This dish can best be described in three words – frugal, creamy and showstopping.
These aren’t generally descriptions that you expect to go well together, how can it be budget-friendly yet still be able steal the spotlight at my next potluck?! Well, hear me out.
It’s frugal because other than the sour cream, all the other ingredients are positively dirt cheap! Sweet potatoes, lentils and dried spices are the key players here and they cost next to nothing. Well, at least where I live. But the dish is so versatile that you can replace the sweet potatoes with whatever root vegetable is in season where you are! I’ve used a mix of purple sweet potatoes, orange ones and my personal favorite – Japanese yellow sweet potatoes which have a heavenly, almost candy-like sweetness and are commonly served incorporated into desserts or steamed and eaten whole! Best thing is, a single large sweet potato with a generous stuffing of the lentil filling is truly enough to fill you up and keep you full for long, helping you to maximize your costs even more.
The creaminess comes from the delicate combination of the lentils with a touch of sour cream. On top of the soft and starchy sweet potatoes, it results in a luxurious mouthfeel that you certainly wouldn’t expect from a dish like this. There’s no cream added into the lentils, just some diluted sour cream drizzled over the top. You really have to try this dish for yourself to experience firsthand what I’m talking about! The delicious smooth butteriness present even in the absence of butter, cream and milk.
Lastly, the showstopping factor. Granted, it’s not going to overshadow a chargrilled steak dinner but as a vegetable side it works wonders. In fact, it works even better as the main carbohydrate of the meal seeing as how filling it is. Especially if you serve it like how I’ve done here, as a tri-coloured sweet potato medley, it turns heads for sure. Imagine a spread of halved mini pumpkins, squash and colorful potatoes with the filling and sour cream drizzle oozing out, no other spread will encapsulate autumn so well!
Creamy Lentil-Stuffed Sweet Potato Medley
- 3 Large Sweet Potatoes preferably of different variants
- ¾ cup yellow lentils
- Half a large red onion
- 5 cloves of garlic
- ½ tsp whole cumin seeds
- ½ tsp white pepper
- 2 tbsp curry powder
- 2 tbsp fermented bean paste taucu + 2 tbsp chili bean paste
- substitute with ¼ cup of tomato paste if not available
- 3 tbsp sour cream + 1 tbsp water
- Small handful of cilantro leaves
Steam the sweet potatoes until cooked through.
Mince the garlic and onion and prepare mise en place.
Sweat the garlic and onion until soft and lightly caramelized.
Add the spices and bean pastes.
Add in the rinsed lentils.
Pour in enough water to just cover the mixture and braise.
Halve the sweet potatoes and run a fork through the middle.
Heap the lentils onto the middle, drizzle with diluted sour cream and scatter with cilantro leaves.
STEP ONE – STEAM THE SWEET POTATOES
Because they have to be cooked whole, we start by steaming them first so that by the time they’re cooked through, the lentils will be ready as well! You can microwave them by wrapping with a wet kitchen paper and rotating every few minutes on high heat but I prefer steaming. Although it will take much longer to cook through, the steaming process brings out more of its natural sweetness. Plus, I can leave it on the stove and not worry about it! Simply scrub the skins as well as you can with coarse sea salt then rinse it all off. Steam for 50 minutes on medium-high heat until a knife can easily be pierced through the thickest part of the largest potato without any resistance.
STEP TWO – PREPARE MISE EN PLACE
If you didn’t already know, mise en place is just a fancy French term for preparing and laying out all the necessary ingredients needed before you even place a finger on the stove. It really is crucial for all home cooks and chefs alike. In this case, rinse and drain the lentils. Mince the garlic and onion (no need for perfection here!) and lay out the spices and bean pastes.
STEP THREE – SWEAT DOWN THE AROMATICS
On a low heat, saute the onions and garlic in 2-3 tablespoonfuls of vegetable oil until soft and lightly caramelized. A pinch of salt at this stage will help to draw out the moisture in the onions and helps in speeding up the caramelization process.
STEP FOUR – ADD THE SPICES
Before mixing the cumin, curry powder and bean pastes together with the wet onions and garlic, I like to push them aside in one corner of the pot and lightly saute them separately to release more of their fragrance before incorporating them altogether. You could dry-fry the cumin and curry powder beforehand and set them aside but…we’re all a little lazy sometimes aren’t we? Once that’s done, mix them in with the aromatics and fry until just mixed in.
STEP FIVE – ADD IN THE LENTILS
Now, add in the rinsed lentils and cook for 2-3 minutes more. I’m using yellow for the bright color (showstopping factor, remember?) but feel free to use other lentil variants. Green lentils hold their shape very well but take a little bit longer to fully cook through. Red and yellow lentils also pair better with the indian spices we’re using here and break down more to make a mushier, creamier sauce so use these if you can.
STEP SIX – POUR IN WATER AND BRAISE
Pour in enough water to just fully cover the entire mixture, you can use chicken/beef/vegetable stock if you’d like but because we’ve already added the bean pastes (or tomato paste, depending on what you’re using) it will be flavorful enough as is. Then bring to a boil and simmer on low heat for 45 minutes or until slightly broken down. You’ll probably need to add water periodically as the lentils will absorb a lot as they’re cooking. Test by biting into one to see if the texture is to your liking. Pictured here are the lentils cooked to my liking, retaining their shape and texture which adds a very slight crunch to balance through the texture of the potato. Lastly, season with salt and white pepper.
STEP SEVEN – HALVE THE SWEET POTATOES
By this point, your sweet potatoes should be ready to go. NOTE: By all means, leave the skins on! You want to be able to really dig into these. Simply slice them in the middle four fifths of the way through and use a fork to slightly hollow out the middle. Use the fork to make rough crevasses in the middle. This will help the potatoes to really absorb the flavors, hold the sauce better and look more rustic. Lightly season by rubbing in a little bit of salt.
STEP EIGHT – FILL WITH LENTILS AND GARNISH
Fill the sweet potatoes with a hefty helping of the lentils. Drizzle the diluted sour cream over the top and garnish with a scattering of cilantro leaves. You can also squeeze a wedge of lemon over the top to cut through all that creaminess. Serve!
This dish works well as a main for vegetarians due to its balanced macro and micro nutrients. If you’re a huge meat eater but trying to reduce your carbon footprint, try this recipe out! Because of its creaminess and fillingness, it can help subtly facilitate the transfer from full on carnivore to vegetarian. The lack of greens certainly helps too!
Don’t underestimate how filling this dish can be! Generally, a single large sweet potato with a hefty topping of lentils is just nice as a main for the average person.
Tried this recipe? How did it fare for you? Let us know in the comments below!
Jen Miller is a former electrical engineer and product specialist with more than 20 years of product design and testing experience. She has designed more than 200 products for Fortune 500 companies, in fields ranging from home appliances to sports gear and outdoor equipment. She founded Jen Reviews to share her knowledge and critical eye for what makes consumers tick, and adopts a strict no-BS approach to help the reader filter through the maze of products and marketing hype out there. She writes regularly and has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, The Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha and MindBodyGreen.