Fusion foods are the new “it” thing in my life. A travel purist approach would be to make recipes of my favorite dishes from actually traveling in these places. And sometimes that’s the case, but there are other times when the fusion of flavors I love from other places need to meet my current cravings. And in honesty, if you take a sifter to the various reasons I found myself completely unable to gather the will to cook true Mexican, left in your sifter is this fact: for the love of all things tasty, please no more cheese.
That’s a phrase I never thought would utter from my lips because I whine so much about the lack of cheese when I travel in Asia. But—and it’s a big but—the default food for a vegetarian in Mexico is a cheese quesadilla. If you’re lucky they have a toppings bar with salsas and beans, if the gods have seen fit to shine their light down upon you, your quesadilla might come out with mushrooms too as a little extra umph. But at the end of the day, it’s really just cheese and tortilla.
There are other Mexican dishes happily made vegetarian if you’re in the right spot, especially in the big cities like Mexico City and even nearby Puerto Vallarta. In a small town however, it’s a rather limited choice of restaurants. Compounding the issue, in my last weeks living in San Pancho, Mexico the entire town seemingly evacuated, expats and Mexicans alike. High season on the coast is November through April when the weather is dry and cool and the small towns dotting the coastline near Puerto Vallarta hum with activity. All the restaurants are open and Mexican families drive to the coast for days and weeks at a time to sell their foods and handicrafts to the tourists. And the lure though, is that throughout high season the town retains its Cheers-like setting “where everybody knows your name.”
Things change abruptly come May. I waxed poetic about the slow, friendly pace of life in my little town, but by the beginning of off-season in small-town Mexico tumbleweed drifts lethargic down the streets like an under-budget Western. Restaurants shutter their windows for the summer, and though everyone still knew my name, this vegetarian traveler found herself facing the choice between yet another quesadilla, or instead trying out fusion dishes that would bring together flavors from the vegetable market, the ever-present cans of frijoles negros, and the Mexican staples I already had on my shelves.
And thus you have this weeks recipe inspired by Mexico, but not something you’re likely to find while traveling there (but easy enough to cook in a hostel kitchen).
Simple Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos
After Pintersting for ideas and looking at the Mexican staples in my kitchen, I decided to combine the sweet potato and black bean as a way to add healthy elements to the dish since the Mexican vegetarian tacos are often boring. I also had some gorgeous blue tortillas left over, so I used those. This dish made a quick dinner and took about 20 minutes to prepare start to finish and all cooks in one pan. Of note is that when I made leftovers the next day, I paired it with the guacamole recipe from last month (which was a Pinterest sensation) and it gave the left-overs a nice oomph.
1 stack of tortillas
2 medium-large sweet potatoes (scrubbed and cubed)
1/2 can whole black beans (drained and rinsed)
2 tbs olive oil (butter will work too, though not as healthy)
1 red or white onion (diced)
1 large clove of garlic (minced)
1 tbs seasoning (cumin or chili)
Finish with: sour cream, parsley, sliced lime, spicy pico de gallo, avocado (or guacamole).
Sauté the onions and garlic for roughly five minutes on medium heat until the onions go opaque and fragrant. Add to the pan the sweet potatoes and seasoning, as well as several tbs of water, and cover. Cook the sweet potatoes over medium heat until they are tender when poked with a fork. Add the black beans, stirring until they’re warm. Heat tortillas, then assemble, and add toppings to taste. Serve with a lime slice.
This is a simple one that’s easy to double for bigger families, or make as a solo traveler in a guesthouse (I made it again in Costa Rica while waiting for my dad and Ana to arrive!).