Coconut sweet potato soup from VanuatuHere’s a dish inspired by a small island nation in the South Pacific called Vanuatu. When people ask me what my food blog is about, I tell them that my mission is to find great recipes from every country in the world, and their next question is usually: “how do you find the recipes?”  There’s no simple answer to that question.  Sometimes I’ll feature a recipe that is one of my long-time favorites.  If it happens to be from a particular country, I’ll do research and see what interesting facts I can share, along with the recipe.  Browsing through cookbooks and magazines is another great source of inspiration.  Occasionally I actually get out of the house and travel somewhere and discover an exciting dish. Often I look at a list of all the 196 countries of the world, pick one randomly, and start researching it.  That was the case with Vanuatu.

sweet potatoes for coconut sweet potato soupSometimes a country’s national dish will interest me. But Vanuatu’s national dish, called Lap Lap, is way too labor intensive.  It starts with the difficult task of pounding taro root into a paste, and that’s just the beginning – the rest involves layers of cabbage and meat and a banana leaf – and my research tells me that Lap Lap is not a dish that everybody loves.  What got me excited about Vanuatu cuisine was thinking about how to combine the popular local ingredients to come up with something fun and tropical.  Coconuts are their largest agricultural commodity. Coconut milk is used to cook almost everything. Sweet potatoes and yams are also an abundant and popular year-round crop.  Since Vanuatu is an archipelago, consisting of over 80 islands, there’s no shortage of fish and seafood available.  So there you have it – the inspiration for Coconut Sweet Potato Soup with Spicy Shrimp from Vanuatu.

recipe for spicy shrimp

coating shrimp with spicesThe people of Vanuatu are called Ni-Vanuatu.  It is an extremely diverse culture with over 112 different languages spoken on the islands.  In fact Vanuatu is the most language-dense country in the world. But in addition to their unique languages, the majority of the Ni-Vanuatu share a common language called Bislama.  It’s a form of Pidgin, based on English vocabulary.  But the language has taken on a life of its own, due to traders traveling around the Pacific, picking up bits and pieces of dialect and grammar from here and there.  TripAdvisor has a good explanation of the language with some interesting examples.

recipe for coconut sweet potato soup

coconut sweet potato soupHere’s a phrase of the language to give you a sense of it: I am very happy in Bislama is mi glad tumas (me glad too much).  That’s how I’m feeling about this soup!

Recipe type: Soup
Cuisine: Vanuatu
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 6-8
A creamy sweet potato and coconut broth that contrasts beautifully with zesty spice-crusted shrimp. Definitely company-worthy.
  • 1½ pounds medium shrimp (18-24) peeled, deveined, tails removed
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1½ teaspoons cumin
  • 1½ teaspoons coriander
  • ¾ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • SOUP
  • 6 cups low salt chicken broth broth (I recommend Swanson's)
  • 3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed (about 9 cups cubed)
  • 1 13½ ounce can unsweetened coconut milk (shake can well before pouring)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3 ounces fresh spinach leaves, slivered (stack leaves and slice them thin)
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
  1. SHRIMP: Mix spices in a small bowl. Put shrimp in a medium sized bowl. Toss to coat with spices. Set aside in the fridge while you start the soup.
  2. SOUP: Bring the broth and sweet potatoes into a medium pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 15 minutes, until potatoes are cooked through. Puree the soup, using an immersion blender or by transferring the soup to a food processor. Return the soup to the pot with the heat off. Add coconut milk, lime juice, salt and cayenne. Stir to combine. Set aside while you sauté the shrimp.
  3. SHRIMP: Heat 2 teaspoons oil in large skillet until hot but not smoking. Cook shrimp for about 2½ minutes per side over medium-high heat, or until there's a nice brown spice crust on the outside and the shrimp is just cooked through. Tent with foil to keep warm while you heat the soup.
  4. Heat the soup gently until it's hot. Ladle into shallow bowls. Place 3-4 shrimp in each bowl. Add a small pile of shredded spinach to the center of each bowl. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Enjoy!



  1. marisa smith says

    Mouthwatering, literally! What’s a good substitute for shrimp do you think? For non seafood eaters? I love the spices and coconut milk, sounds so yummy.

    • Lisa Goldfinger says

      Hi Marisa, you could try tofu. That was suggested by someone else. If you cut it into cubes and let it drain on paper towels for 10 minutes or so, then you can toss the cubes in the same spice mixture and sauté them.

  2. Margie Perse says

    Lisa, Not only are your recipes delicious, but they help out with thinking about the dreaded question of, ‘what to cook tonight’. I bet this would be good with scallops or even crispy tofu (well drained and sliced extra-firm tofu, fried in a bit of vegetable oil).
    Since I live with someone with a shrimp allergy and one who is a vegetarian (who will, thank goodness eat something with chicken broth in it), I’ll be making this tonight with those modifications.
    Thank you!
    Margie Perse

    • Lisa Goldfinger says

      Hi Margie, I’m so glad you commented with all of these ideas. Someone else asked what they could substitute for the shrimp and you gave the answer. One thing that I think is important is to use the same spices on whatever you substitute – the soup is rather mild and sweet from the potatoes, and it definitely needs the counterpoint of something spicy. I’d love to know how it turns out with your modifications. Lisa

  3. Margie Perse says

    I made this using both tofu (drained coated with the spice mixture and fried) as well as scallops (ditto for the technique. Not only were they both delicious hot, I’ve been eating it cold with a dollop of greek yogurt. Really delicious and refreshing.

    • Lisa Goldfinger says

      Hi Margie. I’m so glad to hear that the tofu and scallops worked well with the coconut sweet potato soup. I also love the idea of a dollop of Greek yogurt. Thanks!

  4. Sarah Boyd says

    Hi Lisa. We made this at the beach for Nancy M and it was delish! I used homemade Vietnamese-style chicken stock which I make from a recipe from Charles Phan that includes roasted onion and ginger. Goes great in this recipe. I’m planning to make it again tonight for my family. Thanks!

  5. Terri says

    This sounds so good! I’m going to make this for a dinner party but serve as an appetizer in a shot glass with a sprig of cilantro and one shrimp hanging on the glass. I think it’s going to be a showstopper!

  6. Elizabeth says

    Wow! Delicious! Followed the recipe exactly and my taste buds are raving:) Thank you for sharing this recipe, I look forward to trying your others!


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