Welcome to the world of lockdown living. I’ve never known a time of more sustained public limits. Even our very faces are limited by masks. We have nothing to do but wait. We have nowhere to go but home. Even as New York City, where I live, creeps back toward easing restrictions, the only safe spaces are our own.
Amidst these constraints, however, we hold the power to turn an ordinary day into an event. In a time where so much looms in the distance, we can create something right now that is fully tangible and completely unique. We can cook.
As has been the case for so many of us, cooking has been a lifeline as I navigate this gaping collective pause (can you say sourdough starter?). I’m looking toward recipes that encourage renewal. Nourishment. Comfort. My goal is to ride this wave of deprivation toward a port of bounty.
The word “bounty” conjures bushels of produce fresh from the farm. Expanding my diet in a plant-based direction is a challenge though, because, well, so very many kinds of veggies and fruits just aren’t my cup of tea. For example: mushrooms. Or kale. And don’t even talk to me about pickles.
Yet reducing my reliance on animal protein is all about possibility. While it’s doubtful I’ll ever go vegan, or even vegetarian, there’s plenty of opportunity to beef up my diet with veggies and fruits to make it more healthful, more varied, and more fun.
I looked to Lake Isle Press’s “Raising the Salad Bar” by Catherine Walthers for inspiration. A great many of the recipes in this inventive little cookbook are entirely plant-based, and if there is meat in a recipe it is seldom the primary ingredient.
The first recipe that grabbed my attention was for Mexican Sweet Potato and Black Bean Salad. I had never made a sweet potato salad, but the ingredients seemed like a good fit, and the chipotle-chile dressing sounded scrumptious. I made it, and indeed it was.
I loved the effortlessness of the meal. Even though I halved the recipe it provided for plenty of leftovers. The next day I used them in a quesadilla, one of the recipe’s variations, and the day after that, in a burrito. With each meal I added a little more of the dressing, which never got to the point of drowning out the other ingredients and added a lot of zing. When you can have different versions of the same dish three days in a row, and like it best on the third day, you have a winner.
Continuing along the line of options and possibilities, the recipe suggests freezing leftover dressing for future use, which I did. It also suggests swapping tomatoes for the sweet potatoes for a tasty salsa. Haven’t tried that yet, but I’ve never made salsa, and I’m game. I had also never made a quesadilla or burrito before, and am happy I let this recipe nudge me into it. I left out the cilantro, by the way, and didn’t miss it.
This recipe did indeed deliver bounties: a new way to enjoy sweet potatoes; a zingy dressing I’ll try with, say chicken or salmon salad, or greens or crudités; and inspiration to make burritos and quesadillas. Preparing it was more than just making one meal; it was opening a door to new possibilities. It seems to me that’s about the best we can do for ourselves-especially in times like these.
Mexican Sweet Potato and Black Bean Salad
Serves 6 to 8
4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced into 3/4-inch chunks
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Kernels from 3 to 4 ears of corn, or 2 cups frozen kernels
2 cups cooked black beans, rinsed and drained (canned is fine)
3 or 4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 chipotle chile (from a can of chipotles in adobo)
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons Thai sweet chile sauce (such as Maesri brand)
6 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 cup canola oil
- Preheat oven to 375˚. In a large bowl, toss sweet potato chunks with the oil to lightly coat. Sprinkle with cumin, coriander, chile powder and salt and toss again. Spread the potatoes in a single layer on a rimmed cookie sheet and roast they are until golden at the edges and just tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Meanwhile, microwave corn in a small amount of water for 3 to 5 minutes or steam for 3 to 4 minutes. Drain excess water. In a large serving bowl, combine the corn and black beans.
- To make the dressing, in a blender container or food processor place the chipotle chile, garlic, and sweet chili sauce. Process until smooth. Add the lime juice and process again. With the machine still running, slowly add the canola oil and process dressing until it is emulsified.
- When sweet potatoes are done, let cool slightly and add to the bowl with the corn and beans. Add scallions and cilantro, gently toss. Pour enough dressing over the salad to moisten ingredients and toss again.
This hearty dish can be:
Served chilled and piled high on top of a bed of fresh greens
Rolled into a soft flour tortilla with fresh spinach and eaten out of hand as a “wrap”
Layered into a flour tortilla with shredded cheese, folded and grilled until golden and eaten as a quesadilla
Incorporated into your favorite chili recipe with the addition of tomatoes and onions
The dressing can be made in large quantities and frozen in small containers for future use
Blend the dressing with canned beans for a smoky bean dip
Use dried black beans if you want to cook up an extra batch for another use. Freeze family-size portions in doubled zipper-type plastic bags
Substitute canned dice tomatoes for the sweet potatoes and you have a wicked good salsa!
Reprinted from “Raising the Salad Bar” by Catherine Walthers, published by Lake Isle Press, 2007
Originally published at https://www.lakeislepress.com on July 6, 2020.