So last night I was scavenging for dinner as early as 4:30, in the hopes that I would accidentally forget that I had to do yoga before I ate said dinner. Er, yeah. So I was thumbing through my big binder of food ideas (including such things as “cake in a jar” and “enough potato knishes to feed a large Polish family”) and came across a piece on food best eaten alone, i.e. weird food that people would only eat by themselves since they would apparently be ashamed or embarrassed to have someone else judge their strange foodly impulses. Ok, what? WHY? I am not ashamed to give in and eat what my body wants, whether or not that what body wants will garner strange looks! My body knows what nutrients it needs, and I will damn well supply them.
The author apparently liked making burritos of black beans, sweet potato, and mozzarella cheese, and would eat them with coffee while doing a large mountain of research-based work. Apparently, his academia required a pure, dense lump of Central America all wrapped up in a tortilla. And, um, a mug.
What had I been doing last night? Reading a hundred and fifty pages of The king’s two bodies: a study in medieval political theology. Hmm.
I busted out the French press.
- 2 cups dried black beans, soaked and boiled, or 1 can black beans, drained
- 1 onion, diced
- maybe 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 jalapeno or other hot pepper, minced
- some salt, pepper, cayenne, and cilantro
- some olive oil or butter
- 1 sweet potato/yam/whatever you want to call it
- several tortillas (I used flour)
- a block of mozzarella cheese, or queso blanco if you want to feel extra-authentic
- optional green or red peppers, which I did not use
If you are starting with dried beans--that’s ok, that’s exactly what I did. I just soaked them for a couple hours, then drained the water, added new water to cover, and put them on to boil until soft. This should take an hour or more. In the meantime, do your yoga, take a shower, and come back to your big books. Or you can just start your prep the night before. Whatever.
While the beans are boiling, get yourself a sweet potato. Mine was about five inches long, and pleasantly firm and heavy in the hand. Scrub it, prick it all over with a fork, and put it in a 400F oven to bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until quite soft when tested with a knife. Make sure to put the potato on a baking sheet or in a pan of some type, as sweet potatoes have a lot of sugar and may drip caramelized juices all over your oven floor if you aren’t careful.
When the beans are done, drain them in a colander. Rinse out their pan, dry it, add a slug of olive oil, and put it over medium heat. Dice up your onions and garlic and sauté until soft and aromatic. Add some cilantro and a dash of cayenne according to your tastes; I know several people who really hate cilantro, but I like it ok, so I used maybe a tablespoon. Dice up your jalapeno or other hot pepper as well, and add it to the pan. I actually used a Hungarian yellow pepper that had ripened to red, which was ultimately too mild for my tastes. Go ahead and substitute whatever kind of pepper meets your personal spicing needs.
When all this is soft and fragrant, add the drained beans and stir to mix well. Add 1/4 cup or so of water (so things won’t burn) and cook for 5-10 minutes, until all the flavors have a chance to mingle. Salt and pepper to taste. I think this could use a good slug of salt, maybe a teaspoon. Taste it and see what it needs.
Alternately, you could just add the onion/pepper mixture with the initial hour-long boiling of beans. This is a good option if you don’t have time to stand over the stove. However, this will also make the onions and peppers much sweeter. So, you know, use your judgment.
When the potato and beans are both done, it’s time to assemble your burritos. Let your sweet potato cool, then chop into slices. Peel the skin off each slice—it should come off easily--and cut out any eyes or bad spots. Then cube each slice into pleasing chunks. The chunks should hold their shape, although they will be pretty soft.
Spread a spoonful of black bean mixture down the length of a flour tortilla, then top with a layer of sweet potato. On top of this, put a layer of mozzarella cheese or queso blanco. I used mozzarella, which worked fine. Use a fairly large amount of cheese, so as to balance out the intense sweetness of the potato. Try to make all three layers close to equal in volume. If you like, you can add some slivered green or red pepper. This would provide another layer of contrast with the beans and potato, and get some crunch in there as well. I didn’t have any more peppers, so I went without. Roll up your burrito, and repeat until you are out of ingredients. This should make 3 to 4 burritos, depending on the size of your tortillas.
If you desire warm tortillas and melted cheese (or if you are working with leftovers the next day), you might want to put your finished burritos in a warm oven (250F) for a couple minutes, or zap them in the microwave. If you were to make enough burritos to fill a casserole dish, you could top them with more cheese and bake them like enchiladas. I put mine in the microwave, as it had suddenly become 9:30 and I was starving.
These burritos are warm, sweet, and substantial, with just enough spice to balance out the sweet potatoes. They are also extremely filling; I hadn’t eaten since noon, yet I only needed two. It was also quite satisfactory to be eating a food made from a great majority of ingredients indigenous to the continent. If you wanted to go whole hog, I suppose you could research the types of cheese made from llama and goat milk, and use corn instead of flour tortillas. However, they also work fine as they are, and support a night of rigorous academia with ease and grace.