Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili with Fresh Guacamole

This is a guest post from my friend Candace. She really should have her own blog as her love of food and puns is both intense and entertaining.

 Every now and then, Minda– my friend and our wonderful host – hounds me to do a guest post for her blog. By hounds me, of course, I mean that she invites me to do a guest post, I enthusiastically agree, then she wonders what the *bleep* happened to that post I said I’d write. She’ll remind me at least once a year, to no avail.

Clearly, she’s the best, and a far more reliable, talented, and entertaining blogger than I’ll ever be. Minda’s Note: Blush You know this; it’s why you’re here, after all. Still, if I don’t pony up with a post soon, she’s going to stop asking – or worse, stop inviting me on the bi-weekly, day-saving coffee run. The horror!!

Several weeks ago, Minda posted a recipe featuring bulgur, which she made during our Cooking Club. While she was experimenting with exotic –albeit earthy-sounding– grains, I was cooking up an inspired new chili combo – sweet potato and black bean. I love sweet potato; I love chili; and I really, really love black beans. I particularly love it when chili doesn’t require meat ingredients. I had found my match made in culinary heaven.

I have now made Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili twice, and I will definitely be cooking it again soon. I changed the original recipe slightly by adding some dark chocolate, something I’ve always wanted to do because, well: It. Just. Seems. So. Haute. And it gave the flavor even more depth and brought out the sweetness of the potatoes and generally perfectly complemented the seasoning.

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I wish my instincts always worked out so well.

A hearty thank you to our University’s wellness program leadership for introducing me to this hearty dish.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili

Ingredients
1 medium yellow or white onion, diced
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 16-ounce jar chunky salsa
1 15-ounce can black beans, slightly drained
2 cups vegetable stock
2 cups water
1 TBSP chili powder
2 tsp grated dark chocolate
2 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp chipotle powder
1 TBSP cooking oil
Salt & Pepper to taste

Directions
In a large pot over medium heat, sweat onions in oil. Season with salt and pepper. Stir and continue cooking until translucent.
Add sweet potatoes, chocolate, and spices; cook for three minutes.
Pour in salsa, water, and vegetable stock.
Bring mixture to a low boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer. Add black beans.
Cover and cook 20-30 minutes, until sweet potatoes are fork tender and soup has thickened.*

Top with guacamole (optional). BONUS RECIPE below.

*Note: I haven’t been very successful yet getting my soup to thicken, which has prompted me to consider a thickening agent. I will report back after my next attempt. Minda’s Note: Try mashing some of the beans with a fork before adding them to the chili. The released starch will thicken it a bit. You could also give it a quick hit with an immersion blender. 

BONUS RECIPE

When I was a kid, I hated guacamole. In fact, I hated anything to do with that weird, wrinkly blackish-green fruit thing, the avocado. But I was wrong, as kids sometimes are.

Now I know the bliss that is a cool, creamy avocado served with, let’s see, almost anything. Guacamole is just about the easiest thing to make, and I like mine so much that I’ll never buy the pre-made stuff again. I don’t like to brag, but I’ve kind of made a name for myself.

My tombstone will read:
Beloved wife and step-mother.
Epic maker of guacamole.

So I’m confident that if you love guac, you’ll love this recipe. Best of all, it’s super simple, proving once again that basic recipes are the best. But first, a couple of notes about this recipe. I choose avocados that give slightly when you press on the (still weird and wrinkly and blackish green) skin. After you cut your avocados in half and remove the pit, a large spoon is great for shelling the fruit right out of the peel. Likewise, I use a small spoon for seeding my pepper.

About those peppers. After handling a serrano pepper, make sure you wash your hands well. With soap. Twice. And don’t, like, touch your face for the rest of the night. ESPECIALLY NOT YOUR EYES. Seriously.

Or, I suppose you can use a milder pepper, if you prefer.

