May 28, 2009

The day I became a vegetarian / Black bean and tomato stuffed sweet potato

©Andrea's easy vegan cooking

We were listening to a re-broadcast of an interview by public radio host Joy Cardine with Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, author of "The Face on Your Plate," "When Elephants Weep," and "The Pig Who Sang to the Moon." The host said she was a vegetarian, and proceeded to relate a brief story of the moment she knew she could no longer eat meat. It got me thinking of the moments we remember in life — usually traumatic national events that we can never forget. But what about the other, more personal life-changing events we experience, like deciding to become vegetarian, for example. Do people remember "the day they decided not to eat meat anymore?" Well, I do.

I was in my 20s and had been going through dietary changes for a while. First I decided to eat healthier. I'd been reading about diet and health and the dangers of the "Standard American Diet" and decided to make a clean sweep of all the unhealthy food in my (and by default, my husband's) diet. I went through the pantry and bagged up all the white stuff — you know, white flour, white pasta, white sugar — all of it. Being a frugal person by nature, I was filled with anxiety about what to do with all this stuff. I didn't want to contribute to another's ill health, but I hated just throwing it away. So, I hauled it across the street to my friend Suzanne's apartment, explained that I wanted to improve my diet and not eat this stuff anymore because I believed it to be unhealthy, and asked if she wanted it. After all, everyone has their own ideas about what's healthy, and can make up their own minds. I told her what I knew. She looked at me intently for a moment, and then said, "SURE!" Then, with great enthusiasm, she started unpacking the bags. I assuaged my guilt by thinking that she would just go out and buy this same stuff anyway.

Eating healthy was going well, and I began to think about a vegetarian diet. We'd been attending meditation retreats where there were lots of vegetarians, and I'd been doing more reading and thinking about food issues. Then we went on a camping trip to Canada, and one evening we attended the nature program at the campground where we were staying. A film was shown about the plight of prairie dogs. One of the struggles facing this little animal was its misfortune to be living on cattle ranches, where the prairie dog tunnels cause injuries to the cattle who step into the holes. There were graphic shots of ranchers blasting the prairie dogs with their rifles; no gory detail was spared, and it was horrible. You can probably see where this is going. Anyway, I just couldn't get those images out of my mind.

We were in the supermarket checkout line after our return home, and I was staring at a package of stew meat in our cart. I picked it up. "Do we really want this?" I asked my husband? "Probably not," was his reply, and I took it back to the meat counter. And that was it —the day I decided to be a vegetarian. And do I remember the day I became vegan? Of course, but that's another story for another day.

My first attempts at cooking vegetarian food were pretty grim. The very first dish, chuck full of brewers yeast, got ditched. But it's a lot easier to be vegetarian now, and even vegan, than it used to be. There are countless amazing cookbooks and blogs with recipes and ideas. I recently reviewed Peta's Vegan College Cookbook, and although it wasn't generally suited to my style of cooking, there were a few recipe gems that I really enjoyed cooking and eating. This recipe was inspired by one of them. If you use canned beans and tomatoes, you can throw it together with almost no effort. Or, if you prefer, you can cook dried beans and roast your own tomatoes. I like to make the bean and tomato mixture pretty spicy because I love the contrast between the spicy beans and the sweet potato, but you can just leave out the chilies or jalapeños if you don't care for spicy food.

©Andrea's easy vegan cookingBlack bean and tomato stuffed sweet potatoes (updated 11-21-16)
  • 4 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed
  • one tablespoon oil (I like avocado oil) or two tablespoons broth or water
  • 1/2 cup sliced green onions, white and green parts
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 15-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained (or 1-1/2 cups cooked black beans) or 3/4 cup of dried beans, cooked and drained
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
  • 1 15-oz.can diced tomatoes with green chilies, (or a can of tomatoes plus 3 tablespoons of diced green chilies from a can, or 1-2 finely chopped fresh jalapeños)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or cilantro (opt.)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (if needed)
  • fresh ground pepper, lots
  • 1 small avocado (or vegan sour cream)
  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice, divided
  1. Slice a very small piece from the end of each potato. (Or, you can prick them all over with a fork.) Bake at 425˚F for about 40 minutes or until nice and soft all the way through. You can bake them right on the oven rack. I like to use the toaster oven for this unless I'm using the big oven to make other stuff, too. When they are ready, place them on a plate to cool slightly while you finish up the filling.
  2. Cook the the onion, garlic and oregano (and jalapeños, if using fresh) in the oil (or broth or water if you don't use oil) for one minute. Add the beans, tomatoes, canned chilies (if using), paprika, salt and pepper. Heat gently until hot. Stir in two tablespoons lemon juice, and the parsley or cilantro. Taste for seasoning.
  3. Open the avocado and scoop out the pulp. Mash and mix with two tablespoons lemon juice, a tiny pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper.
  4. Split the potatoes lengthwise and gently push the ends towards each other to create a pocket.
  5. Fill the pockets with the bean mixture and top with avocado or vegan sour cream.
©Andrea's easy vegan cooking


  1. I love the story about how you decided to become a vegetarian... very cool!

    Also, thanks for mentioning that NPR interview with Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson. I recently read "The Face on Your Plate," but somehow missed his NPR interview! Now I'll have to see if it's still online...

