Sweet Potato and Rio Zape Bean Salad

The people at Rancho Gordo talk about their beans the way oenophiles talk about wine.  They can explain the subtle variances in flavor among Black Calypso Beans and Black Valentine Beans, and stock heirloom varieties with crazy names such as “Goat’s Eye,” “Christmas Lima” and of course don’t forget to call dear old “Good Mother Stallard.”  They’re not quite as cheap as buying from the bulk bin at the grocery store, but since it’s beans we’re talking about, they’re still not a bad buy.  You can do as I do and always order in bulk to save on shipping.  Dried beans are a pantry staple, after all.  And since it’s gardening season, it’s worth mentioning that these beans are so fresh you can plant them and grow your own.  They are so fresh they sprout almost immediately.

Sweet Potato and Rio Zape Bean Salad (2 of 4)

As much variety as there is, most beans have a more well-known counterpart (i.e. don’t be put off by the fancy names if you can’t find the one you’re looking for).  Rio Zapes are similar to pintos, Yellow Eye Beans can stand in for cannelinis.  But it’s fun to try the recipes that have been crafted specifically for each variety, and Rancho Gordo has plenty on their website and more in their book, Heirloom Beans–even though Rancho Gordo provides recipes almost reluctantly, emphasizing that their beans are so flavorful that little elaboration is warranted.  Nevertheless, I’ve been coveting this book for a while, every since I gave it to my father-in-law two years ago for Christmas.  (I figured it would be bad form to pretend it accidentally ended up with my stack of gifts so I resisted the urge to “borrow” it).  I guess virtue or patience or something like that eventually pays off as I got my hands on a copy recently.

No news that I love my sweet potatoes–I’m still happily eating them, even if by early spring I should theoretically be sick of them.  Adding beans in to make this salad makes them a meal and not just a side dish–and since I left out the salad greens (since my kitchen is always understocked), it turned out to be one of those great salads that just gets better as it sits in your fridge.

This salad is pretty simple to make, especially if you are lazy like me and skip the adornments:  toasted pine nuts and fried fresh sage leaves.  This is a pity, I admit, because pine nuts are easy to toast (and given their price, it’s worth the effort) and my sage plants are roaring to life in the garden.  But no point hiding it.  I am sometimes lazy and wont to skip the glorious finishing touches–and this salad was delicious enough, bare-bones style.  I did pluck a few sage leaves for the garnish in my photos though, and I do provide the instructions if you are a bit more ambitious than I.  That redeems it somewhat right?

I’ve been a Rancho Gordo fan for a while–for my earlier posts on Rancho Gordo beans, see herehere and here.

Sweet Potato and Rio Zape Bean Salad (3 of 4)

Sweet Potato and Rio Zape Bean Salad adapted from Rancho Gordo’s Heirloom Beans

Notes:  Rancho Gordo suggests serving on top of a bed of watercress.  i used dried chervil and marjoram–having dried chervil is hard enough, let alone finding it fresh, so you can always leave it out–some suggest parsley or tarragon as substitutes, but I haven’t tried this.

  • 2 sweet potatoes
  • 1T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2t salt
  • 2T pine nuts
  • 1c well-drained Rio Zape (or other pinto beans)

fried sage leaves

  • 1/4c grapeseed or safflower oil
  • 20 fresh sage leaves


  • 1 small shallot
  • 1t grainy mustard
  • 2T cider vinegar
  • 1/4c olive oil
  • 1T chopped parsley
  • 1t fresh chopped chervil (1/2t dried)
  • 1/2t chopped fresh marjoram (1/4t dried)
Preheat the oven to 400F.  Cut the sweet potatoes lengthwise into eighths, so you end up with wedges.  Then cut each wedge into triangles about 1/2-inch thick.  Place on a jelly roll pan or other baking dish, drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt, and use your hands to mix.  Roast about twenty minutes until tender and starting to caramelize at the edges, turning with a spatula or shaking the pan a few times to help roast evenly.
Toast the pine nuts in a small heavy skillet over low heat, shaking the pan often and watching closely.  This should take about 4 minutes.  When the aroma rises, remove to a plate (don’t let them sit in the pan and watch carefully so they don’t burn–as with all toasted nuts, they go from beautifully fragrant to burnt quickly).
To fry the sage leaves, warm the safflower oil over medium high in a small heavy skillet.   (Presumably the one you just toasted your pine nuts in).  Fry the leaves a few at a time for 10-15 seconds, removing to a paper towel to drain.
For the dressing, choose the bowl in which you will be serving your salad.  Whisk together the shallot, mustard, and vinegar.  Drizzle the olive oil in in a thin stream, whisking all the while,  Then whisk in the the parsley, chervil, marjoram, salt, and pepper.
When the sweet potatoes are done, allow to cool somewhat, then add to the bowl with the dressing along with the beans.  Stir to coat and adjust for salt.  (Beans often need extra salt).

