Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sweet Potato Black Beans and Rice

We did not grow up eating fresh sweet potatoes.  The canned variety made an annual appearance under a blanket of bronzed marshmallows at Thanksgiving and not a year went by without leaving me in culinary confusion. What was dessert doing next to my mashed potatoes and stuffing?  (We called it stuffing back then because it was stuffed in the bird.  Now we bake stuffing separately but can’t remember to call it dressing.) Yes, I know the cranberry sauce is sweet too but that is an accompaniment, not a dish of its own. 

The years passed and we all moved around a bit.  Some of my family landed in Kentucky and then North Carolina where sweet potatoes were part of the food vernacular, not reserved for November only.  So when at last fresh sweet potatoes started showing up at our northern supermarkets, we got busy baking them.  We love the small ones that we pierce with a turkey skewer and bake at 400˚F until the flesh just under the skin begins to caramelize.  Lots of black pepper and a touch of salt and butter make this our favorite pork side dish. 

I’ve been impressed by how well sweet potatoes go with all kinds of cuisines.   One of my favorites is a variation on Latin cuisine’s beans and rice.  Sweet potatoes cooked with black beans and tomatoes make a sublime combination.  One of the keys to this dish is cooking the sweet potatoes in the juice from the tomatoes.  It seems to bring up some essential flavor common to both ingredients and creates a tasty match with the beans and spices including Spanish smoked sweet paprika. This is a year-round meal because it can be made from (low-sodium) canned beans and tomatoes and fresh sweet potatoes from the pantry. 

Sweet Potato Black Beans with Rice
Yield: About 3 cups (3 main dish servings, 5-6 side servings)

1 large or 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced (1/2” cubes)
1 14-oz can low-sodium tomatoes
1 14-oz can low-sodium black beans
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika (look for a variety from Spain)
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup freshly chopped cilantro
1/4 cup roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
Optional: hot sauce to taste
2 cups cooked brown rice

  1. Place diced sweet potatoes in a microwavable container with the juice from the canned tomatoes.   Microwave, covered with several small vents , for 4-5 minutes until potatoes are fork tender.  
  2. Meanwhile, roughly chop tomatoes and drain beans.  Place tomatoes and beans in a saucepan and add oregano, cumin and salt.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat then lower heat and stir to cook bean and tomato mixture down.  
  3. When most of the liquid has evaporated, stir in cooked sweet potatoes and remove from heat.  Add chopped cilantro, pumpkin seeds and hot sauce.  (Sweet potato mixture can be set aside at this point, covered and refrigerated for use within the next 2 days.)
  4. Serve perfectly plain over cooked rice with a warm whole wheat flour tortilla or top with extra cilantro, chopped black olives, pickled jalapeños, queso fresco and sour cream.

Note: This recipe is being submitted to the North Carolina Sweet Potatoes Commission Bloggers Contest.