Food + Travel Writing

Travel and food writing by Christina Crisostomo. New York/Toronto-based.

Recipe: Vegetarian Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili + The One New Year's Resolution I Actually Kept

It seems like every post-New Year’s article these days includes the caveat that the author does NOT believe in New Year’s resolutions, even though they will then proceed to tell you how 2017 will be the year you eat better/work out more/look hotter/never die. I, however, am actually a fan of New Year’s resolutions. Even though I don’t always keep them (found this swiftly forgotten 2016 goal in my journal: “Run a 5K. I wrote it down so now it has to happen.” HA.) they often do keep me on track for the year to come. I like to think of them more as "New Year’s goals,” which I suppose is not that different than goal setting at any other time of year, but the imaginary collective reset does bring me some motivation.

When I was younger, my resolutions were usually some variation of “lose weight,” although in retrospect there was probably no real reason for me to have been so concerned about that. As I got older, wiser, more body positive, and less interested in society’s obsession with unattainable standards of beauty, my goals changed: Eat more vegetables. Exercise more frequently. Feel healthy.

Sustaining these goals hasn’t been easy, but there is one thing I decided to do at the start of last year that actually changed me for good: Cook more.

Sweet potato chili

It wasn’t even about cooking healthier, necessarily. I wanted to learn, improve my skills, stop getting a slice of pizza on my walk home after every long day, and maybe, just maybe, the health benefits would be an added bonus. What ended up happening went beyond any of my initial hopes: I found a joy in searching for recipes and making food—that I actually liked—for myself. And somewhere along the way, I think I found a balance between virtuous and indulgent meals that works for me. My diet may not always be nutritionally healthy (you can pry the cured meats from my cold, dead hands) but cooking for myself has certainly helped—along with helping me feel more emotionally healthy.


All of this is to say: Maybe your New Year’s resolution is to lose weight. Maybe it’s to be healthier. Maybe it should be to cook more and find a balance that works for you. This sweet potato chili does it for me. It’s packed with vegetables. It’s actually vegan without trying at all, but just as great smothered in sour cream and cheese. Most importantly, it’s satisfying, comforting, and sticks to your ribs, turning this recovering carnivore/vegetarian chili skeptic into a believer who does not miss the meat.

Recipe: Vegetarian Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili (adapted from Cookie + Kate)
Yields 6 servings

I made this recipe for my office "lunch bunch" last year—more on this in a future post—after eating the shockingly good, shockingly vegan guacamole burger at by CHLOE. At some point I might try to recreate it (with its black bean, quinoa, and sweet potato patty, corn salsa, onion, guacamole, tortilla strips, chipotle aioli, and whole grain bun that I’m writing out here so I don’t forget) but this is my winterized, less labor-intensive take.

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 whole dried chili pepper (optional, I used a dried chipotle)
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper (or more or less)
2 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
ground sea salt and black pepper
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes, including the liquid
1 14/15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 14/15 oz. can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups vegetable broth

Sour cream, cilantro, scallions, avocado, shredded cheese (optional, to garnish)

  1. Heat olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat until shimmering.
  2. Add the chopped onion, peppers, and sweet potato and cook, stirring occasionally until onions become translucent (about 5-7 minutes). Turn the heat down to medium-low.
  3. Add the minced garlic, dried chili, spices, and canned ingredients. Stir and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper. Cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes or up to 2 hours.
  4. Remove the dried chili (...if you can find it. It might be too broken down, so try to break it down further to distribute the spice.) At this point, the sweet potatoes should be fork-tender and the liquid should have reduced, although it may still be soupy. This is how the original recipe serves it. You can take out 1/4-1/2 cup of chili, cool slightly, blend in a blender or food processor (make sure the lid is on tightly!) and add it back into the pot and stir if you like a thicker consistency (I do.) Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.
  5. Divide chili into bowls and garnish.

I served this with some (less virtuous) cheddar biscuits. Recipe to come!