Guacamole (Avocado’s Favorite Recipe)
2 ripe avocados, cubed
½ onion, diced
1 serrano pepper, seeded and minced
2-3 Campari tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 lime
½ TBSP dried cilantro, or 1 TBSP chopped fresh cilantro
Salt & Pepper, to taste

Combine avocado, diced onion, minced pepper, cilantro, and tomato. Squeeze juice from one lime over guacamole and season with salt and pepper. Using a large fork, mash until you’ve reached desired texture. For even creamier guac, you can throw in a tablespoon of sour cream.

Minda, I hope I’ve done your blog justice. You set the bar pretty high. Notice, I refrained from using even a single pun more than three puns. So, if you’ll have me back, consider this a commitment to guest blog the Grinch cookie recipe this Christmas. You know, the one you’ve been asking me to do for two years?

Minda’s Note: Well done! 

Bulgur Wheat With Veggies

Exotic grains are all the rage in many cookbooks and magazines these days. The most mainstream of these new trendy grains is quinoa which seems to pop up everywhere. I remember a couple of years ago trying to find amaranth because my husband had read about it in Men’s Health. I ended up having to buy some at a Whole Foods several miles from where we live. Now, you can find it in some of the organic baby food pouches.

Honestly, I haven’t cared for most of these trendy grains. The very thought of grains conjures up thoughts of lumpy, gray porridge that takes forever to cook. So, I haven’t branched out much in the grains area.

Last week thought, my friend Candace and I participated in another Cooking Club as part of our university’s wellness program. (You may recall our previous adventure making a tofu stir fry, if not you can read about it here.) Each cooking team received a recipe to try along with a grain to prepare. Our grain was bulgur.

Bulgur was definitely not something that I was rushing out to try. It doesn’t even sound good. Say it….bul-gur. Doesn’t inspire a lot of interest, does it?

However, I soon found I had misjudged this grain. It cooked quickly, and the end result reminded me a lot of a fried rice dish. In fact, I can see me sautéing some onion, tossing in some peas and carrots with a splash of soy sauce and broth, and making sort of a Mock Fried Rice. Reading up on bulgur later, I found that it’s high in protein and fiber with a higher nutritional content than rice. So, it’s definitely worth subbing in for rice when you can. I’ve already pinned a couple of bulgur recipes, and look forward to trying more of this healthy grain.

 Bulgur with Veggies

1 onion (medium, chopped)
1 cup broccoli (chopped)
1 cup carrot (shredded)
1/3 cup fresh parsley (chopped, or 2 Tablespoons dried)
1 teaspoon coconut or canola oil
1 1/2 cups bulgur (dry)
2 cups broth (vegetable or chicken)
8 ounces chickpeas (canned, drained)

Directions

Wash and chop fresh onion, broccoli, carrots, and parsley (if using fresh parsley).
Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onions and cook until soft.
Add bulgur and stir to coat. Add 2 cups chicken broth to the skillet, bring to a boil.
Lower the heat, add remaining vegetables and chickpeas. Cook for 10 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed.
Add parsley and stir. Serve warm or cold.

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Honey Roasted Roasted Brussels Sprouts

If there is a list somewhere of the most hated and feared vegetables, I would venture to say that the Brussels sprout is on the list. And in my opinion, it’s very undeserved. I didn’t grow up eating Brussels sprouts; in fact, it was only a few years ago that I event tried them. Shortly after that fateful first meeting, I introduced them to my parents who liked them as well. Now, they have become an occasional side dish at my annual Christmas dinner.

My go-to method of preparing them was to simply toss them in some olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast them. I think any veggie is tasty fixed like that. But when I saw this recipe on Money Saving Mom, I knew I had to try it. The dried cranberries give a festive look that is perfect for your holiday meal or any meal of the year.

I prepared this dish this year at my Christmas dinner and it was the first time that a couple of family members had tried Brussels sprouts. And guess what? They asked for the recipe. Yep, they are that good.

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Honey Roasted Brussels Sprouts
1 lb. Brussels Spouts, trimmed, cut in half and washed
2 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper
2 Tbsp. honey
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup sliced almonds
Preheat oven to 350.

Put the Brussels sprouts in a bowl. Pour the oil over and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat and season.

Put a single layer on a cookie sheet, cut side down. Roast for about 35 minutes at 350 degrees — until tender and edges are starting to brown.

