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Savory Indian Sweet Potatoes


by Les Sussman & Sally Bordwell

DeWitt Building
215 North Cayuga Street
Ithaca, New York 14850

Open for lunch Monday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., snacks 2 to 4 p.m. Fall through spring: Open for dinner Sunday through Thursday 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday to 9 p.m. Summer: Open for dinner Sunday through Thursday 5:30 to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 6 to 9:30 p.m.

Price: Moderate
Credit cards: MC, V
Wheelchair accessible
No smoking
Alcohol: Full bar

With its emphasis on natural foods cuisine, Moosewood Restaurant has operated successfully in Ithaca for more than 23 years. The restaurant has become a legend among vegetarian restaurants, and is acclaimed as a driving force in the world of creative vegetarian cooking.

Interestingly, it is a collectively owned business. Currently, twenty members share management duties and the everyday tasks of cooking and serving along with a "corps of talented, dedicated employees who contribute to the smooth operation of the business."

Nestled amid the rolling hills, farms, and spectacular gorges of New York’s Finger Lakes, the town of Ithaca is the home to both Cornell University and Ithaca College and is situated at the southern end of Cayuga Lake. The restaurant is located in the city’s downtown area in a renovated historic brick school building that now houses stores and apartments. Mostly it’s locals "from neighborhood businessmen to students" who frequent Moosewood, but the popularity of the restaurant’s cookbooks draws the tourists from around the world.

There’s nothing fancy about the restaurant’s interior: Rows of tables with wooden chairs crowd a pair of rooms that still have a classroom feel to them. "Homey" is a good way to describe the overall effect.

The exterior of the restaurant is also nondescript. In fact, many people seeking out this famed vegetarian eatery often drive right past it, believing it to be a workshop or some other institutional space.

The adventurous chefs at Moosewood prepare different offerings every day and at every meal. In fact, if you’d like to know what’s on the menu for lunch, call the restaurant after 9 a.m. the same day and they’ll let you know. What’s cooking for dinner is decided by 3 p.m., and again, a phone call is advisable.

While all this may sound a bit improvisational, there’s a method to such madness: It allows Moosewood’s chefs to take advantage of the freshest seasonal produce available (organic when possible).

The natural foods cuisine served here is simply delicious. Some favorite lunch items include Lasagna, Middle Eastern Salad Plate (tabbouleh, hummus, "tofulafels"— falafels made with tofu— rice stuffed grape leaves and feta on a bed of fresh greens with pita and a cup of soup), and Sweet and Sour Vegetables with Tofu (carrots, red and green bell peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, green beans, water chestnuts, and pineapple in a tangy sauce served on rice and topped with green onion and cashews—served with a tossed salad).

Among the popular dinner entrées are Fresh Spinach Ravioli (with a rich hazelnut pesto and chopped fresh tomatoes, topped with grated Parmesan cheese) and Cauliflower-Green Pea Curry (a mélange of vegetables in a spicy and satisfying sauce served on coconut rice, topped with toasted cashews and currents and served with tomato chutney and lentil dal).

Thursday through Sunday, a fish entrée is found on the menu. Sunday is "ethnic foods night," when the chefs prepare dishes from a particular country or region.

Also in great demand are the fresh soups, salads, and pita sandwiches. The menu also features an extensive array of herbal teas, juices, and creative desserts, many of which are dairyless. You might also wish to try the excellent New York State wines and the regionally brewed Yuengling beer, ale, and porter.

Savory Indian Sweet Potatoes

Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a side dish

"Creamy, sweet, and spicy" is the way Moosewood’s chefs describe the Savory Indian Sweet Potatoes. "When you’re baking sweet potatoes for another meal, put in a few extras so that later you’ll have some prebaked for this dish. Serve on plain rice or golden basmati rice topped with a fresh tomato salsa or with a mango or peach chutney and, if desired, with a dollop of nonfat yogurt."

2 large sweet potatoes
1 cup diced onions
1/3 cup water, unsweetened apple juice, or orange juice
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 1/2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 small fresh green chili, seeded and minced 2/3 cup diced red and/or green bell pepper
3 tablespoons Neufchâtel (low-fat cream cheese)
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup fresh or slightly thawed frozen green peas
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Bake sweet potatoes at 400 degrees F for about 1 hour, or until tender. While potatoes bake, combine onions and water or juice in a medium saucepan. Cover and simmer until onions soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, cumin, chili, and bell pepper. Cover and simmer until pepper is tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Cut Neufchâtel into small pieces and stir it into hot vegetable mixture to melt. Set aside.

Cut sweet potatoes in half lengthwise. Hold each potato half with a heavy towel or mitt in one hand and scoop out the flesh with a spoon, leaving 1/4-inch shell. Mix potato flesh with vegetable-cheese mixture. Add lemon juice, peas, salt, and pepper.

Set oven temperature at 350 degrees F. Coat a vegetable dish with vegetable-oil cooking spray. Stuff potato shells with filling. Place potatoes in prepared dish, cover with aluminum foil, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until thoroughly heated.

Note: If you are stuffing chilled previously baked potatoes, they may need an extra 5 to 10 minutes in the oven to heat through.

From Simply Natural: All-Time Favorite Recipes from the Kitchens of North America’s Best Natural Foods Restaurants, by Les Sussman & Sally Bordwell. Copyright © 1998 by Les Sussman & Sally Bordwell. Excerpted by arrangement with New World Library. $16.95. Available in local bookstores, or call 800-972-6657 Ext.52, or click here.