BBQ Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

How about a little tuber education? As I was thinking about this recipe for BBQ Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes, I started doing some research to answer an age-old question: what’s a sweet potato, and what’s a yam? Imagine my surprise when I read in this authoritative article that “sweet potatoes are not a type of yam, and yams are not a type of sweet potato. They are both tuberous root vegetables that come from a flowering plant, but they are not related and actually don’t even have a lot in common.”

WHAT.

Apparently, what I think of as regular old sweet potatoes–the oblong, orange-fleshed vegetables in these photos and commonly found on your Thanksgiving table–are merely “soft” sweet potatoes, as opposed to “firm” sweet potatoes, which have a golden skin and white flesh. Yams, on the other hand, have a black, bark-like skin and purple or red flesh.

And can we just take a moment to say that “flesh” is not the greatest word to describe anything edible.

Regardless of terminology, however, these BBQ Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes are one of my new favorite fall dinners. They’ve got a lot going on: potatoes baked to tender perfection meet sweet barbecue chicken and stretchy melted Monterey Jack (plus some spinach thrown in for extra nutrition). With veggies, starch, and protein all in one package, I’m content to call them a one-dish dinner–or round out the meal with a loaf of rustic bread. They’re also a clever way to use up leftover barbecue chicken, or to make a double-duty dinner out of a large batch of crock pot barbecue chicken earlier in the week.

So whether you call them soft sweet potatoes, firm sweet potatoes, yams, or just “the orange ones,” I think you’ll be calling them a recipe to repeat once you give them a try.


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BBQ Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are baked to tender perfection and topped with BBQ chicken, spinach, and melty Monterey Jack in this fall favorite!
Instructions
  1. Place chicken breasts in a slow cooker. Top with 1/4 c. barbecue sauce and cook on high for 4 hours. Remove chicken, drain of excess liquid, and shred. Return to slow cooker, stir in remaining 1/2 c. barbecue sauce, and cook an additional 15-30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash sweet potatoes and prick with a fork. Bake about 45 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
  3. While potatoes are cooking, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add spinach and saute until wilted, 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Remove potatoes from oven and slice in half lengthwise. Line a baking sheet with foil and place potatoes on it. Mash potatoes lightly and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and chili powder. Top with wilted spinach and shredded chicken. Shred Monterey Jack directly onto potatoes.
  5. Return to oven and bake an additional 5 minutes, or until cheese has melted. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

Inspired by Half Baked Harvest.

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Bulgur Salad with Grapes and Feta

I know it’s still only September, but I’ve already got Thanksgiving on the brain. Somehow, once the weather starts cooling down, it feels like one big slip and slide ride to the holidays. And as a foodie, Thanksgiving is definitely a holiday to look forward to. While I enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving dinner as much as the next person, I also love the idea of trying new recipes (especially healthier versions of classics) for the feast. Last year, on A Love Letter to Food’s Facebook page, I did a ten-day countdown to a healthier Thanksgiving, featuring ten different recipes for better-for-you sides and desserts.

This year I already know what healthy side I want to take to Thanksgiving: this Bulgur Salad with Grapes and Feta.

It may not bear much resemblance to mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, or dinner rolls, but stick with me. When we tried this recently as a side with grilled chicken, it was a match made in heaven. I can only assume the same for how it would pair with turkey.

If you’re new to bulgur, join the club. Though a variety of different grains have become available in mainstream grocery stores these days, bulgur hasn’t caught on as much as the “cool kids” of quinoa, couscous, and wheat berries. If you had asked me a year ago to tell you anything about this particular grain, I would have drawn a blank (except for an internal snicker at how its name sounds kinda gross, like “Aunt Tillie can’t make it to Thanksgiving because her bulgur is acting up again”).

The deeper I get into trying to follow a Mediterranean diet, though, the more new foods I’m exposed to. I now know that bulgur is essentially just hulled whole kernels of durum wheat. Translation: it’s a whole grain, and it’s good for you. It’s low in fat and sodium, extremely high in fiber. Plus, it has a pleasing chewy texture, soaks up marinades and dressings beautifully, and can be used in place of just about any other similar grain, like quinoa, couscous, or even rice. I’m a believer.

