Sweet Potato Wontons with Cashew Sauce

Well, it had to end some day, our last taste of the Bue Zones: Sweet Potato Wontons with Cashew Sauce.  Contrary to all of the clichés about Californians, in reading Dan Buettner’s description of Seventh Day Adventists in our final Blue Zone, in Loma Linda California, I was put in mind of the genial self-effacing mainstream Mormons of Jonathan Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven.  They’re enthusiastic, they volunteer, they care about each other, always willing to pitch in and lend a hand.  In short you’d be happy to have them living on your block.  Except that they’d live way longer than you; actually, they’d live longer than just about everybody.     

Seventh Day Adventism, or even its concern with with health, is too complicated for me to attempt to explain in a paragraph.  But there is one aspect of their otherwise seemingly ordinary Christian theology that stands out–the belief that God speaks to us through our bodies.  If we abuse our bodies or minds we degrade our receptivity to God’s wishes for us.  In this light, it follows that we should try to be beneficial stewards of our bodies.  Beginning  in the early decades of the religion’s founding in the first half of the 19th century, an emphasis on health evolved with SDA theology.  Although meat isn’t banned, vegetarianism is encouraged and many members of the SDA church are vegan.  Alcohol is similarly discouraged, along with cigarettes, coffee, and “stimulating” spices or condiments.  (Strictly speaking, I’m not sure the hot version of sesame oil in our recipe would make the cut.)

There is not, as far as we could tell, a true SDA culinary culture; not in the way, say, that Mennonite food echoes culinary characteristics of that community’s German low country origins.  Seventh Day Adventists seem to eat a lot of nuts, but vegans and vegetarians generally tend to eat more nuts than those who eat meat.  Given the broad parameters of the SDA thinking, we simply decided to present a dish that was both appealing and vegetarian–even vegan (use eggless wonton wrappers).  Sweet potatoes fit the bill; the cashew sauce adds more flavor.

Our goal in posting about the Blue Zones was quite simple–to give ourselves, and you–an opportunity to prepare and eat food similar to what you might find in these special communities where people live to be quite old.  I hope we’ve provoked you to seek out more information about the Blue Zones and their inhabitants.  The story is so much larger than simply what people eat; so much larger than I could explore in this short space, and so much more interesting from a scientific standpoint.

You don’t need to move to rural Sardinia or live on a Greek island to reap some of the Blue Zone benefits  Buettner distills his insights from the Blue Zone research into what he calls the “Power Nine,” practical pieces of lifestyle wisdom culled from the people and places in the world where people not only live the longest, but the healthiest lives.  You can find out more by reading his book or by visiting www.bluezones.com.  Enjoy.  Ken  

*For information about the Blue Zones and Seventh Day Adventists I am indebted to Dan Buettner’s book The Blue Zones, available at www. bluezones.com or on Amazon.com.  For the month of January–and a little beyond–we’ve been posting about the food of the Blue Zones, a term coined by Dan Buettner and his partners, Dr. Gianni Pes of the University of Sassari in Italy and Dr. Michel Poulain, a Belgian demographer.  Blue Zones are five specific regions in the world where people live exceptionally long, healthy lives.  The Blue Zones include the Greek Island of Ikaria; Okinawa, Japan; the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; the Barbagia region in Sardinia, Italy; and the Seventh-Day Adventist community of Loma Linda, California.  For additional information check out our previous posts about Blue Zones food hereherehere and here.  You can find Dan Buettner’s article in the New York Times Magazine that originally aroused our interest here; and you can find additional information at the Blue Zones® website.

Sweet Potato Wontons with Cashew Sauce-2

Sweet Potato Wontons with Cashew Sauce

Makes 24 wontons, light lunch for 4 or an appetizer for 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup toasted cashews
  • 1 cup vegetable broth or water
  • ¾ pound sweet potatoes, scrubbed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup white onion, chopped into ¼ inch dice
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 hot red chili pepper, minced, save 1 teaspoon for garnish
  • 1 lime–the picture has 2 limes but I only used 1.
  • 1/8 stick cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon cardamom seeds (seeds from 3 cardemom pods)
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • ½ teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh turmeric, or 1 teaspoon dry
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro stems
  • 24  wonton wrappers (buy eggless wrappers to make dish vegan)
  • 1/3 cup coconut milk
  • 1-2 tablespoons hot sesame oil + additional for passing
  • 2-3 tablespoons soy sauce + additional for passing
  • 4 small scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • ½ cup cilantro leaves

