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.
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.