top with a teaspoon of sour cream and cilantro.

Makes 6-8 servings

Approximate nutrition per 6 servings: Calories 295, Fat 9.7 grams, Cholesterol 12 milligrams, Sodium 122 milligrams.