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°.
  2. Put ¾ cup cashews in a bowl and cover with 1 cup vegetable stock.  Allow to soak 1 hour.  Chop the remaining cashews and reserve for garnish.
  3. Put the potatoes on a baking sheet and bake for 1 hour or until tender and they’re starting to split.  Cool.  Remove from the skins. Mash to a puree.  You should have a generous 1 cup. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat.  Add the onion, cover and cook 3 minutes.  Add ginger, garlic and chili and cook until the onion starts to brown, 5-6 minutes.   Careful that it doesn’t burn.  Remove 2 tablespoons of the onion mixture and add to the sweet potato with the zest of one lime and juice of three quarters of a lime.
  5. Grind the cinnamon, cardamon seeds, paprika and turmeric together in a mortar and pestle (or use a spice grinder).  Stir the ground spices and the cilantro stems into to the onion mixture in the pan and cook another 2 minutes.
  6. Transfer to a blender.  Add the cashews in the stock and the coconut milk and puree until smooth.  Pour the sauce back into the pan, add a squirt of juice from the remaining half lime and heat through.  Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt, pepper and lime juice as needed.  If it gets too think, add a little water.  Keep warm.
  7. Make the wontons.  Use your finger to moisten the edges of each  wonton wrapper before folding.  Add a heaping teaspoon of filling.  The photographs illustrate two approaches to folding.  You might need to moisten the outside of the folded corners to get them to stick to one another.  The triangle method takes a bit more filling than the rectangle method.  If you think you have more wontons than filling you can switch to the rectangle method, or the reverse if you think you have more filling than available wontons.
  8. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the wontons and cook until they start to rise toward the surface, which means they’re done.  They should take about 2 minutes after the water returns to a boil.
  9. Drain the wontons and toss gently in a bowl with the soy sauce and hot sesame oil.
  10. You can either serve from a platter, as we’ve done in the photos, or portion directly into warm bowls.  Put a large spoonful of warm sauce into each bowl.   Top with the wontons, then garnish with chopped cashews, minced chilis, sliced scallions,  and cilantro leaves.  Pass the extra soy sauce and sesame oil.

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Sweet Potato Wontons with Cashew Sauce-10

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Sweet Potato Wontons with Cashew Sauce-19

Sweet Potato Wontons with Cashew Sauce-20

This is about a half portion.  I answered the phone and then forgot to add the rest of the serving.  The cilantro, by the way, is there for flavor–we weren’t attempting to bury the wontons in green leaves.

Jody Notes:  

Figuring out what recipe to include in this post about Seventh Day Adventists was the hardest Blue Zone challenge so far.  In my reading about them, I found vegetarian dishes with flavors from around the world.   I came across cashews several times and, looking for something to latch onto, decided it was a trend.  My memory took me way back to the beginning of my line cooking days when I was serving little pork wontons with a cashew sauce.  I don’t remember how the sauce was made, so I improvised here.  Since we learned in all our Blue Zone Research that sweet potatoes are really good for you, they seemed like the perfect choice for the filling.  (I could have picked taro.  You’re welcome.)  I like to think that a Seventh Day Adventist would find plenty to like in this dish, even if he had to leave out the hot sesame oil..  

Sweet Potato Wontons with Cashew Sauce-21

Click on something to see it with a little more detail.  Left and right arrow keys will move you through the photos.

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31 thoughts

  1. Fascinating & informative post! Never mind the storm, I’m jumping on a plane and will be there 6is tonight FOR SURE! :)
    This looks just incredible. Please stay warm. I know you’ll be eating well, you lucky ducks!

    • HA! The funny thing is, we have TONS of food. We just finished the blog post for next week. Tomorrow we’re getting a jump on the two following after that–because we’ll be in Haiti. Ideal weather for hunkering down, cooking and photographing. Last report: 2 inches/hour. Ken

  2. I may make it to the century mark after all, as I plan to eat this at least once a week for the foreseeable future! (Oh, and stay warm and well-fed up there in the storm.)

