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 here, here, here 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
Makes 24 wontons, light lunch for 4 or an appetizer for 6
- 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
- Preheat the oven to 400°.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Drain the wontons and toss gently in a bowl with the soy sauce and hot sesame oil.
- 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.
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.
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..
Click on something to see it with a little more detail. Left and right arrow keys will move you through the photos.