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Okinawa’s beni-imo are a crisp, sweet and rather purple way to step up your breakfast hash brown game.

Believed to have originated in Latin America, beni-imo (purple sweet potatoes) became an integral part of the Ryukyu Islands’ diet in the early 1600s, well before it became known as Okinawa. They remain a staple to this day, popular for use in both savory and sweet dishes.

The beni-imo is also popular in other countries, and in Hawaii it’s so common that it’s sometimes referred to as the Hawaiian sweet potato.

Under the pale cream potato skin hides a vibrant purple flesh. It gets its natural color from anthocyanin, the same compound that can be found in foods such as blueberries and red cabbage. The potato has a mild sweet taste and several health benefits, being rich in antioxidants and fiber.

This recipe uses some tricks from making Jewish latkes to get a crispy exterior with some tender give in the center. Egg and potato starch help bind the hash browns together so they don’t fall apart during the cooking process, but the starch also gives each shredded potato piece an added boost for crunchy texture. A note about the color: Don’t be alarmed by the dark purple. During the cooking process, the light lavender color of the raw potato deepens as it crisps, a sign to let you know that it’s fully cooked.

Many credit Okinawa’s famous long lifespans to the local diet, and the beni-imo continues to be an important part of it. While I can’t guarantee these hash browns will make you live longer, I can promise they’re a good way to start your morning.

Recipe:

Serves: 2

Prep: 10 mins.

Cook: 10 mins.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large Okinawan beni-imo (sweet potato), around 400 grams, rinsed and peeled
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons potato starch
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • sriracha mayo, to taste (optional)
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced (optional)

Directions:

  1. Using the large holes of a box grater, grate the beni-imo into a bowl lined with a cheesecloth or paper towel. Use the cheesecloth to gather the beni-imo and squeeze out excess moisture. Work in batches if needed. Dump wringed-out beni-imo back into the bowl, then add egg, potato starch and seasonings. Mix to combine. Divide into four equal portions and set aside.
  2. In a large nonstick skillet, combine the butter and oil over medium-high heat. Once the butter is melted and stops foaming, add two hash brown portions. Use the back of a spatula to press onto the top of each potato mound to flatten. Fry until golden brown and the purple color deepens, about three or four minutes. Cook the other side until golden brown, about two minutes. Place cooked hash browns on a paper towel-lined plate to drain any excess grease. Repeat the process for the remaining hash browns.
  3. Garnish with a drizzle of sriracha mayo and scallions if you desire. Serve immediately.

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