How in the world is it already May? April was a total blur. March was too, come to think of it. I met a bunch of new people. I moved. Last week I got sick for the first time since last May and it was terrible. And in the midst of it all, May sneaked up on us just like a bad cold. But now, I get the feeling things have settled a bit. Seven weeks or so of whirlwindy-ness and now I think I can chill out a bit. Just in time for Cinco de Mayo. A day on which, in order to counter all the chips and tequila I’ll probably be ingesting like it’s my job, I’ll probably also be making these tacos.
And just like colds and spring weather and the month of May, these tacos are sneaky. They’re spicy and limey and crunchy enough that they feel like the carnitas tacos you’ll stuff your face with to end Cinco de Mayo (buried under a whole mountain of sour cream and guacamole of course). But these sneaky guys are totally healthy! You’ve got sweet potatoes, black beans, cabbage, onion, cilantro, and lime juice. That’s it! Plus tortillas. These are the tacos you’ll want to start your night with, when vegetables of the non-fried variety still sound good. And then you’ll want to make them the next day and the next day and the next so you can feel like your cheating on your healthy eating streak and your grocery budget when really you’re being quite faithful to both. Let’s do it.
These tacos are crunchy, fresh, and just a bit spicy. Plus, you know, they’re tacos. Can’t really go wrong there.
Black Bean & Sweet Potato Tacos
Adapted a teeny bit from Joy the Baker
Serves 1 with a little leftover or 2 as an appetizer/snack
1 medium sweet potato, chopped
splash olive oil/butter
generous sprinkle of cumin
pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 can black beans, rinsed and drained
small corn tortillas
1/4 head cabbage, shredded
1/2 red onion, sliced
chopped cilantro to taste
lime juice to taste
Place the butter or oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Once it’s hot, add the cumin and pepper flakes and cook for a minute or so until fragrant. Add in the sweet potatoes and cook, stirring every so often, until they are softened and a little charred. Add in the black beans and cook until they are heated through, a minute or two more.
Meanwhile heat the tortillas however you like. Microwave, over a gas stove burner, or in oil.
To assemble, divide the sweet potato/black bean mixture between the tortillas. Top with cabbage, onion, cilantro, and lime juice. Enjoy!
A couple weeks ago, I was stuck in a lunch rut. Since starting my 9-5 desk job I’ve tried to keep my lunches as interesting and varied as possible, since, sadly, unless there’s a holiday potluck or it’s time for the monthly birthday party, I can pretty much guarantee lunch is the most exciting part of my day. I’d been through a pretty lengthy hummus-and-veggies stage, a salami sandwich phase, a few failed attempts at a salad phase (it just never tastes as good as I think it will), a pretty delightful peanut butter and jelly phase, and a random snacks all day phase.
Needless to say I needed to change my game a bit. I like the idea of salad, but it was just never filling enough to make the cut, even if I did add tons of vegetables and beans. So I thought if I made the salad out of something hearty and filling and just happened to add a few greens to it, that might be just the thing that could get me out of my lunch rut.
So I did a little poking around, knowing I wanted to use quinoa because not only is it a complete protein, it’s totally delicious. I found this winter fruit salad, changed a couple things when I couldn’t find the ingredients, and it totally did the trick! I think I’ve pulled myself out of my lunch rut. For now at least. I’ve made two other quinoa salads after this one, so we’ll see how long this phase lasts.
Quinoa is a great salad base. It’s healthy but also has a great nutty flavor. This one is packed with winter fruits. I added black beans to make this salad even more hearty, and the arugula gives it a nice spicy kick.
Quinoa and Winter Fruit Salad with Arugula
Adapted from foodandwine.com
1 1/3 cups quinoa (about 1/2 pound)
1 2/3 cups water
1 tangerine, segmented, seeded, and chopped
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro
1/4 cup pure olive oil
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large Bosc pear, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 bag arugula
Rinse the quinoa for 2-3 minutes with cold water in a mesh strainer. This will take away the bitterness. Place the quinoa and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low, and simmer until the water is nearly all absorbed and the quinoa is fluffy, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let steam for 5 minutes. Place the quinoa in a large bowl and let cool completely.