    • Hi, Michelle–Looks like we’re topping out at a little over two feet. All non-emergency traffic banned. High temp around 24, with wind chill taking it down to -1. We’re cooking and shooting today, good supply of wood for the fireplace If we didn’t have to walk the dog we’d be in heaven. Ken

  3. Hey you two. Greetings from the storm battered coast of Rhode Island! A monster outside but warm and toasty in here with all praise to our generator. Power out around 6:00 but we just finished our first ever home made wontons. Misjudged the dried hot chiles. This sauce would have made an SDA blush. I am not sure I will ever eat a sweet potato without lime juice and zest again. Thanks so much for taking us down these paths. Come visit our path some day when it is warm and toasty outside.

    • We’ll gladly drop by in more clement weather. I’m happy you guys liked the wontons–I have a feeling we’ll be doing more of them, just because they’re so easy. I have to say the Blue Zone material has been really interesting, particularly from the standpoint of staying fit, eating a balanced diet. I’m intrigued by how people do that without rushing to the gym or coming off as a nutritional school marm. I hope your power returns soon–aside from a flicker of the lights late last night we haven’t had any (knock on wood) problems. Ken

  4. Hi Jody and Ken-=
    I will try these when I can get the ingredients-we’re still snowed in with Alice- about to play a game and watch a movie. Miss you! Can’t believe summer will arrive, but enjoying the snow.

    So nice to hear/see your voices and your food!
    Charlotte

    • Charlotte! How nice to hear from you. We dug Jody’s car out this morning–she has a cooking class to teach at Rialto. I think we’ll just leave mine until April. As for summer, I’m afraid it will be here tomorrow and still be behind. The wontons are easy and delicious–and fun to make with kids. Ken

  5. Made these on Saturday as a post-shoveling treat. So good! Didn’t have hot sesame oil so used a bit of toasted sesame oil instead. The sauce was spicy enough as it was. I’m thinking of making a batch of just the sauce to have on hand for other dishes. Vegetarian suggestions for what it might go well with? And do you think it would freeze okay? Looking forward to the leftovers for a quick meal tonight.

    • Suggestions for the sauce: try something with red peppers, sweet potatoes or beets, like soup (give it a swirl) or fresh pasta (the pasta itself should be flavored with the vegetable, if possible). If you really mean vegetarian, and not vegan, then there are lots of ravioli that would work. Yes, you can freeze them–BEFORE you cook them (you can freeze them after, but they’ll be really mushy). Line a surface with wax paper. Arrange the wontons on top, not touching each other. Freeze. Once they’re frozen carefully transfer to a freezer bag. Good luck. Ken

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  8. I have only just found your blog! Its really great. Thanks for the recipes. I have read Dan’s book and found the principles really interesting. Im particularly interested in the social aspects affecting longevity however, my family is also trying to implement some of the dietary aspects as well. We have two littlies and luckily they love their fruit and veg! Glad to find some fellow Blue Zones fans. Erin @ bookgirloz

    • Hi, Erin–I think social life is key, along with a little red wine. :) Glad you like the blog. I think you’ll find a lot of our stuff that will work, from a Blue Zone perspective, and many other recipes that would definitely fall outside it. But generally speaking, we like the Blue Zone approach a lot–a plant-centric diet, low intensity exercise (I do jump rope–so I sympathize with your inclination to run) so we incorporate as much biking and walking into our lives as we can. In addition to four glass milk bottles of nuts on our kitchen table, there’s also one of dukkah (search for it in the FIND A POST menu up top, if you’re not already familiar with the wild Aussie versions). We already did about 90% of our cooking with olive oil. We like pork belly, bacon and cream as much the next folks, but usually in small portions and only once in awhile. Obviously we eat meat, although not as much as we used to, and our red meat consumption probably spikes in the summer because we like grilling lamb. All of this is just to give you a sense of our orientation, not an our-way-is-the-best. Anyway, thanks for stopping by and I hope you find some things that you want to cook. Ken

      • I like the sound of your dukkah. I like to make a lot of things from scratch, so I’ll be sure to give it a try. We try to do many things that you have mentioned and I am managing to turn my meat loving husband into a veg loving one (my Indian almost-veg mother in law loves me!) Im working on a post about living the Blue Zones way with kids and would really like to link in with your blog if that is ok with you?

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