Tag Archives: Kale

Stuffed sweet potatoes with chipotle black beans and greens

Most of the recipes I post on this blog are one-offs. They’re things I dream up, cook, photograph, eat, enjoy, and then never make again. But every so often a new recipe is so simple, so tasty, and so adaptable that it wriggles its way into my regular rotation and lives there for months before it ends up here. This is one of those.

I got the idea for these stuffed sweet potatoes from a brilliant recipe over at The Kitchn. The basic premise is this: you scrub and roast a few sweet potatoes until they’re squishy all the way through. (Use small sweet potatoes, since they’ll cook more quickly and give a better flesh-to-filling ratio.) Sweat an onion, garlic, and a few flavorings in oil, then add a bunch of chopped greens and a splash of some flavorful liquid. Let the greens wilt for a few minutes, then stir in a drained can of beans and warm the whole thing through. Cut a slit in each sweet potato, drizzle the flesh with oil or butter, and pile it high with the filling. Grab a fork and a steak knife, and devour, skin and all.

That’s the outline, and I’ve had a lot of fun filling it in. Sweet potatoes need strong flavors to cut through their baby-food sweetness, and the best fillings I tried are tangy, smoky, and spicy all at once. The original recipe used white beans, shallot, rosemary, fresh lemon, and chile flakes. I’ve also done a Spanish-inspired version, with chickpeas, sweet onion, smoked paprika, and preserved lemon. But this version is my favorite so far: black beans, red onion, chipotle, and lime. Based on a few rounds of trial and error, I recommend using a bit more chipotle than you might otherwise like; even if the filling is searingly spicy when you taste it from the pan, the sweet potato will tromp all over it. Be brave.

One other great thing about this recipe: it’s made to be made ahead. You can freeze the filling in portions, and bake the sweet potatoes a few days in advance; just reheat as many portions as you need in the microwave. During the last couple months of 2014, when I was commuting two hours each way to work, I’d come home and throw together a potato as a late dinner. Since New Year’s, I’ve been working from home, and eating these as a hearty desk lunch. And if I ever burn out on this flavor combination, I’ll just start experimenting with others.

chipotle stuffed sweet potato 2

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Mushroom barley soup with kale

I’ll be honest. I don’t really get the whole kale thing. Yes, it’s dark and leafy and pulsing with iron. Yes, kale chips are tasty (although, so is almost anything else, if you toss with oil and salt and roast it to a crisp). But I’m really not convinced that kale is the hot, trendy, it-girl food of the moment. I’m just not a huge fan, no matter how delicately it’s sauteed or how vigorously it’s massaged.  Eating a kale salad, to me, is like chewing the rough end of a bottle brush.

Now. With all that said, I’ll be the first to admit that kale has its place in the world. Say, for example, in this soup.

Mushroom barley soup is a classic on its own–and with good reason. As in so many great Eastern European foodstuffs, the mix of hardy grain and earthy fungus is a source of comfort, a taste of home. But with a mess of kale leaves cut into ribbons and wilted into the pot, it becomes something else entirely. The broth softens the kale’s brushy edges, making it tender and supple. Suddenly, a stodgy old favorite becomes a hearty winter meal in a bowl, fortifying and warm without the attendant weight or guilt.

This is the kind of soup that demands a good gutsy broth. For the photographed batch, I raided my freezer for rich, chestnut-colored turkey stock, made from the carcass of my family’s Thanksgiving bird. If I didn’t have that, my first choice would probably be beef stock; normally I don’t go in for big cow flavor, but beef loves both mushrooms and barley so much that it seems like a natural. If you prefer a vegan soup, just swap out the stock for a strong vegetable broth–something dark and mushroomy, I would think.

Yes, kale has its place. Keep your massaged bottle-brush salads; I have my soup bowl.

mushroom barley kale soup

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Meaty red bean and kale soup with cornbread croutons

This was the kind of meal I wish I made more often.

My friend Kate joined me at Sam’s apartment on Saturday night. Our dinner was grounded in the remnants of other meals: a pair of sturdy goat bones left over from a roast at Marin Sun Farms, and a few wedges of week-old cornbread. We had a pound of red beans and a bunch of kale, a can of tomatoes and a bottle of good wine. From there it was a long and loving spin into soup: the bones became a stock, rich and animal-smelling, and the stock became the cooking liquid for the beans. We went grabbing through the kitchen for odds and ends to nestle into the soup pot–fresh thyme, whole allspice, the rind from a gargantuan wedge of Parmesan–and then set the whole thing simmering.

Sam pointed out that the soup smelled an awful lot like pizza. He wasn’t wrong.

When the beans were half-done, we nestled in an impossible quantity of kale shards and let them wilt and turn silky in the soup. Then we cut the Styrofoam-cornbread into cubes, tossed them with olive oil, and baked them until they turned into the world’s most divine croutons: golden-crisp on the outside, buttery and soft on the inside.

This was the kind of meal I wish I made more often. While the soup simmered and the croutons baked, the three of us drank wine a little too quickly and had long-ranging conversations about ethical theory and science fiction and the bizarre historical artifact that is the Gold Standard. Then we ate soup, thick warm-blanket soup with pillowy croutons on top, and for a while all the conversation was tucked off to the side in favor of “mmms” and “ahhhhs” and sighs of contentment. Because that’s what a good soup does: it gets you talking while it’s cooking, and shuts you up while you’re eating.

This is the kind of cooking that keeps me going. Cooking with people, with wine, with bits and drabs of other delicious meals, is quite possibly the best thing there is.

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