In a small bowl, add the tangerine, cilantro, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt, and let sit for 5 minutes.
Add the pear, cucumber, and black beans to the cooled quinoa and toss. Add the dressing and toss until absorbed. If you’ll be serving/eating all the salad at the same time, add in the arugula and toss. If you want to eat it over a few days, only sever with as much arugula as you need, and refrigerate the leftover quinoa separate from the arugula.
I think it would be best for all of us if I started this post with a big fat disclaimer: my knowledge of and experience with Indian food is virtually nonexistent. I’ve been to the Indian buffet restaurant in my college town a couple times, a 100% non-sketchy place, unlike a lot of buffets. It pleasantly surprised me both times, but I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that this kind of food, with so many distinct flavors in one pot, gets better as it sits under the warming lamps. I have a curried couscous recipe that I make quite a bit, but I’m not sure it really qualifies as Indian. Other than that, my exposure to Indian food has been limited to those times when you’re in a group or at work or school and one person looks a little uncomfortable, and finally someone asks them what’s wrong, and with a slight grimace and a firm hand on their gut, they say, “I had Indian for lunch.” And everyone nods and exchanges sympathetic, understanding looks, and remembers why they still haven’t gotten around to trying the new place that opened up down the street.
But Indian food has always been intriguing, mysterious in the good way, with its long list of exotic-sounding spices and names of dishes. Curry, turmeric, garam masala (which is actually a mix of spices). Just the ingredient lists are appetizing. So last weekend I decided that the best way to use the two cans of chickpeas in my cupboard would be to try making Indian food. So I poked around for a while and found this recipe on the ever-wonderful Smitten Kitchen. And let me tell you, this dish makes me wish I’d ventured into this vast realm of Indian food a loooong time ago. It’s delicious, people. And really easy, as long as the onions don’t make you cry for too long.
*A note about buying spices. Yes. There are six different spices in this dish. I can hear you thinking it from here, “Spices are so expensive!” They are, if you buy whole jars of them for $4 a pop. BUT, if you buy them the right way, you’ll spend less than $2 on all of them combined. And the rest of the ingredients in this recipe are dirt cheap. Go to the bulk section of your grocery store. Even if you have to go to the fancy grocery store where you’re normally only allowed on special occasions and payday. Because in the bulk section, you can buy just a tiny bit of all these spices, and you’ll pay by weight, and each one will probably cost you 30 cents or so. You’ll never buy a $7 jar of turmeric again. And you won’t have a zillion spice jars that you bought for one recipe and never used again crowding your pantry. Bulk section. Ready set go.
Here are all the lovely spices in this recipe: cumin, cayenne pepper, coriander, paprika, turmeric, and garam masala.
Then, there’s a whole bunch of chopping and grating and eye-watering.
In goes the deliciousness. This is when your house starts to warm up just from the smell.
Simmer a while, and done.
Adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen’s recipe
Serves 4-6, or a single lady like me all week
This recipe is a little spicy, a little tangy, and will warm you to the core.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 medium onions, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 fresh, hot green chili pepper, minced (I used a serrano)
1 tablespoon ground coriander
4 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 cups tomatoes, or 1 15-oz can of whole tomatoes with their juices, chopped small
2/3 cup water
4 cups cooked chickpeas or 2 15-oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt
juice of 1 lemon
Heat oil over medium head in a large skillet. Add onions, garlic, ginger and chili pepper and sauté until browned, about 5 minutes. Turn heat down to medium-low and toss in the coriander, cumin, cayenne pepper, turmeric, paprika and garam masala. Cook the onion mixture with the spices for a minute or two, until the spices are fragrant. Add the tomatoes and any juices that came with them. Scrape up any onion bits that have stuck to the pann. Add the water and chickpeas. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Stir in salt and lemon juice. Serve over rice. This keeps very well in the fridge for up to a week, and is great reheated.
