Sweet Potato Leaves

Sweet potato leaves lack the bitterness of spinach and the chew of kale or collards.

Jennifer Silverberg

Repeat after me: The green tops of root vegetables are almost always delicious, and I will never throw them away again.

What Is It?

The thick-stemmed, umbrella-leaved tops of the tuber we all know as the sweet potato almost never make an appearance in grocery stores, but they’re common at well-stocked Asian and international markets. If you’re tight with a farmer or fresh-market vendor, ask if he or she can reserve the leaves for you, and you’re likely to get a generous heap of them, along with a smile of appreciation for your vegetable savvy.

What Do I Do With It?

Anything other leaves can do, sweet potato leaves can do better, plus, the greens pack more nutritional punch than the roots. Even better, they lack the bitterness of spinach and the chew of kale or collards, making sweet potato greens a crowd favorite whether simply sautéed with garlic and olive oil or braised in coconut milk and spices. Add them to bitter greens like frisée, radicchio or endive to soften and balance fall and winter salads – or add them to creamy pastas like spaghetti with garlic-bacon cream sauce. The sweet leaves hold up against rich bacon and garlic, and it takes mere minutes to put together this comforting and practical dish.

Shannon Weber is the creator, author and photographer behind the award-winning blog aperiodictableblog.com, and her work has appeared on websites such as Bon Appétit, Serious Eats and America’s Test Kitchen. She is a self-taught baker and cook who believes the words “I can’t” should never apply to food preparation and that curiosity can lead to wonderful things, in both the kitchen and in life. 

Spaghetti with Sweet Potato Leaves and Garlic-Bacon Cream Sauce

Sweet potato leaves carry most of their weight in the stems (don’t we all), so buy at least a pound to ensure you have enough leaves for the recipe. If you have leftovers, throw them in a skillet with a little olive oil and garlic (as you would spinach) for a quick side dish the next day.

Serves | 4 to 6 |

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 oz thick-cut bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • ½ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
  • ¾ tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 4 to 5 cups lightly packed, destemmed sweet potato leaves
  • 8 oz thin spaghetti or capellini pasta

| Preparation | In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat, add oil and bacon pieces and cook until very crisp; transfer to paper towel-lined plate to drain and cool. Remove all but 2 tablespoons bacon fat from pan; add garlic and cook over medium heat until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add wine and allow to bubble; reduce heat to medium-low and cook, 1 minute. Add cream and heat until sauce begins to reduce and thicken, stirring occasionally. Add ¼ cup cheese, stirring constantly until melted and combined. Add salt and pepper, stirring to incorporate; add sweet potato leaves and stir occasionally until slightly wilted and sauce has thickened to your liking.

As you heat the cream sauce, cook pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside until sauce is ready. Add cooked pasta to skillet with finished sauce and toss to combine, still over medium-low heat, until everything is evenly distributed. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Divide onto plates and top each with bacon and remaining cheese. Serve immediately.

Shannon Weber is the creator, author and photographer behind the award-winning blogaperiodictableblog.com, and her work has appeared on websites such as Bon Appétit, Serious Eats and America’s Test Kitchen.