    BTW, that potato looks heavenly. I'm a huge fan of sweet potatoes (as long as they're not covered in sweet stuff), but I never thought to top one with guacamole. Yum!

  2. jd,
    I would think interview is still up since we just listened to it.

    The original recipe said to top the potato with vegan sour cream, but avocado was way more appealing to me. I love avocados.

  3. What a great story about your path to veg'nism. I wish I had a cool story like that, but I just had an overnight revelation and went from meat eater to vegan. And I wish I had done much sooner than just a few years ago.

    I think I would make my stuffed potato just as you did, although I usually have way more filling than potato.

  4. That looks delicious! I don't recall the specific day that I became vegetarian, but I do remember having tossed up the idea for nearly 2 years before hand but I was just too scared to make the final leap.

    The first 2 weeks of my vegetarianism were rather scary and boring (too much pasta! I think I ate it every night!) but then I started discovering cookbooks and websites and 2 years ago...wonderful blogs and now food is never boring!

  5. thanx for the wonderful sure try them out..Please check out the blog mentioned below its really cool....!!!im sure you'll love it!!!

  6. Diann,
    An overnight revelation sounds pretty cool to me.

    Thanks for your comments! Yes, cookbooks and blogs have really added a lot of inspiration to vegan cooking.

  7. Great story. I think that big life changes usually come on gradually -- but I love it when we can pinpoint a time when the sea change just takes place (be it mentally, emotionally, or what not). All that preparation we've done finally hits home-- and we make the decision to change.

    LOVE the sweet potato/black bean combo. Such a delicious pairing. The chile-head in me would be pumping up the heat quotient on these delectable treats.

  8. Lo,
    Yes, you've described the change process well. That sudden moment when everything suddenly makes sense, is very sweet.

    And I'm with you on the heat quotient.

  9. I just made this recipe tonight and I have to say it was FABULOUS!! I will be making this often! As a new vegan, I really need these basic recipes that don't get too involved. Thank you so much!!

  10. Cherri,
    Thanks so much for leaving a comment. I'm so happy you enjoyed the recipe.

  11. What a great story! I became a vegetarian at 13 while at summer camp. The food (mystery meat....) sucked and the vegetarian kid got her own plate cottage cheese, which I vastly preferred. Right then and there I signed up for the plan. The ethics came later, and veganism later still.

    And I will definitely make that recipe - I have all the ingredients!!! Thanks for posting it.

  12. What a great story. For me, going away to college made the switch, as I couldn't bear to eat any of the meats in the cafeteria. And stuffed sweet potatoes--seems so obvious, but never thought of it before!

  13. Claire,
    I admire someone who can make a decision like this at 13. And you stuck with it!

    I ate a "Mitten burger" (named after a building) everyday at college. My enlightenment came after I left.

  14. mhhhhhh, I don't think that vegan sour cream exists in NZ...what does it taste like?

    Thank you


  15. Alessandra,
    To be honest, I've never used it, but it's supposed to taste like dairy sour cream. (I never liked dairy sour cream.) I've used unsweetened soy yogurt mixed with a small amount of vegan mayonnaise to make a sour dressing, but I prefer the avocado as a topping for this dish. The sour cream was in the original recipe so I listed it as an alternative that some people might prefer.

  16. wow this looks incredible! super yummy and the ingredients are all pretty simple. some of my favorite ingredients here. cool recipe!

  17. I'd kind of forgotten about this recipe - I need to make it again, soon. It's so easy and delicious.

  18. How great! I made a recipe up last night that was very similar to this but I used little acorn squash served on a healthy serving of quinoa with tomatoes and rosemary! While it was very tasty, I bet the sweet potatoes are even better!
    I admire the strength of those who chose to go veg after eating meat for so long. I also thank my lucky stars my parents raised me that way so when it came time for me to choose, I was not in the position to give anything up other than dairy... What luck!
    Thanks again!

  19. I stumbled across this the other night looking for a stuffed sweet potato recipe. All the other ones I found were sickly sweet and involved marshmallows. I added some chili powder to the bean mixture and topped it with sour cream (we're not vegan).

    I LOVE YOUR RECIPE! I've been eating the leftovers for a couple of days. As a matter of fact, I just finished the last one and now I'm sad that they're gone. Some friends of ours use the same CSA where we got our sweet potatoes from, so I passed the recipe along and they loved it, too!

    Everybody's winning.

  20. Some chick,
    Thanks for letting m,e know you liked it! This happens to be one of my favorite recipes. Sometimes I make a really fast version with a microwaved potato and avocado. There's something about avocado and potato that is really great.

  21. Mmmmm this looks amazing! I was looking for stuffed potato ideas and while I didn't have these ingredients I've definitely bookmarked this recipe for the future!

  22. My unborn youngest daughter caused me to become a vegetarian 23 years ago. I suddenly found when pregnant with her that I couldn't face meat. I ended my pregnancy weighing less than before I got pregnant and realised that something was wrong with the way that I had been eating. I am now vegan and having a great time experimenting with food and how easy it is to be a vegan these days

    1. Thanks for sharing your story. When I was pregnant with my oldest son I couldn't eat rice - it tasted like dirty cardboard. And i couldn't tolerate the smell of cooking oil. My husband had to get an air popper for his popcorn habit.


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