This Bulgur Salad with Grapes and Feta is adapted from America’s Test Kitchen’s Complete Mediterranean Cookbook (which I’m LOVING RIGHT NOW and will soon be posting about!). It’s a no-cook recipe, as the bulgur kernels take a soak in lemon juice and water for 90 minutes to soften up to the point of chewy edibility. Once the soaking is complete, the now-chewy grains are tossed with grapes, feta, fresh mint, slivered almonds, and an olive oil-based dressing.

As a side for Thanksgiving–or any other meal–give this refreshing and different salad a try!


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Bulgur Salad with Grapes and Feta
A refreshing, healthy salad featuring high-fiber bulgur, grapes, and feta cheese.
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl (the bowl you intend to serve this salad in), soak bulgur in a mixture of 1 c. water, 1/4 c. lemon juice, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Cover and let sit for about 90 minutes, or until bulgur has softened and become chewy and no liquid remains.
  2. Meanwhile, make the dressing: in a measuring cup, combine 1 Tbsp. lemon juice, olive oil, cumin, cayenne powder, and 1/4 tsp. salt.
  3. When all liquid has been absorbed in the bulgur, pour dressing over the grains and toss to combine. Add feta, almonds, grapes, green onions, and mint and toss again. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately or refrigerate.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook by America's Test Kitchen.

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Roasted Chickpea Pitas

I think if I were a chickpea, I wouldn’t be very happy. Poor chickpeas. They’re always getting mashed, pounded, and ground up for things like hummus and falafel, or playing second fiddle as a side dish to meat. It’s rare that you eat anything in which chickpeas in their whole, unadulterated form take center stage. Can’t we give these little guys their time to shine?

Why yes, we can, in the form of Roasted Chickpea Pitas!

This tasty vegetarian Mediterranean meal features whole chickpeas roasted in a piquant blend of seasonings and paired with caramelized red onions. Finished off with some spinach, tomato, and creamy tzatziki sauce in a whole wheat pita, it’s a super healthy choice for dinner or a one-dish lunch. Every time I eat it, even without adding a side, it keeps me full for hours–probably because of all the “good carbs” found in the whole wheat and beans. Plus, chickpeas contain plenty of protein and even a little unsaturated fat. Can you really go wrong by adding more of them to your diet?

So if I were a chickpea, I’d like to think I’d approve of this recipe (even though I’d have to be roasted in a 400 degree oven). Worth it.


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Roasted Chickpea Pitas
Spiced roasted chickpeas and cool tzatziki sauce make a hearty filling in these pitas.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
For the roasted chickpeas:
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
For the roasted chickpeas:
Instructions
Make the chickpea filling:
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together chickpeas and sliced red onions. Pour olive oil and all spices over the mixture, stir to toss, and spread on the prepared baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through baking.
Make the tzatziki sauce:
  1. Meanwhile, make the tzatziki sauce by combining all ingredients in a small bowl.
Assemble the pitas:
  1. Assemble the pitas by filling them with the chickpea mixture, tzatziki sauce, spinach, tomato, and/or feta.
Recipe Notes

Inspired by Live Eat Learn.

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Spaghetti with Tuna, Basil, and Lemon

Quick nutrition question: what do you know about omega-3 fatty acids? My guess is there are a few bits of info that probably come to mind when you think of omega-3s:

  • they’re found in fish, walnuts, certain oils, and other foods
  • alternatively, you can take them in pills that are pretty pricey and can tend to give you fishy burps
  • they’re somehow supposed to be good for you, despite how unappealing the term “fatty acid” may sound

But have you ever wondered what exactly they are and why they’re good for you?

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat. They are referred to as “unsaturated” because of their chemistry: the carbon in the fat is not “saturated” with hydrogen molecules surrounding it (as in, it contains less than the maximum number of bonds possible–when the maximum number of bonds are attached, it becomes “saturated”). Also, fun fact: like other unsaturated fats, omega-3 is liquid at room temperature, so if you could buy it in pure form at the store, you’d find it alongside the oils. Fill the carbons up with those hydrogen bonds, though, and you’ll get solid-at-room-temperature saturated fat, as in butter.