Sweet Potato and Rio Zape Bean Salad (4 of 4)

Black Bean Sweet Potato Chili with Quinoa

One of our favorite meals growing up was a soup of butternut squash, black beans, and assorted southwestern flavors that came to be known by the name “rubber band soup.”  A recipe originally passed along to my mother by a co-worker, we made it often enough to make it our own.  One time, though, there was one too many tweaks.  As we sat down to eat, we all noticed an odd flavor.  Everyone hesitantly sipped a few more  spoonfuls, not sure the rubbery taste was only their imagination.  A few askance glances around the table, and my mom got up to stir the soup pot to see what was going on.  And there was a rubber band, fresh from the local paper, floating in the inky liquid.

It turns out rubber bands can infuse their characteristic flavor into a broth as handily as any bay leaf or sachet of herbes de provence.  In case you were wondering.  And in case you were still wondering, I don’t recommend it.

We didn’t finish that particular bowl of soup, but the name stuck.  And I think we’ve all agreed to forget who had prepared dinner that night.  Moving on.  Ahem.

Sweet Potato Black Bean Quinoa Chili (2 of 3)

This chili I’m going to tell you about highlights all of the good parts of that rubber band soup, with none of the synthetic undertones.  And it nicely allows me to tick off two goals in one fell swoop: using my slow cooker, and sneaking more quinoa into my diet (remember, I’m still learning to love it).  Even better, it incorporates additional super-foods such as beans and sweet potatoes, is supremely economical, and can even be vegan if you so desire.

Oh, and it tastes really really good.

Though I only found (and started tinkering with) this recipe a few months ago, it’s been enjoyed not only by me and my husband, but also by both of our respective parental units, my aunt, and even my grandmother.  My children have thus far refused, but that’s par for the course.  (Remember, to my utmost chagrin, this is not one of those mommy blogs where I give you recipes that even the pickiest toddler will love.  Not for lack of trying.  Don’t get me started).

There’s a few factors working in concert to make this chili so satisfying.  Chipotle’s smokiness serves as a substrate to unify a colorful variety of  flavors.  Its charred, roasted flavor melds particularly well with sweet potatoes,  which makes this so much more than just a pot of beans.  The quinoa, meanwhile, is almost imperceptible and serves to thicken the sauce (and add extra protein) more than anything else.  (Even my mother-in-law, who is avowedly not a quinoa fan, loved this stew).

Sweet Potato Black Bean Quinoa Chili (3 of 3)

Each time I’ve made this slightly differently, but each attempt has met with success.  I’ve used Mexican oregano (pictured above) and regular dried oregano.  I’ve tried it with brown rather than black beans (though I still prefer black, the stew still managed to disappear in short order).  I’ve doubled it.  I’ve used fewer tomatoes than called for, thanks to pantry shortages.  I’ve even been lazy and skipped the first step of sauteeing the onions, garlic, and spices, instead flinging all ingredients in the slow cooker at once.  Perhaps due to laziness, or maybe it was me frantically trying to get things going before I left for the office.  It worked though.

And there are plenty of other ways to go about this.  My original sources, which I’ve linked to below, did not use a slow cooker–click through for instructions.  I almost always use dried beans, but I know I’m in the minority, so you might be glad to know you can even use canned beans if you prefer.

Just make sure not to add any rubber bands.

Sweet Potato Black Bean Quinoa Chili (1 of 3)

A note about chipotles:  These smoked jalapeño peppers packed in a marinade are key to this dish, but potent in heat–you’ll have lots remaining (unless you are made of truly tough stuff) and likely will not be able to use the rest immediately.  Simply freeze the leftovers — as a flattened out block that you break pieces from as needed or stuffed roughly into ice cube trays–and use as needed (what I also do with tomato paste).  Karen purees her remainders, stores in the fridge, and uses spoonfuls as necessary.  And she reminds me–chipotles do stain, but perhaps that’s just as well–certainly not something you’d want to accidentally rub in your eyes.

