Stuffed Sweet Potato with Black Olive-Walnut Relish

It’s been a hard week.

This has been a week of whirlwind emotions. Excitement, anticipation, and hope turned to despair. The day after the elections, the mood in New York City was sombre. On the subway, it was eerily quiet. On the streets, the grey skies and drizzling rain befit the forlorn mood.

I’m not American but I still suffered this blow like my American friends. After the shock, the overwhelming emotion was simply sadness. Sadness about the monumental moment of history missed, sadness in the disaffection and anger felt by so many in this country, sadness for the future that this aberration may create for our children and future generations.

After the elections, I spent a lot of time in Chinatown. In fact, I went there three days in a row. I wandered the streets, wistful and melancholy, considering this wonderful city and all the colour, culture and diversity that drew us here in the first place. I wandered down Hester Street, watching the elderly Chinese women play cards on the street, while gentlemen bantered cantankerously around them. For me, this is New York - bold, busy, boisterous and brave. This is New York, and it’s many colorful faces. I spent the rest of the day speaking Cantonese to anyone who would listen - luckily, many did.

In my short time here, New York has welcomed me with open arms and I have emphatically returned that embrace. With warmth, hope and determination. We are an Australian family of Chinese heritage, with children growing up in America. Our house is many nations, united.

I am not sure where we go from here, but I’m determined to stay positive. Our future does feel more uncertain now but our only choice is to keep going. To keep spreading love, generosity and tolerance. To help people who need it. To strive for empathy.

Back to what a strange week this has been. It started off wonderfully, in fact! Last Sunday, I hosted a beautiful popup event at Poppy’s Catering in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. The lunch was monikered ‘Welcome to the Roots’ and was a celebration of the warmth and charm of Autumn root vegetables. As we dined on celery root, fennel, sweet potatoes, beets and taro, sampled chickpeas laced in New York Shuk’s knockout harissa, and sipped the yummiest rose from Esporão wines, the mood was convivial and happy. The eight diners arrived as strangers, but left as friends. Days like this give me so much faith and hope in people. The simple act of cooking and sharing my food with others, bringing people from disparate backgrounds around a table, is surely one of the greatest joys in my life. Thank you to Poppy’s for so generously providing me a space to share my food, New York Shuk for making the most delicious harissa that inspires me in the kitchen every day, and my new friends at Esporão for sharing their delicious red and rose wines with us – Portuguese wines were hotly discussed at our table. And hugest hugs to my dear friend Maria Midões, who came to take photos of the day, but also helped me tirelessly in the kitchen and became a treasured guest at our table.

Here are some of Maria’s photos from my Welcome to the Roots popup:


I guess Thanksgiving is around the corner and it is time to start thinking of holiday dining around the world. At my Roots popup, I served a roast sweet potato dish which really wowed everyone around the table. The dish is actually a riff of a classic Arthur Street Kitchen salad – Baked Sweet Potato with Rocket, Feta and Black Olive-Walnut Relish – which I deconstructed and re-imagined as a stuffed sweet potato jacket. It turned out as quite a lovely Thanksgiving/Festive dish, perfect as a hearty option for plant eaters and plant lovers.


Stuffed Sweet Potato with Black Olive-Walnut Relish

The original recipe in Community calls for feta, rocket and lentils. For ease and simplicity, I have omitted these three ingredients for this sweet potato dish, but if you are looking for an extra hit of salt (feta), greenery (rocket/arugula) or nutrients (lentils), you could absolutely add these elements to the final dish.

Serves 4-6

gluten free | vegan

  • 4 – 6 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed clean (allow 1-2 sweet potatoes per person)
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • handful of coriander/cilantro leaves

Black olive walnut relish

  • 1 cup walnut pieces, toasted
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated
  • 1 cup (30g) coriander, roughly chopped
  • 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 150g wrinkly black olives (or other black olive), pitted and roughly chopped
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • Sea salt and black pepper

Preheat oven to 200ºC. Lay out the whole, cleaned sweet potatoes on a large baking tray, coat in olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Place the tray in a hot oven and roast for 20-30 minutes or until very tender. Allow to cool slightly.

To make the relish, put the walnuts and garlic into a mortar and pestle and pound them until you have a coarse mixture. Stir in the coriander, oil and a big pinch of salt and pepper. Slowly add in the lemon juice and stir until well mixed.

To serve, take a small knife and put a slit vertically down the middle of each sweet potato. Using your fingers or a fork, gently pry apart the opening, taking care to keep the potato intact as one piece. Gently stuff the sweet potato with the relish, heaping it messily and generously over the top. Scatter with coriander leaves and season with black pepper.

Hetty McKinnon