Sweet (potato) taste of success

When life gives you a vegetarian, try new recipes.

Slow Cooker Loaded ‘Baked’ Sweet Potatoes. —George Brennan

It’s been two years now since our then 17-year-old daughter came home and announced she is a vegetarian. It wasn’t a huge surprise, but having grown up in a meat-and-potatoes family as a kid, well, I like my meat and potatoes.

Because we’ve always been an active family where getting dinner on the table every night is a feat in itself, being mindful of our daughter’s vegetarian needs was a challenge — and, honestly, I didn’t always embrace it at first.

Gradually, I came around and, more recently, my wife and I have been trying to find new recipes that we all can enjoy while she’s home from college. I’ve found some incentive to eat better, in part because this job keeps me glued to a desk for longer periods than I’d like to admit, giving me more of a dad body than I’d like to see in the mirror.

With our daughter in mind and my desire to shed a few pounds also a goal, my wife pulled out a cookbook she had purchased at a school book fair — “Skinny Taste: Fast and Slow,” by Gina Homolka with Heather K. Jones, R.D.

We sat down on a miserable Sunday afternoon and went through the book, tagging pages of recipes we’d like to try — and there are now enough Post-It notes to keep us trying something new well into the fall.

On Thursday night, after a long week at the office, I came home and she was whipping up one of the recipes that had caught our eye — ”Slow Cooker Loaded ‘Baked’ Sweet Potatoes.” It had half of the meat and potatoes I grew up on, although our potatoes were always from either Idaho or Maine.

The good thing about this recipe is that you can either make it in the slow cooker like the recipe calls for, in the oven like a traditional baked potato, or, as in our case, you can cook them in the microwave. (See above about how busy we are.)

However you decide to cook them, make sure you scrub the skin, because you don’t know where these potatoes have been.

The loaded part is a mix of black beans, ½ cup of fresh or frozen corn, ⅓ cup of tomato sauce, 2 tablespoons of chopped scallions, ½ teaspoon of ground cumin, ¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper, and ½ teaspoon of kosher salt. You combine that in a bowl and set it aside until the potatoes are done.

Once the sweet potatoes are soft in the middle — however you get to that point — you slice it down the middle, spread the skin apart, fluff the potato’s inside, and put equal amounts of the filling into each of the four medium sweet potatoes. Cover the top with shredded pepper jack cheese and put it either back in the slow cooker or into the oven to melt the cheese.

Slice up an avocado into bite-size chunks and chop up some fresh cilantro to sprinkle on top of the finished potato, and, voilà, you’ve got yourself a meal with Southwestern flavor and kick.

Would I have liked a steak to go along with it? Sure. Did I need it? Not at all.

I enjoyed every flavor-filled bite of the loaded sweet potato. The mix of the mashed-up potato with the stuffing of beans and corn was delicious and surprisingly filling.

It’s definitely a keeper, and I think our daughter will like it too.

Will I ever be a vegetarian? Probably not. But I have come to realize that every meal doesn’t have to have beef, chicken, pork, or fish.

We’ve had some fun with this cookbook (who would have thought one of my new favorite things would be cauliflower “rice”?), and I highly recommend the recipes in the book for families who don’t have a lot of time to put a meal together, but don’t want to settle for the ordinary. It’s also a good way to keep track of calories, if that’s something you’re watching. (This meal had just 379 in a single serving.)

Oh, and the best part of our sweet potato meal? I hardly felt an ounce of guilt going to Dairy Queen for dessert.