My Pretty Apron: I Double-Dog Dare You!

Black beans, avocados, and sweet potatoes; these are a few of my favorite things. And on this week’s edition of My Pretty Apron, I’m serving up two, count ‘em two, recipes showcasing these three lovely ingredients!

After last week’s empanada challenge, I wanted to go back to my original mission statement which was to find recipes that were tasty, quick, and easy enough to pull off during the week  after a long day at work. I landed on an oldie that I’d done plenty of times before but as I was sifting through my bookmarks, I came across another recipe similar in the ingredient list but completely different in execution. And so, I had my “Aha!” moment. What if I could pull off two easy-to-make meals at the same time?

Why two, you might ask? One for dinner of course, but the other could be a perfect dinner AND lunch solution for the next couple of days. No need to fuss in the kitchen two or three nights in a row if it’s already done and in the fridge, you feel me?

I laid the gauntlet and made my peace with the powers that be. Oh and by the way, here’s the extra hurdle: it must be gluten-free.

After spending weeks researching the implications of gluten and looking at dozens of gluten-free recipes for my post on Sunday, I decided to try at least one meal this week where I could consciously leave gluten out of it, no questions asked.

This is a nutrition and wellness blog and I am really into figuring out what’s in the food I’m consuming. Call it my inner mad-scientist or really just the fact that I’m a giant nerd. No really. I am.

I researched some of the health benefits for my three stars of today’s show. If you’re into the science, then by all means, read below and enjoy. If you’re thinking, “Um, where’s the food?” you can just go right on ahead to “Apron on! Let’s do it!” Its ok, you’re allowed.

Food4ThoughtNYC Nutrition Factoids

Let’s talk about sweet potatoes. They are stacked and packed with all sorts of goodness, starting with the following:

  • Vitamin B6: Helps the body make the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine which affects our mood and is necessary for proper brain development and function.
  • Vitamin C: Aside from helping you fight off the cold, this vitamin also plays a crucial role in bone and tooth formation, blood cell formation, and digestion. As if that wasn’t enough, this super vitamin also helps accelerate wound healing by producing collagen.
  • Vitamin D: Plays a big role in our moods, energy levels, and helps build healthy bones, heart, skin, nerves, and teeth.
  • Iron: Mineral that helps carry oxygen throughout the cell in our bodies and metabolizes protein. It shares collagen making responsibilities with Vitamin C and when eaten together, the body absorbs the iron more successfully.
  • Magnesium: Mineral that helps regulate blood sugar levels and promotes normal blood pressure levels, energy metabolism, and protein synthesis. Basically it keeps the system flowing smoothly and healthily.
  • Potassium– Electrolyte that helps regulate heartbeat and nerve signals. For all your runners out there potassium helps relax muscle contractions, like those dreaded side stitches that creep up during high intensity physical activities. Potassium also reduces swelling and controls kidney activity.
  • Beta carotene and other carotenoids: Source of Vitamin A and are powerful antioxidants which help strengthen our eyesight, boost immunity to disease, and help ward off cancer.

*Maribel’s Color Cooking Rule*

Foods in rich orange and red colors tend to have high beta carotene and carotenoid counts so you should always aim to have as colorful a plate as possible with your produce. It’s my rule of thumb when I’m cooking. The more color you see, the more nutritious your meal.

Black beans and avocados have tons of nutritional merit that can add a significant amount of goodness in both flavor and health to your meals. From fiber to antioxidants to healthy fat, there are loads of benefits to including these two foods to your plate…in moderation of course!

One somewhat scientific note about avocados (sorry, just indulge me): the high fat content of avocados has a hugely beneficial impact when mixed in a salad or with other produce high in carotenoids. Carotenoids are fat-soluble and when provided with the fat they need, our absorption rate goes up. This means that all those of those benefits we get from Beta-Carotene and Vitamin A  (uh hello, reduces your risk of cancer!) will only increase if you add that extra wedge of avocado to your salad.

Apron On! Let’s Do It!

