Sweet potato and black bean salad

It seems so strange to be talking about anything other than the hurricane right now. Especially when all I can think to start this post with is a gentle complaint about the weather here–namely, that it can’t make up its mind. Somehow it feels insulting, even malicious, that summer is still flirting with us here in Northern California. Granted, she seems to be losing interest, with shorter bursts of sunshine and clouds that linger longer and drop more water. But there is still an unsettled quality to the weather–not nearly as unsettled as on the other side of the country, certainly, but just enough to make me uneasy.

I’m not writing this to try and chase away the sunshine. I’ll happily take it, as long as it lasts. But as someone trying her feeble best to cook seasonally, it’s a surprising challenge to have such ping-ponging weather. I’ve had a hard time figuring out what to feed myself lately. It’s too cool for a green salad, but too warm for a big pot of stew. I’ve been craving mulled cider for weeks, but it seems plain silly to be sipping a wintry drink when the mercury is inching back towards 80 degrees. The creative challenge–one I haven’t quite been up to lately–is finding a way to straddle the divide between summer and fall.

This salad was one of my attempts. I made it for a black-and-orange potluck last weekend, where it was a respectable guest but by no means the star. I guess that’s the curse of potato salads: to be solid and dependable, a cheerful second fiddle to the sexier, meatier main courses. This particular salad made a pretty strong case for itself, though. I roasted chunks of sweet potato–skin on, for texture and ease–with olive oil and a sprinkle of smoked paprika. Then I made a tangy-spicy slip of a dressing, with lime and mustard as the standout players, and mixed in a can of black beans and a big handful of chopped parsley. The resulting combination was nice, if a little subdued: sugary sweet potato, smoky spice, guttural black beans, the faintest whisper of dressing, grassy flecks sprinkled here-and-there. It seemed very appropriate for the odd not-quite-season we’re in.

Of course, as soon as I hit “publish” on this post, the sky will cloud over and we’ll be doused. Then it’ll be on to soup and stew and rib-sticking casseroles. Honestly, when compared to what’s been going on three time zones away, I’m grateful for all the coy stages of weather we’ve had. Here’s hoping life gets back to normal soon, for all of us.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Salad (serves 4 as a side dish)

Inspired by The Minimalist

1 lb sweet potatoes (1 large or 2 small), scrubbed and cut into 1-inch cubes

1 tbsp olive oil, for coating the potatoes

1 tsp smoked paprika (sweet or hot)

2 tbsp fresh-squeezed lime juice (about 2 limes’ worth)

1 small shallot, minced

1 jalapeno or serrano pepper, seeded and minced (optional)

1 tsp dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed OR 1 1/2 cups cooked and drained black beans

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 400º F, and place a rack in the middle position. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Toss the sweet potato cubes with olive oil and smoked paprika, and spread in an even layer on the baking sheet. Roast, rotating the pan halfway through, for 25-30 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are lightly browned and tender but not mushy on the inside. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, in the bottom of a large mixing bowl, whisk together lime juice, shallot, jalapeno or serrano pepper (if using), mustard, and salt. Set the mixture aside to let the flavors mingle while the sweet potatoes roast.

When the sweet potatoes are done, whisk the extra virgin olive oil into the lime juice mixture to create a creamy dressing. Transfer the sweet potatoes to the bowl. Add black beans, parsley, and black pepper, and toss to coat everything with the dressing. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed, then serve warm or at room temperature. The salad will keep in the fridge, covered with plastic wrap, for about a day.

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