Thursday, August 2, 2012

Chili-Rubbed Sweet Potato Salad

I'm going to come straight out and say it. When cooking, I rarely measure. Usually I just have an instinct for the amount of each ingredient the recipe needs, especially with seasonings.  Sometimes my instincts are way off.  But like so many people, that is the way I learned to cook: watching the women in my life (and sometimes the men) cook by eye and by tongue.  The "taste and tweak" method.  I think that's why I like cooking vegetarian food so much.  There is very little that you can't (or at least shouldn't) taste in the middle of the cooking process.
This recipe, is no exception.  The amounts of spices are approximate, but I think you can at least see where it is going and then do your own "taste and tweak" method to come up with something delicious, like I did.
And delicious this was.  I served it for dinner alongside grilled sandwiches.  I tell you that to highlight the fact that it must have been really good because Mr. Gurgly had seconds and thirds of it before he ate his second sandwich.  This is unheard of.

My inspiration was a half-full can of black beans in the fridge, the need to stretch about 2/3 of a leftover chicken breast into a meal for the three of us (Little Gurgly had the other third for a couple of meals where what we ate was too spicy for him), and the rut we've been in of eating a lot of sweet potato wedges (homemade) or fries (frozen) along with our sandwiches.  I felt like we needed to shake it up, and I love the combo of black beans and sweet potatoes.  Looking over the recipe, it seems like it was a lot of ingredients and a lot of work, but it wasn't really difficult at all and everything came together really nicely.  A single roasted sweet potato rubbed with texy-mexy spices for a little bit of smoky kick, combined with canned black beans, and some greens.  I opted for a chili-lime vinaigrette that echoed the flavors of the rub on the potatoes, and sweetened it with a little bit of agave nectar to tame the sourness of the lime and add a little bit of its signature smokiness.

If you wanted to serve it as a stand-alone meal, there are several ways to bulk it up.  I imagined it with some crumbled feta, goat cheese, or queso fresco added, as well as with some avocado, more black beans, or even some grilled chicken or tofu.  Likewise, I think the recipe could take all sorts of different vegetables and still fit together well as a flavor profile: some roasted or grilled corn, red bell peppers (roasted or raw), or some diced onion come immediately to mind.  I did quick-pickle some onion strings ahead of time thinking I would add them to the salad, but once the dressing was done I decided that the pickled flavor would compete too much with it.

Chili-rubbed Sweet Potato Salad

1 large/2 small sweet potatoes, washed and cut into cubes (you're looking for the size of home fries)
1-2 Tbls. olive oil
1 tsp. smoked sweet paprika (or smoked hot paprika if you're a fiery soul)
1 tsp. ground cumin (I ground mine myself so it was on the course side, but it lent interest to bite into a bigger piece now and then)
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
a few grinds of black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Whisk together olive oil and spices in a large mixing bowl.  Add sweet potato cubes and toss to coat thoroughly.  Lay sweet potatoes out on a cookie sheet and roast for 10 min.  Move them around and return to oven.  Check after another 10 minutes, and remove when done.  I roasted mine for 15 min and then 15 more, and they were overdone but still delicious.

Prepare dressing:
Juice of 1 lime (and zest if you like)
2 Tbls. olive oil
1 tsp. ancho chile powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 Tbls. agave nectar (to taste, depending on how tart the lime and how much juice it gave)

1/2 can of black beans, drained and rinsed (mine didn't have seasoning aside from the usual salt in canned beans)
1 small clamshell of baby spinach (according to the container it was 2 cups but it seemed like much more)

When the potatoes are finished, allow them to cool while tossing spinach, beans, and dressing together.  Add potatoes, give one more quick toss (the potatoes don't really need the dressing, just to be sure there is equitable distribution of the potatoes) and serve.  This salad is good with the potatoes cooled all the way to cold, served at room temp, or even rather warm.  In the last case, the spinach wilts a bit, but I for one really like it that way.

Makes 4-6 servings as a side dish, or 2 as a meal.
Nutritional information for 1/6 of the salad without optional additions: 144 kcal, 19 g carb, 7 g fat, 3 g protein

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