I sourced my recipes from one of my healthy eating staples, eatingwell.com. By the way, it’s an incredible site for all kinds of ideas if you’re on a special restricted diet or if you’re looking for healthy alternatives to some classic dishes. I highly recommend it to everyone!

Recipe #1- Black-Bean Smothered Baked Sweet Potato Black Bean-Smothered Sweet Potatoes Recipe  

Recipe #2- Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili (with optional sour cream)Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili Recipe

Both of these dishes are favorites of mine for so many reasons. I’ve already said that I love black beans, sweet potatoes, and avocado. But here are some more:

  • It’s perfect for fall as sweet potatoes are in season. Plus who doesn’t love chili when it gets cold outside?
  • Ridiculously cheap. Seriously. Invest in stocking your cabinets with canned beans and crushed tomatoes whenever they’re on sale. As long as they have ‘no salt added’ on the label! These would cost you less than $10 to make. TOGETHER.
  • They’re super easy to make, filling, and packed with flavor.

If that wasn’t enough to convince you to try them out, then consider this: they’re vegan (sans sour cream), vegetarian, AND gluten-free friendly. BAM.

The web links above will give you more detail about calories and step by step instructions for each recipe. I’ll summarize below and point out any adjustments I’ve made along the way. As I said in the beginning, the challenge was to make two gluten-free meals at once. Here goes nothing.

First Things First: Where to begin?

I got all the ingredients together simultaneously, but I chose to start with the black-bean stuffed potato. This makes perfect sense if you consider cooking times and prep.

Here are the ingredients for both recipes, baked potato on the left and chili on the right. As you can see the only variations were the onions and the crushed tomatoes and garlic for the chili. The spices pictured here are chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper, and ground chipotle powder.

Take one sweet potato, poke a fork at regular intervals across and then wrap it with aluminum foil and place in a small pan. Place that pan into a preheated oven at 425 degrees F. Bake for 50 minutes to an hour or until the fork can go through the potato smoothly.

While the first potato is baking in the oven, you can get started right away with the chili and the rest of your prep. It’s always worth it to take the time and chop everything you can ahead of time so that your ready at the drop of a hat while the fire is on.

Peel and chop your second sweet potato and the white onion into even-sized cubes. Also, mince the garlic cloves, red onion, and tomato. Place the tomatoes and red onion in a bowl and put it aside.

Heat a dutch oven or a heavy pot with a tbsp of olive oil, add the onion and sweet potatoes, and sauté until the onions are translucent, about 4 minutes. Now it’s time to add all of those spices that make chili so delicious. The recipe calls for 2 tbsps chili powder, 4 tsps ground cumin, ½ tsp ground chipotle powder, and ¼ tsp of salt. I adjusted these to my taste. I’m kind of a wimp when it comes to spicy food so I reduced the chili powder to about 1 ½ tbsp and the chipotle to ¼ tsp. *Be careful with the chipotle because it is SUPER hot. They are smoked jalapeño peppers after all. I learned that the hard way when I accidentally grabbed the chipotle jar instead of the garam masala jar while making chicken curry one day. Not good.

On the flipside, if you happen to really love heat then try and find canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce BUT be careful if you’re going gluten free. Some canned chipotles have wheat starch as an ingredient so you want to double check before adding. If you do use it then just note that a little goes a long way. Use about half a pepper, remove the seeds, chop, and add it to the pot.

After you’ve mixed in the spices for about a minute, you can add the liquid. The recipe suggests two and a half cups of water, but I opted for vegetable stock to give it a bit more flavor. I’ve made this chili with water before and found it to be a bit too bland. Whatever liquid you use, allow it to simmer and then cover the pot and let cook for about 10-15 minutes or until the sweet potatoes are tender.

While the chili does its thing, go ahead and pull out that bowl of tomatoes and onions that you chopped earlier. Check on your potato in the oven! You should smell it at this point (roasted sweet potato smells SO good!) so you want to check that it’s cooking through.

