Smoky sweet potato and black bean chili with kale and fresh tomatillo salsa

Smoky sweet potato and black bean chili with kale and fresh tomatillo salsa

If you’re looking to put the most nutritious ingredients into one pot, season them to perfection and call it dinner- this is it. This chili is not for the faint at heart, but damn is it delicious!

I prepared this recipe for a live cooking demo for the Civic Garden Center http://civicgardencenter.org for their garden education series every third Wednesday of the month. The idea is to use what’s growing in the Victory gardens around the city. The first Wednesday features a master gardener providing gardening tips and the class I teach includes a recipe or two using what’s available at the time.

This month, the garden coordinator communicated to me that sweet potatoes, tomatillos, peppers, kale and cilantro were on hand. Sounded like a pot of chili and fresh salsa to me!

I decided to use chipotle chili pepper in place of standard chili powder and flavor was out of this world! Serano peppers added a serious kick, but could be left out if you’re not into the spicy bits. The tomatillo salsa with cilantro was a fresh addition to the hot chili. Fresh tomatoes could be used in place of canned, but you may need to add some liquid or broth to the chili. This recipe included black beans, but pinto or kidney would work well, too.


  • 1 tablespoon canola or corn oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 serano pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. chipotle chili powder/pepper
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1” chunks
  • 2 (15 ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 (15 ounce) cans of diced tomatoes- do not drain
  • 2 cups cleaned, chopped kale (any variety)


  1. In a large skillet over medium heat, and saute the onion, red bell pepper, green bell pepper, and garlic until tender.
  2. Add chili powder, cumin and salt to the vegetables and stir until coated.
  3. Add sweet potatoes, black beans, and diced tomatoes.
  4. Boil for 3 minutes, then reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes until the sweet potatoes are soft.
  5. Stir in kale and continue to heat for 5 minutes until kale is soft.
  6. Serve with your favorite salsa (try our fresh tomatillo salsa)!

Makes 6-8 servings.

Fresh tomatillo salsa


  • 10 medium (blank)s tomatillos, husks removed
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, chopped
  • ¼ cup fresh cilantro
  • Salt & pepper to taste


  1. Place tomatillos in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Simmer until tomatillos soften and begin to burst, about 10 minutes.
  2. Drain tomatillos and place in a food processor or blender with onion, garlic, jalapeno peppers, cilantro, salt and pepper. Blend to desired consistency.

Makes 2 cups salsa




Instant pot sweet potato lentil soup with tumeric & fennel

Instant pot sweet potato lentil soup with tumeric & fennel

I fully admit to purchasing ingredients at times that are on sale, but I have no idea how I’ll use them. This could be a vegetable, protein source (like protein power that’s on sale) or a spice. It’s like buying a beautiful scarf and not having anywhere to wear it…yet!

Recently, I found a tiny box of fennel seeds at a close out store. I suppose I was wowed by the $1 price tag and the fact that they were organic. Fennel seeds usually remind me of the sweet ending of a meal at an Indian restaurant when they’re served with colored candy bits at the check out register. It always brings back memories of Good and Plenty candy!

I love the licorice-like flavor of fennel and figured it might go well in a soup. I found a lentil recipe online and luckily had all of the ingredients on hand with the exception of coriander. If you know anything about the way I cook, I typically substitute at least 1 or more ingredients in a recipe I see, then tweak the amounts the way I’d like.

I made this soup in my Instant pot, but it can be made on the stove as well. The beauty of lentils is that they are an excellent source of fiber and protein as well as potassium. They cook up much quicker than other dried legumes. The cook time will be about 45 minutes for the lentils to soften if cooked on the stove. This is what transpired


1 cup red lentils

2 Tbsp. canola oil

1 onion, chopped

1 Tbsp. dried fennel seeds

1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1″ chunks

2 large carrots, peeled and chopped

3 cloves of garlic, minced

2 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. tumeric

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)

1/8 tsp. cinnamon

6 cups vegetable or chicken broth

chopped cilantro (optional)


  1. Rinse the lentils and set aside. Set the Instant pot to the sautee setting.
  2. Place the oil, onions, fennel seeds, sweet potatoes, carrots, garlic and spices in the instant pot and sautee for 5 minutes until vegetables are soft and coated with spices.
  3. Add the lentils and blend them with the spices.
  4. Add the vegetable or chicken broth and set the Instant pot on soup setting.
  5. Let the soup cook until done and release the pressure when cycle finishes.
  6. Serve with chopped cilantro

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Fall harvest salad with kale, apples and dried cherries

Fall harvest salad with kale, apples and dried cherries

I’m a creature of habit when it comes to shopping, but if I’m in a certain neighborhood, I’ll take advantage of whatever grocery store or small market is available. Recently, I was in Kenwood and decided to pop into Trader Joes since the parking lot looked manageable.