Take cookie sheet out of the oven and drizzle  sprouts with honey and sprinkle with cranberries and almonds. Return to oven and bake for another 5 minutes — or until warmed through.

Serves 4 to 6.

Aunt T’s 3 Cheese Cheese Ball

I love cheese ball. It is a strong weakness of mine. Cheese ball is very popular in this area and shows up often at get togethers of all sorts. It’s especially likely to be seen during the holidays. This particular recipe is one that my sister-in-law (known as Aunt T to my son) makes each year for our Christmas Eve festivities. It’s vegetarian which makes it a good office option. You can roll it in nuts or extra cheese, or you could divide in half and roll one ball in each for some variety. Either way, get the ball rolling and make one for your holiday get together!

 3 Cheese Cheese Ball

2 8 0z packages of cream cheese, softened

1 cup of shredded Cheddar cheese

1 cup of shredded American cheese (Velveeta shreds)

1 tablespoon of Worstershire sauce

1 teaspoon of lemon juice

Nuts or extra cheese for rolling

Combine all ingredients (you’ll have to use your hands and it will get messy) and form into a ball. Roll in either nuts or extra cheese. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Serve with choice of crackers. I like Ritz or Socialables (my mother in law’s pick).

Greek Chickpea Salad

It’s not often that you find culinary inspiration in a college dining hall, but that’s exactly where this recipe came from in a roundabout way. I first tried a Greek chickpea salad at our university cafeteria and liked it so much that I started looking for a copycat. I ended up piecing together several recipes to come up with this one. Cucumber is a popular component of Greek salads but it’s one vegetable that I just do not care for so I substituted zucchini. I also added in a few sprigs of chopped mint from my herb garden.

This salad is both light and hearty and I enjoyed it as a main dish for lunch.

Greek Chickpea Salad

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1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup diced tomatoes
1/2 cup reduced fat crumbled feta (2 ounces)
1 can (15.5 ounces) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, roughly chopped
1/2 cup lightly packed fresh parsley leaves

Toss it all together in a bowl and serve immediately; or serve chilled.

Tomato Pie

While the pie was a rousing success, I failed totally on getting a picture of it with my “real” camera. In my defense, I feel that I did well to bake a pie on a workday and still make it to work without forgetting shoes or the baby. I guess I’ll be forced to bake another one for photography purposes…

When I joined my CSA, I immediately began pinning recipes to try with my newfound vegetable wealth. And I knew from the start that Tomato Pie would be one of them. I’d never actually eaten Tomato Pie but I have a friend who loves it and I’d seen the recipe before in a magazine. I chose to use Paula Deen’s recipe. When I’m looking for a good ole Southern/country recipe, I start with my mom and if she doesn’t have the answer I turn to Paula. I don’t consider myself a Paula fan really but in her early years of Food Network, before she became so orange and loud and over the top with the butter and the accent, she was just a good ole country cook that I enjoyed watching. I’ve tried and loved many of her early recipes.

I lightened this recipe up a little and I can’t say that it suffered any. It was gobbled up in a half hour by my co-workers and me. Tomato Pie was a new experience for them as well and reviews were positive. I did neglect to notice though that I was supposed to peel the tomatoes. It didn’t hurt the taste any to have the peel on them but it did make it a little more awkward to slice.

I used tomatoes and green onions from my CSA.

Tomato Pie

Ingredients

4 tomatoes, peeled and sliced
10 fresh basil leaves, chopped (or 1 tsp dried basil)
1/2 cup chopped green onion
1 (9-inch) prebaked deep dish pie shell
1 cup grated mozzarella
1 cup grated reduced fat sharp cheddar
¾ cup light mayonnaise
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the tomatoes in a colander in the sink in 1 layer. Sprinkle with salt and allow to drain for 10 minutes. The salt will help bring out the liquid in your tomatoes. Pat dry with paper towels. If your tomatoes are too wet, your pie will be soggy so don’t skimp on the patting.

Layer the tomato slices, basil, and onion in pie shell. Season with salt and pepper. Combine the grated cheeses and mayonnaise together. Spread mixture on top of the tomatoes and bake for 30 minutes or until lightly browned.

