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Sweet Potato and Black Bean Casserole with Tomatillo Cream Sauce

This is about as close as I get to a vegetarian dish. And if you have the notion that meatless meals will leave you hungering for more, think again. This casserole is dense and satisfying.

Cumin and cinnamon are very aromatic. A little bit goes a long way here and give the sweet potatoes a nice, confusing-to-the-senses, cross between sweet and savory. The beans and sweet potatoes are fairly unadorned beyond that and you will be surprised at how healthful this delicious casserole really is. There is a little bit of cheese, and a little bit of egg, to help hold the tamale/cornbread topping together.

Tomatillos are an interesting little fruit.  If you haven’t played with them, you should. The husks are lovely, and when you unwrap them, they make your hands sticky. Rinse the fruits and you are left with firm little orbs. When roasted at this high a temperature, they liquefy. Allow them to roast until that happens. I merely season them with salt and a little touch of cream and puree them. The result is a rather bitter cream sauce. That may sound odd, and you might be a little wary. But served on top of this rather sweet dish, it provides a wonderful balance.

We have had this for dinner several times and it will remain on my list of meals to which I will often return. Each time, I mess with the topping a little and use a little more or a little less, depending on my mood. The filling of the casserole is already fully cooked, so you need only accomplish baking the topping. If you choose to use less topping, adjust the cooking time accordingly and test the topping as you would a cake, with a toothpick. If the toothpick comes out clean, you are all set…so to speak.

Recipe for Sweet Potato and Black Bean Casserole: (serves 6 to 8)

Ingredients:

Filling:
4 sweet potatoes, scrubbed and pierced with a fork
½ medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided use
1 can (15 oz.) black beans, rinsed then drained
1 can (4 oz.) chopped green chiles
2 teaspoons cumin, divided use
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¾ cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Corn Topping:
1 can sweet corn, reserve liquid
4 tablespoons butter, melted
water
1 egg
1½ cups masa harina
1½ teaspoons baking powder

Tomatillo Sauce:
1 pound fresh tomatillos, husks removed
¼ cup heavy whipping cream

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Prick the sweet potatoes several times with a fork along the top. Place the sweet potatoes on a foil-covered baking dish and place them in the oven for one hour or until they are easily pierced with a sharp knife.  Rinse, then quarter the tomatillos, toss them with olive oil and 1 teaspoon cumin and place them in a separate baking dish. Place the dish with the tomatillos in the oven and allow them to roast for 30 minutes alongside the sweet potatoes. Remove each from the oven when they have finished roasting and allow them to cool.

2. In a skillet, sauté the onion in olive oil for 4 minutes. Add the drained black beans and green chiles. Stir in 1 teaspoon cumin and the cinnamon. Stir to thoroughly combine.

3. Cut a slit in each sweet potato and spoon out the pulp. Place it in a separate bowl. Repeat the process with all four potatoes. Mash the potatoes with a potato masher, then add them to the black bean mixture. Stir to combine, but without mashing the beans. Spoon the mixture into a 10” x 6” baking dish. Sprinkle the mixture with the cheese.

4. In a separate bowl, combine the masa flour and the baking powder. In a measuring glass, combine the reserved corn liquid, 4 tablespoons of melted butter and enough water to make 1½ cups of liquid. Add one egg and whisk the mixture to completely incorporate the egg. Pulse the corn in the bowl of a food processor several times until it is well chopped, but not yet pureed. Add the liquid to the bowl of masa and whisk to work out any lumps. Stir in the corn. Scoop the masa mixture on top of the bean mixture and smooth it out with a knife or the back side of a spoon. You may have extra, depending on the dimensions of the baking dish that you choose and how thickly you apply the topping.

5. Reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Bake the casserole for 40 minutes. Allow the casserole to rest for at least 10 minutes after baking.

6. Meanwhile, puree the roasted tomatillos and heat them in a saucepan. Add the heavy cream and stir. Serve the casserole with a generous spoonful of the cream sauce on top.

Tip: You could easily roast the potatoes and the tomatillos early in the day or the day before and keep them covered in the refrigerator until you are ready to proceed.

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8 comments to Sweet Potato and Black Bean Casserole with Tomatillo Cream Sauce

  • Kelly

    Annie…I’m so glad you liked it. Cooking can be very intimidating, but with a good sense of humor you will find that it is like painting. Some things turn out great, some things not so great…but it is always a nice way to spend time and learn about all of the fascinating foods we have at out disposal. And, yes, tomatillos are rather a bizarre but utterly delightful addition to your toolkit, aren’t they?

  • Annie

    Hello Kelly. Thank you for the fantastic recipe. I am a complete novice in the kitchen, so this recipe was a small hurdle for me to overcome. I was bombarded with sweet potatoes and tomatillos all at once, so this was perfect! I used a mixture of fresh green and red Jalapenos from the garden in place of the green chiles. I didn’t know the difference between Masa Harina and Polenta, so I ended up using Polenta. When I realized what Polenta was after putting the whole casserole in the oven, I thought I ruined it. To my surprise it turned out wonderful! It was almost like cornbread on top yet there were a few crunchy pieces. If I were to do it again, I would probably do it like you explained in the Green Chile Beef Casserole. I had no idea that the Tomatillos made such an easy and delicious sauce. I’m sure I will use it for other things as well.

  • Meredith

    Thanks for the quick reply! I’ll let you know.

  • Kelly

    Hi Meredith. I probably wouldn’t tell you that you could, but simply because I haven’t tried it. They are very different textures and I’m not sure how it would turn out. What you could do, though, is substitute the corn bread topping (made with corn meal) that I did for this Green Chile Beef Casserole http://www.themeaningofpie.com/2011/12/green-chile-beef-corn-pudding-casserole/ and drop the baking temp to 350 and 45 minutes like I did for that one. I think it would probably work great. Just slightly different ingredients…creamed corn instead of kernels, for instance. Please let us know if you try it. I bet it will be great.

  • Meredith

    Would corn meal work instead of masa harina?

  • There is a brown bag of tomatillos sitting in my fridge asking me, “Can’t you do something with us beside make pico di gallo — again?” Now, I know.

  • Oh yes, this will be happening soon in my kitchen!

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