Black Bean Sweet Potato Chili with Quinoa From here, as tweaked by here, as tweaked for the slow cooker by me.  Do check those links if you don’t have or don’t want to use a slow cooker.

Serves 4-6; makes 3 quarts; doubles well if you have a 6 quart cooker.

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2-3 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 14.5-ounce can chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 pound dried black beans, rinsed well and soaked overnight
  • 1 chipotle chile from canned chipotle chiles in adobo, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano (Mexican oregano if you have it)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt + more to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups sweet potatoes (1 medium), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 3 c water

For garnish:  sour cream or greek yogurt. chopped fresh cilantro or green onions

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over moderate heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and beginning to brown, 6-7 minutes. Add garlic, chili powder, and coriander and stir. Cook together for 1 minute.

Add this mixture, along with all the remaining ingredients, to the crock pot.  Stir and cook on low for 7-8 hours.  You may need to add more water at the end, though thanks to pre-soaking the beans, I have found it not to be necessary.

Serve with fresh cilantro and sour cream or Greek yogurt, if desired.

Super-Moist Sweet Potato Bread

Up until now we’ve had a very mild winter in Massachusetts, leading to a backyard full of green garlic shoots and even a few fuzzy buds appearing on our peach tree.  The cold has finally come to stay, and although we all know we’ve had a reprieve up until now and have no right to complain, we still are.

I’ve comforted myself, as you might expect, by baking.  (What, after all can feel cozier when the temperatures are dropping than to be in a warm kitchen)?  If you are feeling similarly sorry for yourselves, or if you just want to make a fantastic and (as quick breads go) healthy loaf, this is for you.

Sweet Potato Bread (2 of 2)

I adapted this from a recipe I saw on Chow.  Though I made  a few changes, the most noteworthy is that I substituted in some whole wheat pastry flour to delicious effect, and I’d probably feel safe adding even more.  Whole wheat pastry flour?  Yes:  if you’re trying to sneak in whole grain flours, whole wheat pastry flour is the ideal choice for baking quick breads and muffins–its low gluten content, similar to cake flour, results in a tender, cakey crumb.

If you are skittish (or at the very least skeptical) about using whole grains in baking, combining with sweet potato is a great way to get your bearings.  The slightly nutty flavor of whole wheat flour only brings out the tuber’s flavor, which is what really dominates.   And thanks to the sweet potato the bread is incredibly moist.   (This, even while I cut back on the milk somewhat).*

Rather than ramble on in this blog post as is often my wont, I’ll announce the winners of our giveaway!  Laura, Sarah, and Carol–congratulations, and thanks to everyone for entering, and even more for reading this space!

Sweet Potato Bread (1 of 2)

Super-Moist Sweet Potato Bread (adapted from Chow).

  • 1  cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon mace (or freshly ground nutmeg)
  • 1 cup sweet potato flesh, scooped from 1-2 roasted sweet potatoes (instructions follow)
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), melted, plus more for coating the pan
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • scant 1/2 cup whole milk
If you haven’t already, roast the sweet potatoes:  preheat the oven to 425F, pierce each potato several times, and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or foil.  Bake about 45m to an hour (or longer) until a knife slides through with no resistance.  (Plan to do this step enough in advance so that they have time to cool.  It’s worth roasting a few and freezing extra for later).
Preheat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle.
Butter a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan and dust with flour, tapping out any excess.  (I also line the bottom of the pan with a very casually cut to fit rectangle of parchment paper).

In a medium bowl, stir together the flours, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and mace or nutmeg in a medium bowl.

Either in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or using a hand mixer, beat the sweet potato flesh, granulated sugar, and brown sugar on medium speed until well combined.  Mix in the butter on low speed until smooth (low speed so as to avoid splashing melted butter).   Add the eggs one at a time, waiting until the first egg is incorporated before adding the second.   Then beat in the vanilla.

Scrape down the bowl and, on low speed, add half of the reserved flour mixture, then about half of the milk. Add the remaining flour, then the remaining milk and mix until just combined.  (Do not overbeat).

Scrape the batter into the pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about an hour.  Let the bread cool in the pan for 20 minutes or so, then remove from the pan and allow to cool on a rack.

*Note that I cut back on the milk because I eliminated the pecans from the original recipe (changing the solid to liquid ratio)–my younger son is supposed to avoid nuts until he is 2 and he would not stand for being told he couldn’t have this bread.  Too much liquid in a batter can cause it to rise and then deflate in the center.  It worked out perfectly, as the pictures attest!