Add about ¾ of a cup of rinsed black beans and ¼ cup of chopped cilantro to your bowl of tomatoes. Use the same seasonings you added to the chili, but you can also add a couple cracks of black pepper. Slice ¼ wedge of the Haas avocado and dice it up into your tomato-black bean salsa. Squeeze the juice of one lime after you’ve added the avocado. The citrus keeps the avocado fresh and helps prevent it from turning brown in your bowl while you’re waiting for the potato. Mix it all together and taste for salt. Then…that’s it! You’ve just made your own salsa from fresh ingredients and now you’ll never need to buy that jarred stuff ever again! Place the bowl in the fridge and go back to the chili.

Remove the lid and check the sweet potato to see if it’s softened. If so, then you can add the rinsed beans, and can of crushed tomatoes. Squeeze the juice of one lime and stir all the ingredients together. Do a quick taste test for salt. Since we rinsed the beans and the tomatoes had no salt added, the saltiness factor should be pretty low. You might want to add another ¼ tsp of the stuff. This is not an invitation to over-salt though! Keep it reasonable folks!

I made one last addition. We have jars and jars of dried Mexican oregano in my apartment. It’s in everything we cook and so I added about a tsp to the chili. You’re more than welcome to do the same if you have it on hand.

Let all of those ingredients we added to the pot play together for about five minutes, until the liquid has slightly reduced and it’s thickened up. At this point you can add your final touch: the chopped cilantro. Don’t be stingy here. Add a full cup of chopped fresh cilantro and stir into the chili. Turn off the heat. And that’s it. Done and done. Recipe #2  is finito!

Let’s not forget that potato we’ve got in the oven. It should be done baking at this point. Poke your fork through the potato and if it slides out easily then it’s good to go. Pull the tray out of the oven and carefully remove the foil from the potato. You should see all of those amazing natural sugars oozing out of the potato as you take it out of the foil and onto your plate.

Slice it across vertically so that you create a pocket. Pull out your tomato-black bean salsa from the fridge and start spooning it on top of your potato. If you aren’t vegan, add about a tablespoon of light sour cream on top. Recipe #1 is in the bag!

Resist the temptation to have a bowl of chili right after your smothered sweet potato. Or just have a spoonful or two. It’ll be difficult because it’s truly delicious (I promise you!) but the key thing to remember here is that you have a ready meal for the next day or two. Once the chili has cooled down, pour it into a container and store. You can keep it in the fridge for about 3 days or freeze it for up to 3 months.

Some ideas for adjustments:

  • Try adding kale to the chili! Not only is it going to pump up your vitamin and mineral count, it’ll add some more texture and another layer of flavor to the dish. Plus they’re in season fall and winter which means it’ll be cheaper at your local farmers market.
  • Also, this chili recipe is a great base for any kind of chili you want to make this fall, so you can add ground meat and other veggies to give you even more variety.
  • Add fresh corn or chopped bell peppers to the tomato-black bean salsa on the baked potato. I tend to chop up whatever veggies I have in the fridge, especially if they’re close to on their way out. One idea? Swap the cherry-tomatoes for sun-dried tomatoes and leave out the sour cream.

The Verdict

It worked! I faced the challenge head on and got two amazing meals after less than two hours of work. Dinner was done, and now I have lunch for tomorrow and dinner this weekend.  I suppose Rachel Ray has already proven this is possible with her Week in a Day show on Food Network, but I’m a simple blogger with a small kitchen trying to put this together on a budget. I cut corners and go for the easy route if it’s there. It doesn’t really matter much how I achieve it as long as it tastes great, makes me feel great and I’m having fun along the way.

I guess my point is, it can be done by me or you or anyone. I double-dog dare you to try!

Until next time, happy eating! 🙂

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5 thoughts on “My Pretty Apron: I Double-Dog Dare You!

Add yours

  1. When I read this a few weeks ago, I actually had all the main ingredients, including an avocado! It’s quite rare to have it since it’s so expensive. But I happened to have some. I attempted the chili with what I had and it actually turned out pretty good. It didn’t look as pretty as yours, but it’s the taste that matters and it was a nice change to my regular weekly menu. So, thanks for idea!

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