Maple-lime sweet potato and black bean tacos (4 servings)

In my estimation, there are three levels of vegan cooking. Level I means simply leaving out the animal products without replacing them -- skipping the layer of cheese on top of a casserole, for example. There are times when this is perfectly workable and when the eater wouldn't even know anything was missing. However, there are other occasions where the final product is missing the richness or depth that the original ingredients contributed. Next, Level II vegan cooking involves making easy substitutes -- changing out oil for butter, soy sauce for Worcestershire, or non-dairy sour cream for the regular stuff. Again, this works well most of the time, and it's certainly easy. Level III is a little more complicated and requires replacing animal ingredients with creative substitutes that match the flavor, complexity, and texture of the originals.

When I cook vegan meals (and I do so three or four dinners per week, usually), I'm normally at a Level II. I'm trying to find more interesting ingredient substitutes though. Today's taco recipe is somewhere between Level II and Level III; it replaces the honey from these honey-lime sweet potato, corn, and black bean tacos with maple syrup (another lovely fall flavor) and makes up for the missing cheese with a dairy-free spicy sauce. I love sweet potatoes and could tell their roasted sweetness would be nicely offset by the acidity of the lime, but I knew leaving out the cheese would remove the rich, creamy accent flavoring. A quick search led me to this smooth and spicy chipotle sauce, which ended up being the perfect complement to the tacos.

You will need:

  • 1 1/2 lbs sweet potatoes, diced into 1/2-inch cubes (You don't have to bother with peeling them.)
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 lime
  • Red pepper flakes
  • 14.5-oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • Chopped fresh cilantro
  • 8 small flour tortillas, warmed

Sauce ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup raw, unsalted almonds (whole, sliced, or slivered -- doesn't matter), soaked for several hours
  • 1/4 cup canola or similarly neutral-tasting oil
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1-2 chipotles in adobo
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 425° F. Line a baking sheet with foil and set aside.
  2. Once you've diced the potatoes, transfer them to a mixing bowl. Sprinkle them with the olive oil and toss gently. Sprinkle the potatoes with cumin, paprika, coriander, the zest of the lime (save the lime for juice later), and red pepper flakes to taste. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Toss gently again, and then spread the potatoes out on the baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes, tossing halfway through.
  3. Meanwhile, place drained black beans in a small stockpot over medium-low heat. Add in the onion powder (Feel free to use fresh, diced onion if your insides are tougher than mine!), garlic, maple syrup, and oregano, along with the juice from the lime. Stir and cover. Allow the beans to simmer gently while the sweet potatoes roast.
  4. While the sweet potatoes and beans are doin' their thang, make the chipotle sauce. Drain the almonds. (If you forgot to soak the almonds, don't worry. I'm guessing your sauce will just come out a little less smooth.) Using a blender or food processor (or an immersion blender and wide-mouthed, tall jar), blend all the sauce ingredients until smooth. Add more water if the sauce is too thick.
  5. Once the sweet potatoes are tender inside and slightly crispy outside, remove the pan from the oven. Top each tortilla with a spoonful of black beans, a scattering of sweet potato cubes, a drizzle of sauce, and a sprinkling of cilantro leaves. Serve immediately with hot sauce on the side, if preferred.

A quick anecdote about a mistake that turned into a proud moment: When I was blending the sauce, I started out with 3/4 cup water, which made the sauce way too thin. I mean, it was practically broth. I went through a panicked conversation in my head about what I could use as a thickener -- "Yogurt? Nope, won't work for a vegan recipe. Cream? Still nope. Cooked rice? Don't have any. Cornstarch? Seems weird here. Cooked, mashed vegetables? No -- oh, wait! Sweet potatoes!" They had just finished roasting, so I tossed in a couple cubes at a time, blending them into the sauce, until it had reached a thicker consistency. The potatoes gave the sauce a little extra flavor, too! Hooray for thinking on my feet!

CookingClassy's original taco recipe called for corn, but I decided to leave it out to save some calories. I'm sure it would taste great, but I was trying to cut corners, admittedly. Next time, I might cut the sweet potatoes down to one pound, as I had just enough beans for eight tacos but probably a cup of leftover potatoes. Hey, they'll make a nice side dish for something later in the week!

P.S. The leftover sauce is great on top of a vegan taco salad! Start with a bed of mixed greens and shredded carrots, crisp up some Yves veggie ground round in a skillet and add it to the greens; then add a few dollops of salsa and a drizzle of the chipotle sauce. Guacamole, beans, and diced tomato would also be great additions to this salad!