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It's disappointing when fresh, juicy tomatoes disappear from markets and bland versions take their place, but there is an upside: It's time for fall salads composed of earthy root veggies and hearty greens. Farmers markets are teeming with sweet potatoes, squashes — and the list of possibilities goes on. What were once relegated to the side-dish category are now appearing as a salad course in offerings such as this one with sweet potatoes and black beans.

When was the last time you paired the two? I never have, until I tried this recipe. It's exactly the sort of meal that you can serve for dinner one night and have enough left over to pack and take to work the next day. It's colorful and very healthful with lots of fiber from black beans, sweet potatoes and quinoa. And with a contrast of textures, ranging from creamy roasted sweet potatoes to crunchy bell peppers, it satisfies that need for something crunchy and, perhaps, less than healthy.

Even if the cooler temps of fall have you pulling out pots for chili and stew, this salad can go from a meatless main dish to one that pairs deliciously as a side dish with any entree. It's a vegetable dish disguised as a salad, so it jumps easily from one to the other.

Sweet Potato-Black Bean Salad

1 1/4 pounds sweet potatoes, scrubbed and peeled (about 3 small/medium), cut into 1/2-inch chunks

1 large red onion, cut into 1/2-inch chunks

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

2 teaspoons ground chili powder

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup quinoa, uncooked

Zest and juice of 2 limes (3 tablespoons lime juice total)

2 teaspoons pure maple syrup

1 clove garlic, minced

1 (15 ounce) can reduced-sodium black beans, rinsed and drained

1 large bell pepper, cored and diced

3/4 cup freshly chopped cilantro

some text
Anne Braly

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the cubed sweet potatoes and red onion on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, then sprinkle with the chili powder, smoked paprika and salt. Toss to coat, and spread into a single layer. Bake until the potatoes are just tender, about 25 minutes, turning halfway through. Remove from the oven, and set aside.

While the potatoes bake, cook the quinoa according to package directions. In a small bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together the remaining 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, lime juice and zest, maple syrup and garlic.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked quinoa, black beans, bell pepper, cilantro and the roasted sweet potatoes and onions. Pour the dressing over the top, then toss to combine. Enjoy warm or at room temperature.

New on the market

I often make my own rubs and other seasoning mixes from scratch. It takes a little more time, but that way, I know what I'm getting. Most premixed seasonings are packed with sodium, MSG and other not-so-healthy additives, and I try to stay away from those.

Now, though, area Walmart and Whole Foods stores, as well as amazon.com, are carrying Paleo Powder, a line of seasonings that you can sprinkle on any foods to add a little kick to the flavor. All of the seasoning blends are gluten-free and sugar-free as well, so they are in line with most every diet.

There are several flavor profiles from which to choose, including a blend of Italian seasonings, a blend of black pepper and cayenne with a hint of lemon and a more traditional barbecue rub that gets a nice, spicy flavor from cayenne. I've only tried the Paleo Pink Powder — that's the one that's closest to a barbecue rub — and it's excellent not only on ribs but also grilled vegetables. And I like the fact that I'm serving my family and friends something that tastes good using seasonings that will do no harm.

Contact Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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