Last night we made sweet potato and black bean quesedillas, a recipe I’ve noticed several times in Simply in Season, one of my favorite cookbooks ever.
I want to tell you about this cookbook. This is one of those cookbooks that makes me happy, again and again. The book was a gift from my kind and generous sister-in-law, who knew, just knew, that it was made for me. The book is as the title claims: very simple recipes from in-season ingredients. It’s published by the Mennonite Central Committee, one those Christian denominations that is radical in its simplicity and activism (including diaster relief, social justice, peace movements).
They’ve published two cookbooks before: Extending the Table and More with Less. This book, though, takes their efforts to improve the world through food to a new level. It is so user-friendly – easy recipes, organized by season – that it really makes eating healthful, in-season foods a no-brainer. The recipes we’ve tried have been good, too (Merrie won a pie contest with a variation of their pear-custard pie). Anyhow, the book has really caught on, and they now offer a kids companion cookbook, and even a faith-based study guide, in case you want to help folks understand the connection between their faith and food. What does faith have to do with cooking, you ask? Oh, so much. What we eat has everything to do with what kind of world we live in – from global warming to economic justice to dependence on foreign oil to strengthening families…but no matter. If you’re not interested in the spiritual aspect of food, you don’t have to buy the study guide. The cookbook is very low key about that, and the recipes will taste good to even the most dogged agnostic.
So we opted last night for the quesadillas, which the cookbook author, Mary Beth Lind, notes in her blog is one of her favorites. Mind you, Merrie doesn’t care for sweet potatoes, so we were going out on a limb. I didn’t follow the recipe exactly – I had less sweet potato, more beans, and somehow I did everything in the wrong proportion, because I ran out of beans while I still had leftover tortillas and potato. But here is what we did:
1 25oz can of black beans
2 large sweet potatos
6 whole wheat tortillas
1 onion, chopped small
3 cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons oregano
1.5 teaspoon chili powder
1.5 teaspoon basil.
Bunch of cheddar cheese
First, we peeled and chopped the sweet potato – ours was a Jersey sweet potato – a much lighter flesh than I was used to seeing, and at first I thought I’d purchased yams by mistake (what’s the difference, you ask? I asked the same, and found answers by many sources, including ivillage and the ever-amusing Straight Dope). We covered with water, cooked until tender (about 15 minutes), drained, then mashed.
Then fold, heat in preheated 400-degree oven, cut, and serve. And the results? Good. Tasty. The sweet potato contrasted nicely with the sharp cheese. Here’s the thing, though: it very much needed some salsa or sour cream, which we did not have. It was our fault, the recipe said to serve that way. I just didn’t listen. I never listen, and it causes me endless difficulties.
Another challenge: there were too many dishes to clean: there was the pan in which we cooked and mashed the potato, there was the strainer in which we drained the potatoes and rinsed the beans, there was the pan in which we sauteed everything, there was the cheese grater, the plate onto which we grated cheese (and all the spilled cheese on the table and floor — inevitable if a child is grating), and there was the pan on which we warmed the quesadillas. Not to mention our regular dishes. I think it could be done more easily, though: use the same pan for cooking/mashing the potatoes and sauteeing the onions, and grate the cheese directly onto the tortillas — you’ve got two fewer dishes right there. There are probably smarter ways, too.
Did Merrie eat it? Some. And that’s saying something, considering she announced that she doesn’t like sweet potatoes before we even started cooking. I keep reminding myself of that oft-quoted statistic that a child needs to be exposed to a food up to 10 times before they’ll get used to the flavor. So would I make it again? Yes. But next time I’d serve it with some salsa.