Sweet Potato Poi (Poi ‘Uala)

7 Feb


NOTE: An updated version of this recipe appears in my cookbook, The Ancestral Table.

Poi is a Polynesian staple food, typically made with mashed taro root. However, it’s a little-known fact that the Hawaiian people also made poi from sweet potato and breadfruit. Given the fact that taro root is relatively hard to come by here in Maryland, we regularly make sweet potato poi to stave off our Hawaiian-food cravings. To bring in a little extra island flavor, I add a little coconut milk to the poi, which gives it a taste similar to haupia (a Hawaiian coconut dessert). Its creamy texture and sweet taste are perfect accompaniments to my kalua pig recipe.

You’ll Need:
3 sweet potatoes, washed and cut in half
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp sea salt

Rinse the sweet potatoes in cold water and cut them in half. Place a steam rack in your pot, and fill the pot with water until it’s starting to touch the bottom of the steam rack. Put the sweet potatoes inside, cover with a lid, and steam on med/high heat for 25 minutes.

About 15 minutes into your steaming adventure, check the water level in your pot – if needed, add a little more (hot) water to make sure the bottom doesn’t burn. Check the potatoes at the 25-minute mark, they should be super squishy. If not, check them every five minutes until they’re ready.

Remove the pot from the heat, and take out your sweet potatoes. Allow them to cool for about 15 minutes. While they are cooling, pour your coconut milk in a small pot and warm it on low heat. Once the potatoes are cool, you should be able to slip the skins right off and discard them.

Using a whisk or a potato masher, mash the potatoes like you see above. Stir in the salt and half of the coconut milk and water, and continue stirring in more liquid until you get the right consistency. The consistency should be somewhere between mashed potatoes and pea soup – more liquid than solid, but not soupy.

Serve at room temperature. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for about a week.

19 Responses to “Sweet Potato Poi (Poi ‘Uala)”

  1. Lauren February 7, 2012 at 12:14 pm #

    I just spent 2 weeks in Hawaii. Your title brought me right back! Great recipe.

  2. Ceci February 7, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

    We just moved to Oahu and I’m loving all the yummy food. Can’t wait to play with the local produce. If you are ever need anything sent your way, give me a holler.

    • Russ Crandall February 7, 2012 at 10:21 pm #

      Ceci, you’re in for a treat. My wife’s from Oahu and I spent seven years there myself!

      • Ceci February 7, 2012 at 10:38 pm #

        We love it here so far. Any suggestions of places to eat or any local secrets you would like to share?

        • Russ Crandall February 7, 2012 at 11:02 pm #

          Oh man, I could talk about that all day. Just be sure to keep an eye out for the Honolulu Magazine and Star Advertiser “best of” lists – they are usually really good when it comes to picking the best places to eat. Definitely check out Side Street Inn, Helena’s, Aiea Bowl, and just about any Korean BBQ place you can find! You’ll have to do some modifications to make things Paleo friendly but otherwise you’re in for a treat!

          http://www.honolulumagazine.com/Honolulu-Magazine/January-2012/2012-Hale-Aina-Award-Winners/

  3. Alex February 7, 2012 at 11:42 pm #

    Sweet Potatoes are such a lovely orange, which you have captured so well! Never tried Sweet Potato and Coconut Milk…but it’s such a brilliant idea.

  4. Junior Caveman February 9, 2012 at 2:37 am #

    I’ve been following paleo for almost 3 years and I have to admit that sweet potatoes have become a real treat. Almost feels like eating dessert sometimes. I’m definately going to give this recipe a try. Thanks for sharing it!

    Cheers!

  5. Sharlyn February 9, 2012 at 9:21 am #

    I must admit this sounds more like dessert. I read somewhere that sweet potato poi sours faster than taro. Did you find this to be true?I’m a sour poi girl :).

    @Ceci: you’ll have to add Ethel’s (off of Nimitz) to your list.

    • Russ Crandall February 9, 2012 at 10:55 am #

      Sharlyn,

      I had read the same thing. I’m not sure how long it would take to sour, or if the coconut milk has any effect on the poi – I let some sit in the fridge in the week and it didn’t sour. You’re right – this poi is very sweet (especially compared to taro poi) but makes a great side to something salty like kalua pig or pipi kaula.

  6. Andy February 9, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

    are these sweet potatoes or yams? the orange ones are always labeled as yams in my local stores, where the pale/white ones are labeled sweet potatoes.

    • Russ Crandall February 9, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

      Andy, that’s a great question. From the sounds of it, those are both variations of sweet potato. I’m assuming you’re here in the US – we often incorrectly label our sweet potatoes as yams in grocery stores. I wrote a little bit about it in my last sweet potato post:

      http://thedomesticman.com/2012/01/17/baked-sweet-potato-with-cinnamon/

      Finding genuine yams in the US is pretty difficult, but they’re out there. Personally, I’ve found that Asian and Latino markets are usually the best places to find them.

  7. Binh March 2, 2012 at 1:53 am #

    is there any other way to prepare these besides steaming? i don’t have a steamer….

    • Russ Crandall March 2, 2012 at 6:56 pm #

      Binh, my Mother-in-Law pokes holes in her sweet potatoes with a fork, puts them on a plate, covers them with a couple wet paper towels, then covers with plastic wrap, and then microwaves for a few minutes. To get them soft enough to make poi, you may have to microwave it for a while…hope that helps! :)

  8. Karen March 3, 2012 at 10:02 am #

    SO delicious!! I made this with your “eye of round roast” recipe. My first recipe ever with coconut milk…. I loved it so much that I dug into it before dinner time….

  9. Tiffany Youngren March 14, 2012 at 10:54 am #

    I am a sucker for sweet potato recipes – and coconut milk – so I cannot wait to try this! I usually peel my sweet potatoes – never even considered leaving peel on! Awesome!

  10. Lisa Being September 14, 2013 at 7:08 pm #

    I like the article, but to make “poi” it needs to be fermented. Otherwise, it’s just “mashed sweet potatoes”. I tried to leave mashed sweet potatoes on the counter for three days to make poi, but it ended up going moldy. My climate is too cold to make poi.

    • Russ Crandall September 14, 2013 at 7:49 pm #

      Hi Lisa, the fermentation in poi comes after it has been smashed, from the lactic acid and yeast found in taro. That’s why poi is initially sweet then becomes “sour” after a couple days (although still edible). My in-laws have a taro patch on Kauai and they don’t ferment the taro before making poi. Sweet potatoes don’t have that same bacteria composition – but you could probably add some whey to my sweet potato poi and let it sit to add some sourness to it (Cheeseslave did something similar: http://www.cheeseslave.com/fermented-yams/). Not sure how coconut milk would affect this, though.

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