A Chile-Spiced Roasted Sweet Potato Salad That’s Happy Hot, Cold, or as a Taco

October 27, 2016

My mother is chief among the consultants I call when looking for inspiration in the kitchen. She always seems to be cooking exactly what I want to be eating. Most recently, she reminded me of Mark Bittman’s roasted sweet potatoes with black beans and chile dressing, a salad she’s been making since the fall of 2009, when it first appeared in the New York Times—and encouraging me to make for about as long.

The salad in question. Photo by Alexandra Stafford

The recipe looked simple: roast sweet potatoes and onions, then toss with cooked beans, diced bell pepper, and fresh cilantro. And it was, though the dressing caught me off guard. Made in a food processor with a jalapeño, a clove of garlic, and equal parts lime juice and olive oil, the emulsion tasted incredibly tart, stinging—nearly burning—the back of my throat.

But I soon discovered this degree of sharpness was intentional. With so many sweet elements in the salad—sweet potatoes, onions, and bell pepper—in addition to the rich, creamy beans, the acidity is critical for balance. Moreover, once tossed with the vegetables, the sharpness mellowed.

Photo by Alexandra Stafford

One bite made me instantly regret having not listened to my mother sooner. This salad is irresistible. It’s fresh, bright, hearty, and nourishing all at once. It’s as satisfying warm—freshly made with steamy, caramelized vegetables—as it is cold from the fridge spooned alongside scrambled eggs or spread atop toast.  

Will it taco? The answer is yes! Photo by Alexandra Stafford

There’s nothing tricky about making this salad, but do keep a few things in mind:

  • Onions and sweet potatoes cook at different rates and, depending on how you cut them, the onions may finish cooking before the sweet potatoes. To prevent having burnt onions and mushy sweet potatoes, you can either roast the vegetables on separate sheet pans or use a single sheet pan (fewer dishes!), keeping the vegetables separate.  

  • If you cook a pound of beans, you’ll have enough on hand to make this recipe three times. I promise you won’t be sorry to have a vat of cooked beans on hand—this salad disappears quickly. Canned beans, I am told, work just as well.

  • This salad is satisfying enough on its own, but, to make it into a meal, you could blister some small tortillas, broil them with cheese, then spoon this spicy, creamy salad inside. Sprinkle the tacos with more cilantro, raw diced onion, and a squeeze of lime.

Alexandra Stafford is a writer, photographer, and occasional stationery designer based in upstate New York, where she is writing a cookbook. You can read more of her work on her blog.

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I write the blog alexandra's kitchen, a place for mostly simple, sometimes fussy, and always seasonal recipes. My cookbook, Bread Toast Crumbs is available everywhere books are sold.