To serve, cut into slices and serve warm.

Adapted from this recipe by Paula Deen.

Tofu Stir Fry

The university where I work offers monthly cooking classes during the lunch hour as part of a wellness program intended to keep employees healthy. I attended my second one last Friday. The theme was “Heart Healthy Lunches” and the intention was to learn to cook quick, healthy alternatives to fast food. The classes are set up to where you separate into teams and each team tackles a different recipe. I talked my friend Candace into attending with me and we choose a tofu stir fry dish. We did this because 1) Neither of us had ever cooked tofu so we felt we might actually learn something 2) Candace is a vegetarian and 3) No one else really seemed to want it.

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The ingredients were laid out for us and a graduate assistant working the class advised us on the importance of draining and blotting the tofu well. It turns out that tofu has a lot of water in it. We were supposed to return the blotted tofu blocks to their boxes which we were told would make it easier to slice. However, even though I clearly heard this, I tossed our boxes in the trash in an effort to maintain a tidy work station. In my defense, neither of us really believe putting the tofu back in the box would have improved anything. The texture of the tofu blocks was sort of in between a soaked sponge and a block of jello.

We could our tofu into ½ inch cubes as walnut oil heated in a skillet. (This was another first for me, I really had no idea that walnut oil existed). We tossed it in the skillet and waited for it to brown….only it didn’t. I’m not sure if our oil wasn’t hot enough, our tofu wasn’t dry enough, our burner wasn’t heating evenly or it was a combination of all of the above. So we waited somewhat impatiently for a nice browning effect that never really happened.

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While we worked, curious onlookers drifted by our stove to see what the tofu looked like and to ask us if we actually ate the stuff or planned to eat it. A few people were familiar with it and a couple even admitted to eating it regularly. By far, the most popular comment though was “Ewww.” I accepted the fact that our dish was probably not going to be licked clean by the masses during the buffet that follows the class.

“It smells wonderful!” I said at one point.
“I think you’re smelling the bacon from the bistro salad station,” Candace replied.
Oh.

We eventually gave up on the notion of nicely browned tofu, and completed the recipe with slightly pale blocks of the stuff. The recipe was a simple one, and actually looked quite pretty on the plate.

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So the big question…how did it taste?

I liked it. As someone told us early on, it really has no taste and takes on the flavor of whatever you are cooking it with. So in this case, you got a lot of ginger and soy taste (someone forgot to purchase the garlic-it would have helped). Another taste tester described the texture as being similar to that of scrambled eggs, and I think that’s a fair assessment: square scrambled eggs.

I tend to get very grossed out when preparing raw meat so I could see myself substituting some tofu into a recipe here and there just to add a little variety. In fact, when I later Googled “tofu recipes” and found this nice collection :

The recipe we prepared could definitely use more vegetables, and I would have preferred to have had some rice or noodles to accompany it. Still, it was a good basic recipe. Here it is:

Stir Fried Tofu with Scallions
Makes: 4 servings
Time: 20 minutes
1 1/2 to 2 pounds firm to extra-firm tofu, blotted dry
3 tablespoons peanut oil or neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn
1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped peeled fresh ginger (optional)
1 or 2 bunches scallions, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths, white and green parts separated (about 2 cups total)
1/3 cup vegetable stock or water
2 tablespoons soy sauce, or to taste
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds (optional)
1. Cut the tofu into 1/2-inch or slightly larger cubes. Put the oil in a large skillet or wok, preferably nonstick, over high heat. When hot, add the garlic and the ginger and cook, stirring, for about 10 seconds. Add the tofu and the white parts of the scallions; cook, stirring occasionally, until the tofu begins to brown, a couple of minutes. Add the stock and cook, stirring, until about half of it evaporates; add the green parts of the scallions and stir for about 30 seconds.
2. Add the soy sauce, stir, taste and adjust the seasoning, garnish if you like, and serve.

So while it might not become a regular part of my diet, it is a food I will try again. Tell me, have you tried or would you try tofu?