When I was a child, I loved to listen to my grandmother tell me magical stories of historical Taiwan. As she cooked my favorite breakfast meal – sweet potato congee – she would recall the days during the Japanese Occupation, when food was scarce and they had to survive on a diet of sweet potatoes and rice. Though times were tough, the picture she conjured was full of warmth, families roasting these orange wonders by the bonfire while children ran around chasing fireflies. While the sweet potato congee simmered, she would make the little side dishes to complete that heavenly breakfast – sauteed spinach with black mushrooms, asian eggplant with basil, and egg omelette with soy sauce, brown sugar, and pickled radish.
With the craziness of work and life, I haven’t been able to see my grandparents in almost 2 years and I miss them dearly. So I made this sweet potato dish in my moment of nostalgia, taking inspiration from all the yummy Taiwanese dishes that nourished my little tummy, but putting a westernized spin by layering it into a sweet potato lasagne, and infusing with culturally diverse flavors.
The eggplant was marinated in a blend of olive oil and Italian herbs, the spinach and portabello mushrooms tossed with heavy cream and Mexican cheeses, and the sweet potatoes dipped in dry curry powder. You may think with the mish-mosh of herbs and flavors that it’s a totally crazy dish. And indeed, Brian gave me a funny look when I described my vision, but trust me, it worked! The result was a burst of complementary flavors that tasted as familiar as my grandma’s love, but with an exotic twist that ventured into a new territory. I just wish I could cook this for her someday soon!
- Sweet potatoes – sliced 1/2 inch thick and dipped in a dry curry powder/olive oil mixture
- 1 large eggplant – sliced into 1 inch thick pieces and marinated in olive oil and Italian seasonings (basil, oregano, thyme)
- Chopped Spinach
- Mushrooms (portabello, shitake, or black)
- Half & Half or Heavy Cream
- Mexican Cheeses (Queso Blanco, Monterey Jack, Cheddar)
- Green chili peppers or jalapenos
- Marinara Sauce (I made it with tomato paste, tomato sauce, fire-roasted tomatoes, basil, red wine, garlic)
- Ground Beef (for the carnivore in my household)
- Marinate Eggplants and Sweet Potatos according to ingredients above (or whatever you fancy)
- Saute spinach and mushrooms until cooked, add in green chili peppers or jalapenos for some spice.
- Turn the heat down and add in some heavy cream and mexican cheeses until mixture is creamy, but not watery
- Start layering the lasagne. This was my order: Sweet Potatos, Spinach/Mushroom Mix, Eggplants, Marinara Sauce, Sweet Potatoes, Spinach/Mushrom Mix, Eggplants, Then finally the remaining Mexican Cheese Blend on top.
- *For Brian, I substituted the second layer of Spinach/Mushroom mix with ground beef
- Cook at 350-375 for about 30-45 min. **Note: every recipe I read gave instructions to bake the sweet potato first, and I skipped the step, all the while paranoid that I would end up with burnt cheese and uncooked potatoes. So I second guessed myself and cranked the oven to 425. Well turns out, after the 15 min oven check, I did get burnt cheese (as you can see in the pictures) but the sweet potatoes already cooked beautifully. No need to pre-cook or bake at unnecessarily high temperature at all!
- Devour with Passion
Variations You Can Play With:
- When summer comes, I want to substitute sweet potato with zucchini for a more refreshing zing
- If you adore sweet flavors, marinate the sweet potatoes in some brown sugar, nutmeg, and cinnamon instead
- Feel free to experiment with flavors and cuisines – why not try some Chinese 5 spice on the sweet potato, or substitute the spinach with some All-American hearty kale?
- If you MUST have your carbs, you can layer the lasagne noodles in for a more traditional veggie lasagne
- Using fresh mozzarella or a ricotta cheese blend will make the flavors more mild, using fontina or gouda cheese will give it a more smokey twist
- Veggies like carrots, celery, butternut squash, bell peppers would all work beautifully here; it’s just a matter of what you’re craving (or what you can find in your fridge!)
- Finally, I really really wanted to try incorporating that egg omelette layer, but was afraid that would just be a bit TOO much – even for me. Thinking back, I think the baked egg layer would’ve acted as nice structural support for the dish, and wouldn’t overpower the flavors, so if you are adventurous enough to try it, let me know how it turns out for ya!