The reason these particular fats have the name “omega-3” is also chemistry-related. There is a double bond between carbon and hydrogen on the carbon molecule third from the end (called the “omega”–you know, like “the Alpha and the Omega,” i.e. “the beginning and the end”) of the chemical chain. So, if it helps you, think of omega-3s as the “third from the end” fats. I do!

So, what are these fatty acids supposed to do for us, and why should we care? Evidence-based research shows that omega-3s help reduce inflammation in the body–always good for protecting our hearts from heart attacks and our brains from strokes, among other benefits–and may also lower blood pressure and triglycerides. Some studies have also shown them to have a cumulative positive effect on cognition.

For my part, I’d rather get my omega-3s through tasty foods than through pills (though there’s certainly nothing wrong with taking them in pill form). The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 recommend eating 8 oz. of fatty fish each week, which breaks down to about two servings. And I’ve got a recipe for one for you right here.

This Mediterranean-inspired Spaghetti with Tuna, Basil, and Lemon is a delicious source of those all-important 3s, as it’s packed not only with tuna, but a good dose of olive oil. And, like any other meal, this one is a sum of multiple nutrition parts, which includes whole grains in the spaghetti, immunity-boosting raw garlic, and a respectable chunk of calcium in the form of Parmesan cheese. Not only that, but it’s a super easy, flavorful dinner that can be thrown together in 30 minutes or less with inexpensive ingredients.

I’d say that’s a good deal for your heart, your brain, your stomach, and your wallet!


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Spaghetti with Tuna, Basil, and Lemon
An easy Mediterranean-inspired pasta packed with omega-3s and bright flavors.
Instructions
  1. Cook the spaghetti according to package directions. In a large bowl, toss with olive oil, lemon zest, minced garlic, Parmesan, tuna, and basil. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

A Love Letter to Food Original Recipe.

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White Bean Hummus

White Bean Hummus

We need to talk about beans. If I’ve never mentioned it before, allow me to say right now, standing tall with my hand over my heart, that I believe beans may be the perfect food. I say this not only because it will earn me points with other nutrition professionals (though they are pretty unanimously also in love with beans, as far as I’ve seen), but because beans are…

– High in fiber

– Low in fat

– Plant-based protein

– High in iron

– Super versatile

And, if you ask me, they taste pretty darn good, too. So I generally try to include them in my diet on a frequent basis. Casseroles, soups, tacos, salads, and even certain pasta dishes are great food items to drop some beans into. And I do mean that literally, not euphemistically.

White Bean Hummus

Lately I’ve been on a homemade hummus kick, but since I balk at buying any actual tahini (have you ever bought tahini? You have to buy like gallon at a time and it’s hella expensive!) I’ve been experimenting with recipes that don’t call for it, like this garlicky version with plenty of my dear wonderfood, beans! With two full cans of cannellini or Great Northern beans, this recipe makes a big batch, perfect for sneaking off into a closet with the bowl clutched to your bosom so no one else can eat it. I mean, for parties. PARTIES is what I meant to say.

White Bean Hummus

Seriously, though, this white bean hummus is my new favorite snack/appetizer/side. Even though I’ve scoffed in the past about how hummus and pita chips is everyone’s go-to, last-minute, classier-than-chips potluck contribution, the deliciousness of this version kicks it up into “bring this any time” territory. Mild white beans mixed with punchy garlic, lemon juice, cumin, pepper, and parsley creates the perfect edible yin and yang.

And finally, because beans didn’t have their own theme song, here is Brak from the ’90s Cartoon Network show Space Ghost to sing you a very special tune about them:

 

 

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White Bean Hummus
Mild white beans mixed with punchy garlic, lemon juice, cumin, pepper, and parsley make for a uniquely delicious hummus!
Course Appetizer, snack
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Servings
Course Appetizer, snack
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Servings
Instructions
  1. In a small saucepan, cook garlic in olive oil over medium heat until garlic begins to brown. Remove from heat. With a slotted spoon, scoop garlic into the bowl of a food processor.
  2. To the food processor bowl, add drained beans, lemon juice, cumin, parsley, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Process until smooth.
  3. Carefully pour in reserved olive oil while the machine is running and process until well incorporated.
  4. Serve immediately or store refrigerated in an airtight container. Enjoy with pita chips or fresh veggies!
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Bush's Beans.

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