Zen and the Art of Peeling Potatoes

Sweet Potato Soup – oh, so creamy with not a drop of cream!

Printed in The Woodstock Independent, January 2013

“Avoid food that makes health claims. Don’t take the silence of the yams as a sign that they have nothing valuable to say about health.” – Rule # 2 from Food Rules by Michael Pollan.

One food I have never much liked is Candied Yams. It’s hard to experience the glorious flavor and sweetness of the yam itself buried under those ubiquitous marshmallows. Ah, here we are again . . . Real Food vs. Food Products. I present to you the ingredient label on a bag of marshmallows: corn syrup, sugar, modified corn starch, dextrose, water, gelatin, tetrasodium pyrophosphate (a thickener or emulsifier), artificial flavor and blue 1. Hmmm.

It’s hard to imagine opening a bottle of tetrasodium pyrophosphate to add to a dish I’m making. And if our food had real flavor, we shouldn’t have to add artificial flavor, right?

That doesn’t mean I want to skip the yams or sweet potatoes. Although not the same, yams and sweet potatoes are both satisfying, flavorful and versatile veggies with many health benefits. Both are fiber rich and high in potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium, zinc and copper. Both low on the glycemic index, they don’t cause spikes in blood sugar like so many other foods we eat. Unfortunately those marshmallows pretty much obliterate the benefit.

Sweet potatoes and yams may impart a somewhat different taste and texture to recipes. Due to their nutritional differences, it’s worthwhile experimenting with both. Sweet potatoes are extremely high in Vitamin A, supplying eight times the daily requirement in one serving. Yams have a better balance of essential fatty acids, heart healthy Vitamin B6 and C, but sweet potatoes have more calcium, iron, Vitamin E and protein. In addition, sweet potatoes are loaded with anti-inflammatory compounds.

I make a Sweet Potato Soup that is deliriously simple and amazingly delicious. Without an ounce of dairy, it’s oh so creamy. A visiting vegan tasted it and determined she couldn’t have it because it was loaded with cream. I assured her it wasn’t . . . but there you go. That’s the amazing thing about Real Food. Its qualities may surprise you with great taste — unlike tetrasodium pyrophosphate, which I doubt would surprise anyone.

Besides, unlike tetrasodium pyrophosphate, sweet potatoes and yams are good for “vegetating.”

Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes. – Alan Watts

Sweet Potato Soup


  • 6 Sweet Potatoes (about 5 lb.), peeled and chunked
  • 2 Large Spanish Onions, chunked
  • Fresh Ginger Root (peeled slices, enough to make 2 well-rounded TB if minced)
  • 1.5-2 Tsp Salt
  • 1/2 Tsp Hot Paprika
  • 1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 Quarts Water


  1. Peel and chunk sweet potatoes and onion.
  2. Peel and slice ginger root.
  3. Add 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil to soup pot.
  4. Add onion, ginger root and potatoes along with seasonings.
  5. Add water barely to cover, approximately two quarts. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer until potatoes are soft.
  6. Puree in batches in VitaMix or conventional blender. Adjust thickness with more water if desired. Adjust seasoning.

Healthy, happy eating.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me onFaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter,@vegwithleslie.

2 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Peeling Potatoes

  1. You provide accurate, important information and express it in a way that is very helpful and easy to read!

    Thank you!

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