Three and a half months ago, freshly graduated and completely unprepared for post-school life, I started a new job. My first big-girl, real-money, professional-but-doesn’t-feel-professional, corporate job. The first month was a blur of “Can you show me how to do this again?” and “What’s the next step?” and “Who’s that?” and “I’m confused.” It passed in the blink of an eye, and yet I’m pretty sure I got almost nothing done. I asked before I did anything – otherwise, without fail, I would skip a step, or send the wrong thing to the wrong person, and then risk having to go back a few steps. Mess up, and the mistake is on the record forever, in the incorrect email I’d sent, polished and displayed in a glass case for the half dozen people cc’d on the message. I’m sure the people one or two steps above me on the totem pole got sick of my endless questions. I got sick of them.
But then, after about six weeks or so, I felt like I had things figured out. I knew what the next step was, and what I needed to do to make it happen. Or so I thought. I was like a high school freshman after Christmas break – a semester under my belt, I totally had things figured out, right? Wrong. I forgot the important part – I was still a freshman. Still the newest person on the team, still able to make a mistake any second and be completely oblivious to it. Just like Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, “In fact, being – forgive me – rather cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger.” (Yes, that just happened. I quoted Harry Potter. And I know you liked it 🙂 ) And that was just it. I’d gotten cocky. I had it all figured out! But then when I messed up, and I would, because I had next to nothing figured out, it was bad. People would have to go back and redo their work, or do mine for me. Not a fun thing to have on my conscience.
So I picked myself up from my ever-growing mistakes, and started asking questions again. But this time was different. I knew what to ask, who to ask, what the answer would mean, and what my next move should be. And that’s when I really started learning, and figuring things out, and doing things without checking first. And doing them right. On the first try. Now I’ve been working there three and a half months, and I can’t believe how high my level of knowing what to do is compared to when I started. And it’s growing every day. This week has been an especially good one. Sure I’ve made mistakes (like marking some email SUPER URGENT that my boss was cc’d on…apparently they weren’t urgent. But the project was due three hours ago!). But this week, I’ve also been doing things without being reminded. I’ll do them, tell the person in charge of the project I’m doing them, and get a “Thanks for remembering!” in response instead of a “No no no no no we send to this person now, and you have to do that to the file first.” I’m finally more of an asset than a liability when it comes to getting stuff done.
In the midst of my constant mistake-making, this dish (and variations of it) was one thing I knew I could always get right. Terrible segue. I’m sorry. But still. You can’t mess this up. You can use whatever you have on had. No potatoes? No problem. Throw that questionable broccoli in there. Half a bell pepper? Good idea. Cabbage? Let’s be friends. Bacon? Let’s be best friends.
Chop up a small sweet potato, toss it in a large frying pan with some butter. Or olive oil or whatever fat floats your boat, but I really like butter for this one. And some red pepper flakes, because is there anything they don’t make better?
The sweet potato will take a while to cook. Once it starts to get soft, throw in some chopped onion and garlic, and let everything get a little crispy. Make a space, and plop some more butter in there.
Crack an egg in that delicious, buttery space. Fry it up to your liking.
And pat yourself on the back for getting dinner totally right.
Sweet Potato Hash
Makes enough for one hungry person
A couple tablespoons butter, for the pan
1 small sweet potato, chopped
red pepper flakes
1/4 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Melt some of the butter in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Once it’s hot, add the chopped sweet potato. Once that starts to get soft but not charred, add the onion and garlic. Cook until everything starts to blacken a bit, but be careful to not burn the garlic.
Make a well in the center and melt the remaining butter in it. Crack the egg into the well and fry it however you like. Dump it all on a plate, salt, pepper, and hot-sauce liberally, and enjoy!