Recipe: Sweet Potato Simboro

It only takes five minutes of grating sweet potatoes to make me wax poetic on the brilliance of the food processor.

Friends, I certainly don’t have biceps of steel. Most days, I don’t even see my biceps beneath the jiggle.
Today’s recipe for Simboro gave them a work out.

I first learned about Simboro from a reader named Benjamin who spent some time in Vanuatu. This comforting side dish is made with a grated starch, like cassava, sweet potato, or yam, wrapped in “island cabbage,” then simmered in coconut milk.

As much as it pained my muscles… I treated the grating like a ritual – a rite of passage – a way to imagine myself in Vanuatu telling tourists “THIS way to the beach.”

Thirty minutes later, only my pride had kept me from pulling out the food processor. Because, the fact of the matter is that the sweet potato could just as easily be run through the grater attachment on your food processor, then ground finer in the processor bowl to achieve similar results… leaving you more time for silly eating.

“I’m not looking” almost always gets Ava interested in taking a bite. Reverse psychology.

Adapted from  in Vanuatu.

Note: Variations on this recipe include taro, cassava, plantains, or even yam. If you substitute one of these starches for the sweet potato, the cooking time may vary. Also, keep in mind that the cassava needs to have the tough, woody stems removed before grating. I tried spinach and chard in place of the island cabbage and found the chard to be slightly easier to deal with.

Serves 10-12 (as a side)


1-2 bunches island cabbage (you can substitute large spinach leaves or chard), cleaned & stems removed
2 1/2 cups peeled & grated sweet potato
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
15 ounce can coconut milk


Find a windswept beach for your kitchen.

Nguna from Emua Wharf. Photo by Phillip Capper.

Nguna from Emua Wharf. Photo by Phillip Capper.

Grate the starch into a large bowl. Ideally, you want a fine grater without holes, as I used. First, clean up will be easier, second, you won’t lose any sweet potato to the “holes.”

When you have 2 cups grated starch, mix it well with salt and pepper.

Spoon the starch into the leaves, then wrap them into little bundles. Since I didn’t have island cabbage, I used spinach and rainbow chard.

As a result, I had to modify the method – instead of bundling and twisting, I did more of a stuffed grape leaf: folding the sides over the sweet potato,then rolling the whole thing up. I found the method tricky, so make sure you have extra leaves on hand, to account for accidents.

You’ll note that I have a mix of the spinach and rainbow chard.

Lay the bundles tightly in a medium pot.

Pour on the coconut milk, cover and simmer very gently until done (20-30 minutes for the sweet potato).

If you boil them, it they may unroll, so be sure to keep the simmer gentle!

BUT, either way, they’ll still taste like sweet potatoes in coconut milk, which is… in a word… yum.

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  1. CanadianLibyan says:

    Thanks for yet another interesting and delicious-looking recipe.
    I was thinking that this must be a sweet dish, because of the coconut milk and sweet potato, so was surprised to see the addition of salt and pepper :-)
    If you soak the chard leaves in very hot water for a short while and remove the main stem with a sharp knife (you’ll have to cut up into the leaf a ways to do this), I think you will find the leaves much easier to work with.
    What exactly is island cabbage? Is it actually related to cabbage?

    • Sasha Martin says:

      I love this tip! This is exactly what I needed when I was making them – thanks :) The island cabbage doesn’t look like cabbage. If you check out Laura’s blog that I based the recipe off of, you’ll see photos of it. It’s a dark leafy green.

      • ‘Island cabbage’ is a species of edible hibiscus with large (usually), soft leaves. It’s very good in soup! In Fiji it’s called ‘bele’. Like okra (another hibiscus), it has slimy sap. Usually it’s planted by just breaking off a branch and sticking it in the ground, but it can also grow from seed. Vanuatu has lots of different cultivars, while Fiji has only two or three.

  2. ..that/s it?…no seasoning like ginger or nutmeg or sinnamon?

  3. Love this!! Will have to try it soon! Also love the pic of feeding Ava while ‘not looking’ :) works with our kids too, every time haha!!!


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