I used to think that summer was my favorite time of year. Even though St. Louis summers are notoriously hot and humid, I’ve always like the heat more than I’ve liked the cold.
However, this year, I’ve decided to amend my original opinion. I still love summer (even when it feels too hot to breathe)…But after long, dark gray days and heavy winter jackets, nothing is better than spring.
Spring in St. Louis is particularly nice, because it seems to happen overnight. The flowers are suddenly in bloom, and when I took a bike ride today at a local park, I stopped and took pictures.
Unfortunately, one magnolia tree that I wanted to take a picture of had already lost its flowers. But there were still other trees with bright, vibrant flowers, and I love the perfume they give off…I wish I could bottle it up, and wear it year round.
Today was the perfect day to spend outside, and I ventured out to one my favorite cafés/ bakeries in St. Louis: Companion. Companion is known for their fresh bread and baked goods, but also for their inventive salads and sandwiches; with names like “The Lone Ranger” and “Swimming Upstream,” you’ll have to read through salad and sandwich descriptions to get an idea of what to order.
I ordered my favorite salad, “The Picnic Basket,” and half of a “Humpty Dumpty” sandwich. The “Humpty Dumpty,” is an egg-salad sandwich (as the name alludes to) served on whole-wheat bread. I’m not the biggest fan of mayonnaise, but they only use the good stuff at Companion…I never feel like the sandwich is bogged down by condiments or sauce.
The salad’s namesake is harder to determine, but I guess it has something to do with the fresh, juicy strawberries sprinkled on top. The salad also includes bleu cheese crumbles, sweet, candied pecans, and a strawberry poppyseed vinaigrette. I wish they sold the dressing in local grocery stores…
The half-sandwich and salad comes with your choice of bread, and I always choose the house-made Cornbread. It’s fresh, moist, sweet and crumbly…just the way good cornbread should be. They give you a huge slice, and I always end up eating it cake-style with a fork.
After lunch, I had to stop and take a picture of the flowers blooming outside the café.
This past Friday night, I decided to make Sweet Potato Tacos for dinner. I remember the first time I told someone I was making tacos with sweet potatoes. I was at a Super Bowl party (in the midst of nachos, beer, and ground beef), so I’m pretty sure this news didn’t sit well. But when Spring rolls around, and the weather starts getting warmer, I start craving lighter meals, and also ones that incorporate fresh produce.
In its original form, this recipe calls for black beans, sweet potatoes, and cabbage. But I had a pound of kale sitting in my refrigerator, so I decided to swap the kale for the cabbage, and see what the finished product would taste like.
I like this recipe because instead of simply cooking the beans and sweet potatoes in butter or oil, it calls for lime juice. The sour, citrus taste of the lime juice complements the sweeter taste of the potatoes, and also brings out the cumin in the beans…Plus, as I found, lime juice tastes great on kale leaves, and with a little bit of salt, you could even use the greens for a salad base.
I will admit, it’s easier to roll a taco without the kale; its springy texture makes it harder to squish into a tortilla shell. But I’ve eaten a kale wrap before, so I was determined to make it work.
In the end, I managed to get all three ingredients into one tortilla. The tacos were delicious…And the perfect prelude to summer.
Black Bean and Sweet Potato Tacos- (adapted from Joy the Baker)
For the Potatoes:
2 sweet potatoes (really orange-fleshed yams), peeled and cut into small cubes
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and red chili flakes to taste
juice of 1 lime
For the Kale:
1 bunch of washed and dried Kale
juice of 2 limes
salt and red chili flakes to taste
For the Beans:
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 cup finely diced yellow onion
1 teaspoon ground cumin (or, if you don’t have plain cumin, you could use chili spices like I did)
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
juice of 1 lime
small tortillas (corn, whole-wheat, or blend…whatever your preference)
Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place peeled and diced sweet potatoes on a cookie sheet lined with tinfoil. Top with olive oil, salt and chili flakes, and lime juice. Toss together until all of the potato chunks are coated. Place in the oven to bake until softened through and toasted brown. This usually takes about 40 minutes. Remove the cookie sheet once or twice during baking to toss the potato chunks around. This will ensure that the cubes cook evenly. Remove from the oven and let stand when cooked through.
While the potatoes cook, assemble the Kale. Place washed and dried kale in a medium bowl. Add lime juice, salt and chili flakes. Toss to coat and set aside while the potatoes cook and beans heat.
To cook the beans, heat olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add onions and cook until transluscent, about 3 minutes. Add ground cumin or chili spices and stir until fragrant. Add beans and lime juice. Cook until heated through.
Heat tortillas in a hot saucepan with just a touch of oil (or, you can microwave them between two damp paper towels for 20-30 seconds). Heat through and serve with potatoes, beans, and Kale.