I have a mixed history with sweet potatoes. I don’t remember eating them much growing up – except at Thanksgiving when they were steamed, sliced, and fried in nothing but butter and brown sugar. The responsibility of cooking the “sweets” usually fell to my uncle or dad. They are the two not afraid to use as much butter as necessary to appropriately create a thick, sweet, buttery syrup.
My next introduction to sweet potatoes was probably sweet potato fries. And curried sweet potato soup. Then in Chicago, I had my first sweet potato in a vaguely-Mexican-American-style dish. My sister took me to an unappetizingly named cafe in Chicago called Earwax. This was several years ago, and I don’t remember the exact components of the dish I ordered, but I know it contained black beans, mashed sweet potatoes, and was topped with pesto – maybe cilantro pesto? I was so excited for what sounded like a promising, delicious lunch. It turned out to be a bland mess badly in need of a little bit of salt, at least.
Despite this disappointing lunch – I remained intrigued and hopeful about a successful combination of sweet potatoes and black beans.
Since then, I’ve made black bean and sweet potato stir-fries with quinoa, a couple different kinds of black bean and sweet potato burritos (one of which my dear brother and dad declared inedible), but I had not yet tried another incarnation of the sweet potato and black bean quesadilla. Until last week.
Last week I wanted the sweet, earthy, spicy combination of sweet potatoes and black beans with salty, creamy cheese. So I turned to a recipe I had found in one of my library cookbooks, Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home. But I wanted more protein than just sweet potatoes and a little cheese, so I decided to add a can of beans to the mix. Thinking I had black beans on hand, I came home from the grocery to find kidney beans instead. So instead of recreating a spiced-up version of the black bean and sweet potato quesadilla at the cafe-that-will-not-be-grossly-named-again, I made a perfectly satisfying and tasty kidney bean version. Much spicier, much more flavorful, with just the right amount of salt, minus the Wicker Park pretense.
Here’s what you do, adapted from “Sweet Potato Quesadillas” from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home.
Makes 3 over-stuffed quesadillas
1/2 of a medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 T. vegetable oil
1 large sweet potato, grated
1/4 t. dried oregano
1/2 t. chili powder
1 t. grown cumin
generous pinch of cayenne
1 15 oz. can of beans (kidney, black, or other), rinsed and drained well
salt and pepper
cheese of your choice – Cheddar or Monterrey Jack would be good choices
Tortillas – I used medium, whole-wheat tortillas.
Saute the onions and garlic in the vegetable oil over medium heat, just until onions are translucent. Add the grated sweet potatoes, oregano, chili powder, cumin, and cayenne and cook, covered, for about 10 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent the mixture from sticking.
When the potatoes are tender, and the beans, salt and pepper, and cook until the beans are heated through.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350. lay the tortillas out on a baking sheet. Divide the filling between the three tortillas – keeping it on one half. Sprinkle with cheese. Fold the tortillas in half and bake for 10 – 15 minutes, until browned and heated through.
Note: You can also cook these in a skillet on the stove top – or even pop in the microwave just to quickly melt the cheese. However, cooking these in the oven, especially using whole wheat tortillas, results in a flaky, crispy, final dish. Try it. It also requires no extra oil – as the stove-top method would.
Serve with guacamole, salsa, and/ or sour cream… these are quesadillas. Be creative and do whatever suits your tastes.
An easy guacamole that tastes great with an assertive dish like this, is just a perfectly ripe, mashed avocado with a little salt and lime juice stirred in.