I happily picked up some apples and brown rice, but had to take advantage of their variety of bagged salad. Normally, I stick with hearts of romaine or loose spinach leaves. This week I treated myself to a bag of shaved kale, red cabbage and Brussels sprouts.

I love this combination for a number of reasons. For one- it’s so dang pretty! Plus, the combo platter of cruciferous vegetables can’t be beet. These are high in potassium, fiber and loads of cancer-fighting phytochemicals. All you need is a decent dressing for a salad or a few ingredients to roast these.

I opted for a fall harvest salad with crisp Pink lady apples. Gala, Fiji or Honey Crisp would go well here, too. I like to add more color to my salad, so I skipped the usual Granny Smith. I made this salad vegan, though I have to admit- blue or feta cheese would really pull the salad together.

I’ve always been a fan of dried cherries- but hey, if dried apricots or raisins are your thing- toss them in. I had slivered almonds on hand, so those went in as well. Walnuts or pecans are also a great addition to salads.


1 bag Trader Joes kale, Brussels sprouts & cabbage salad mix

2 pink lady apples, cut into 1″ chunks

1/2 cup almond slivers

1/4 cup dried cherries

1/2 cup poppy seed dressing


Combine salad mix, apple chunks, almonds and dried cherries in a bowl. Add poppy seed dressing and toss to coat.

Makes 6-8 servings.

Pumpkin oatmeal breakfast squares with cranberries

Pumpkin oatmeal breakfast squares with cranberries

Now that it’s October, it’s officially pumpkin spice season. If you’re like me and you have either a full or partial can of pureed pumpkin on hand, you cannot help but bake with it!

Pumpkin is a great source of beta-carotene and potassium and also contains some vitamin C. Oatmeal and pumpkin pie spice flavor the bars nicely.

With the temps cooling down, I thought I’d try warm up the house with a new recipe. I’d never made breakfast bars, but they tend to have longer shelf life than cookies and are a bit less sweet.

I used quite a bit of rolled oats in these, which reduced the amount of flour in the recipe and provides a hearty, chewy texture. I added chopped pecans, but walnuts or almonds would work well, too. If you don’t have any cranberries, try raisins or dried cherries. Either would go well.

These bars are great for a grab and go breakfast, mid afternoon snack or after dinner not so sweet, treat.


6 Tbsp. butter, softened

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 cup pureed pumpkin

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (or cinnamon)

1 cup flour

1 1/2 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup chopped almonds


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Prepare an 8 x 8 pan by spraying with non-stick spray.
  3. Combine butter and sugar together, then beat in the egg.
  4. Add the pumpkin and vanilla, then blend in the baking soda, pie spice, flour, rolled oats, cranberries and chopped nuts.
  5. Press the pumpkin mixture in the 8 x 8 pan evenly to the edges of the pan.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Makes 16 squares

Simple Tamale Pie

Simple Tamale Pie

How have I lived on this earth for so long and not eaten (or MADE) tamale pie? I love Mexican food and tamales are one of my favorite dishes. My husband has made homemade tamales before, but I haven’t tried my hand at them. I tend to shy away from recipes that seem too labor and time intensive. When you work and taxi 2 daughters, you want dinner on the table quickly.

I found this recipe online and didn’t follow it. I’m known for tweaking recipes based on what ingredients I have on hand and what I think would be a healthier substitution. In this case, I subbed lean ground turkey for ground beef and used corn oil instead of melted butter. This cuts the fat content down. Another option to reduce the fat content is to use 2% milk shredded cheese in the tamale top. I made 1/2 of what the recipe called for, which made 1 perfect tamale pie.

In addition, I added a 1/2 cup of black beans which added fiber and texture to the dish. I didn’t have any tomatoes with green chiles on hand, so used a cup of prepared salsa. There were a handful of spices on the list including chile powder, cumin and salt. I opted to use a small packet of Goya seasoning, which covered all of the seasonings. I did toss in some oregano, because it gives dishes a little earthly flavor!

