Even though I’d like to think that working & studying at home leaves plenty of time to cook creative, hot lunches, I usually fall back on a reliable favorite: a lightly-toasted quesadilla. This version is an incredibly satisfying vegetarian substitute for the classic chicken and cheese combination. Don’t be too skeptical about the sweet potato + black bean combination, it actually works quite well. Sauteing the beans with some chopped onion and ground cumin lend the quesadillas a characteristic southwestern flavor, and pairing beans, sweet potatoes, and whole wheat tortillas results in a super-filling (fiber-rich) lunch.
Two key ideas behind making excellent quesadillas:
1. Lightly toast the inside surface of the tortilla before flipping and filling it
2. Don’t go overboard on the cheese
I buy the whole wheat tortillas from Trader Joe’s, and while they’re quite soft out of the bag, both sides need to be toasted in order to get a crispy quesadilla shell. To do this, I turn the heat on low and let the tortilla sit alone on the skillet over the burner. Once it’s lightly browned (but without dark spots), I use a spatula to make a crease and fold the tortilla in half (make sure the toasted side is facing in, so the untoasted side gets exposed to the heat). That way both sides get cooked through without any burnt spots.
The crispy tortilla shell sets off the oozy cheese inside, but with cheese, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing in this case. I’m a big fan of Adding too much cheese turns the whole thing into a sloppy mess, the tortilla wilts under the weight of it all, and the flavor combinations of beans, potato, and spices are a bit overwhelmed by the frank cheesiness of it all. I’ve found that a rounded 1/4 cup results in perfect quesadillas every time.
I paired these quesadillas with an easy-to-make cilantro-sour cream blend.
Both the beans and the sweet potatoes can be made a few days ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator. If preparing these in advance, turn the flame down to medium-low once you start cooking the quesadillas to allow the inner ingredients sufficient time to warm through before the tortillas brown too much.
Sweet Potato & Black Bean Quesadillas with Chipotle Chile in Adobo
Makes 4 quesadillas
1 medium to large sweet potato
1 medium onion
1 15-ounce can of black beans
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 chipotle chile in adobo + 1 teaspoon adobo sauce
4 whole-wheat tortillas
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese or cheddar/Jack cheese blend
1/2 cup sour cream
2 Tablespoons finely chopped cilantro leaves
1) Heat the oven to 400-degrees. Peel the sweet potato and then chop into small cubes. Toss with a few tablespoons of olive oil (about 2, but more if needed), then arrange in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Roast until cooked through, about 40 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon at 10 or 15-minute intervals.
2) Peel and chop the onion into evenly-sized pieces. Heat another tablespoon of olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the black beans, cumin, and chipotle chile with its sauce. Continue to saute over medium heat, until the beans are heated through, another 15 minutes.
3) Combine the black bean mixture and the cooked sweet potatoes in a medium bowl. Lightly brown one side of a whole wheat tortilla, then fold it in half and flip it over, exposing the unbrowned side to the skillet surface. Layer 1/4 cup of cheese evenly over half the tortilla. Top with about 1/2 cup of bean/potato mixture. Fold the tortilla and press together. Cook over medium heat until the exterior crust browns and the cheese is melted, usually less than 5 minutes. Carefully flip the quesadilla to brown the other half.
4) While the quesadilla is cooking, whisk the sour cream and cilantro together. Cut the finished quesadilla into thirds and serve with the cilantro sour cream on the side as a dipping sauce.