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      Sweet potato vine

Sweet potato vine drawing

After a two-day drive from Adelaide, I hit the red ribbon of dirt that's the last leg of my journey. I've been south for Christmas. Wonderful as it's been to be with my sons and party with family and friends, I'm excited to be heading home to Ernabella, in Central Australia. Summer rain has turned the country green.

I arrive at sunset and there it is, the small fibro house submerged, camouflaged, in the dense foliage of a most impressive sweet potato vine. Tendrils lovingly encircle the veranda posts like they've been at it all summer, leaves providing a coy disguise for their intimate embrace. The vine cascades like a luminous green waterfall in some heavenly paradise. Windows peek shyly as if from under bedcovers.

I'm no gardener, and this place is hardly renowned for its lush vegetation - no wonder I'm amazed. Not that this was an immaculate conception. I recall cleaning the fridge before leaving, 'composting' the backyard with vegetables buried in the crisper. My first impulse is to ring Dad, who over the years freely cast aspersions on my lack of gardening prowess. How wrong could the man be?

Then I'm off, running into the chambers of memory, finding my way to the story of Ben and the Nasturtiums that were too proud for their boots (in the 1950s, Happy Venture Readers set many of us along that unparalleled road to reading).

It's raining at Seatown. Dick, Dora, Malcolm and Roderick are inside, reading the story of the mischievous nasturtiums. It hasn't registered before - my brother's name's Malcolm, my Father's name Ben. Spooky or what - this story lodged in memory?

Ben plants nasturtiums in his old boots. Soon, the nasturtiums start squabbling, arguing about the state of their accommodation and decide to escape, heading north in search of upmarket real-estate in a more salubrious neighbourhood. The vines grow and grow, bigger and brighter.

Soon Ben can't see his roof for yellow, orange, gold and red flowers. This is a time with no television and perhaps, given what happens next, there's not a lot to get excited about. Soon the Baker is shouting, "Ben's house is on fire!" Predictably, it isn't long before the Baker's words inflame the townspeople and everyone's shouting. They race to extinguish the blaze. You'd think they'd be annoyed by the false alarm, but at the end everyone's pleased with the nasturtiums.

Months later the rains stop. My spectacular vine dries off. But like the Happy Venture stories, mine too has a happy ending. As I tug at the roots, I release a dozen perfectly formed sweet potatoes.

Karen Atkinson

Sweet potato and lentil croquettes

1 large sweet potato grated
1 cup red lentils, well washed
1 small Spanish onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp Shoyu (or Soy sauce)
2 tsp cumin

Olive oil - 1 tbsp
500 ml vegetable stock
cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 cup coriander, chopped finely
salt and pepper
2 cups Panko breadcrumbs (for coating)
Oil for frying

  1. Heat tbsp oil in large wok. Sauté onion Add ginger, garlic and cumin. Add sweet potato and cook until fragrant and changed in colour approx 5 mins.
  2. Add stock, lentils and shoyu. Simmer until lentils are soft, approx 20 mins. Add more stock if required. Cool mixture. Add fresh breadcrumbs, herbs and seasoning.
  3. Form into croquettes and coat with panko. Fry until crispy and golden. Best served immediately or kept warm until serving.
Serve with rocket and baby spinach salad tossed in a little balsamic and oil. Garnish with nasturtium flowers.

Makes 10-12 croquettes.