You could make this dish completely vegan by using 2 cans of black, red or kidney beans in place of the meat and leaving out the cheese or using a cheese substitute (such as Dayia). Vegetable broth may be used in place of chicken broth.  Below is my recipe. I hope you enjoy it. Ole!

Ingredients (for the base)

1 lb. ground turkey (93/7)

1/2 onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 cup canned black beans (drained/rinsed)

1 cup prepared salsa (+ extra for serving over the pie)

1 packet Sazon Goya seasoning (with coriander and annatto)

1/2 tsp. dried oregano


For the tamale top

1 1/8 cup masa (corn flour)

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup low-sodium chicken broth

1/4 cup corn or canola oil

1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese


  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 9″ pie pan or one 8 x 8 baking dish with on-stick spray.
  2. In a large cast iron skillet or saute pan, brown the turkey then drain the fat.
  3. Add the onions and cook until they’re translucent, then add the garlic, black beans, salsa, Goya seasoning and oregano. Cook for another 5 minutes until the turkey is well seasoned.
  4. Place the turkey mixture into the prepared pan.
  5. For the topping, combine the masa, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl. Gradually add the chicken broth, then the oil and whisk until smooth. Stir in the cheese.
  6. Spoon the corn batter evenly over the top of the meat mixture, patting it down to form a crust.
  7. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the masa top is lightly browned or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
  8. Top with additional salsa or enchilada sauce before serving.

Makes 6 servings. 



Quinoa salad with chickpeas, fresh herbs and lemon tahini dressing

Quinoa salad with chickpeas, fresh herbs and lemon tahini dressing

I adapted this salad recipe from cookieandkate.com and it’s one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. I’m not kidding. I did a food demo for the Cancer Support Center this past weekend. Since it’s summer, I wanted to focus on fresh herbs and what might be in someone’s garden (or could easily be picked up at the store). I’m proud to say that the basil used was from my back deck!

This salad combines the most nutrient dense foods you can find including quinoa, chick peas, spinach, fresh garlic, tahini, lemon juice and fresh herbs. Quinoa is considered a “complete protein”, although technically, it’s lower in lysine than soy. It’s still an excellent source of protein and fiber and botanically is a seed but classified as a grain in the nutrition world.

I used natural (AKA white quinoa), but red quinoa could easily be used to change up the color of the salad. This recipe called for spinach, but kale could be substituted if desired. I accidentally left out the feta cheese, but since the dressing had a creamy texture (from tahini), I really didn’t miss it. Leaving it out is fine if you want to keep the salad vegan.

Chick peas added flavor and texture to the salad as well as protein and fiber. I can see Cannellini, Great Norther or Navy beans in this salad as well. If you’ve got fresh mint on hand- toss it in! It would go well with the parsley and basil.

Toasting pumpkin seeds in the microwave toasts them more easily and prevents you from having to baby sit them at the stove. Other nuts or seeds (such as walnuts or slivered almonds) would be delicious, too. Enjoy!



  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed in a fine-mesh colander
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 ½ cups ripped baby spinach
  • ½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • ½ cup chopped fresh basil
  • ⅓ cup chopped green onion (green parts only)
  • ⅓ cup crumbled feta (optional)
  • ⅓ cup toasted pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)

Lemon-tahini dressing

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)
  • 1 large clove garlic, pressed or minced
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste


  1. Combine rinsed quinoa and water in a medium saucepan. Boil quinoa over medium-high heat, then decrease the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for about 13 minutes until quinoa has absorbed all the water. Remove from heat, cover, and flush the quinoa. Set aside to cool.
  2. Toast pumpkin seeds in the microwave by layering them on a flat surface. Microwave for 1 minute at a time, turning the seeds until browned.
  3. For dressing: In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil, lemon juice, tahini, garlic, salt and several twists of freshly ground pepper. Taste and add extra lemon juice and/or more pepper as desired.
  4. Add the chickpeas, spinach, parsley, basil, green onion, feta and toasted pepitas to the quinoa. Drizzle dressing over the salad, and toss to combine. Serve immediately, or let it cool and refrigerate for later. Salad keeps well in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 3 days.

Makes 8-10 servings.


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