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A few Saturdays ago, wearing red lipstick and riding boots, I took a free Mexican cooking class with my old Nashville roommates, Sara and Sarah.
We met in a bright, sunny space dubbed the grocery store’s “community room,” where the tall ceiling was as high as a church building’s, and the kitchen featured two portable stoves.
While Sara asked questions and Sarah sipped iced coffee with sunglasses perched atop her head, all three of us leaned forward from our third row seats to get closer looks as a man named Michael flashed through a handful of demonstrations, beginning with tortilla soup and ending with a fried avocado appetizer.
Michael, who looked a little like a stoic Ron Howard, gave constant tips and tricks to our little, informal group of around 16 as he worked. He explained how to chop an onion, why he likes to use polenta as a soup thickener (for the flavor), and when to add spices (to the oil before any liquid is added, as most are fat-soluble).
When he completed a recipe, we tasted – and my favorite dish was the quesadillas.
Quesadillas are one of many items on the long list of foods I didn’t grow up eating – along with avocados, raw tomatoes, and all roasted vegetables, in case you’re keeping track.
Before this year, my quesadilla-eating experiences totaled exactly two: a cheesy, greasy appetizer I’d ordered once in college, and a sloppy, wet mess that had resulted from my attempt to make one at my parents’ house last Christmas.
The very week before our Saturday cooking class, however, something changed. For an impromptu dinner one night, Tim laid corn tortillas on a skillet, and melted cheese and peppers between them. He flipped the pair, browning both sides, and cut them into quarters.
I liked the spicy, cheesy results so much, I ended up making myself quesadillas again and again for three days straight, sometimes as an afternoon snack, sometimes for lunch while Tim was in meetings.
On Saturday morning with my roommates, when Michael the Cooking Coach browned his black bean and cheese and cilantro quesadillas, and when I tasted them and liked the results yet again, these were the key points I took away:
- Don’t overstuff the tortillas! Both Tim and Michael filled their tortillas carefully, spooning thin layers of toppings on top rather than building hefty hills. Overfilling is rookie mistake #1, according to Michael, and the exact reason why my Christmas quesadillas had gone south.
- Only oil the pan if you need to! If you’re using packaged premade tortillas, look at the ingredients to see if there’s oil on the list. If so, don’t worry about oiling the pan to heat your quesadillas – they won’t need it. On the other hand, if you use tortillas made without oil, only oil the pan a little. You don’t want greasy, oily fingers when you eat a quesadilla; you want crisp edges and great flavor.
- Veggie hash + spices + cheese = a safe bet. I’ve seen various quesadilla filling formulas online, and on Facebook I have received mouthwatering filling suggestions like chicken pesto or curried chicken, both of which I’d love to try. But that said, trust me when I tell you, after one bite of a vegetarian version like black beans, as well as this spicy sweet potato version, you’re going to forget all about all of those other filling options.
Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home: Fast and Easy Recipes for Any Day, available via Amazon
This recipe is adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, which I don’t have a copy of myself, but saw referenced several times online with various versions of this recipe.
As a sort of related side note, I did happen to find an original copy of The Moosewood Cookbook last night at our used bookstore, and everything about it – from the hand-drawn illustrations to the real-food-focused recipes – blows me away.
You may top these quesadillas with whatever you like, such as your favorite salsa or homemade guacamole. We found something with yogurt works well to balance the spiciness of the sweet potato filling. In our case, that meant mixing leftover arugula pesto with yogurt, and it was excellent!Print
Vegetarian Spicy Sweet Potato Quesadillas
- Total Time: 35 minutes
- Yield: 3 quesadillas 1x
Spicy, sweet, and perfect topped with salsa and guacamole, vegetarian sweet potato quesadillas are a nutritious spin on a dinner classic.
- 2 teaspoons coconut oil, divided
- ½ cup chopped yellow onion (about 1 small)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 cup peeled and grated sweet potato (about 1 medium)
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup black or pinto beans, drained and rinsed (optional)
- 6 10-inch tortillas
- 3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided
- Place 1 teaspoon coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and onion, and cook until fragrant and just starting to brown, about 2 minutes.
- Add grated sweet potato, oregano, chili powder, cumin, cayenne, salt, and pepper. If using beans, add them now. Stir well and cover. Cook for 10 minutes, or until sweet potato has softened. Stir once, halfway through cooking. Remove from heat, taste, and adjust seasonings as needed. Set aside.
- Add remaining coconut oil to another large skillet, and place it over over medium-low heat. Swirl to coat pan with oil. (Optional if your tortillas contain oil)
- Place one tortilla in the heated pan and spread ⅓ of the sweet potato mixture on top, leaving about an inch of space around the edges. Sprinkle ¼ cup shredded cheese over sweet potato mixture and top with a second tortilla.
- Cook 4-5 minutes, or until bottom tortilla is a golden brown and cheese is starting to melt. Flip, and cook another 3-4 minutes, or until bottom tortilla has browned.
- Transfer to a plate, and repeat with remaining tortillas.
- Slice quesadillas into quarters and serve.
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cook Time: 30 minutes
- Category: Tex-Mex
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Vegetarian
Keywords: quesadilla, sweet potato
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Chop Vegetables and Measure Ingredients
Chop the onion, and mince the garlic.
Peel and shred the sweet potato.
You can use the grating blade on your food processor, or manually shred with a box grater. I recommend using the large or medium blades on your box grater, depending on how fine and tender you want the shreds.
Measure out all of the remaining ingredients.
Step 2 – Make Filling
Place 1 teaspoon of coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and onion, and cook until fragrant and just starting to brown, about 2 minutes. Stir occasionally, and do not allow the garlic to burn, as this can add a bitter flavor to the dish.
Add the grated sweet potato, oregano, chili powder, cumin, cayenne, salt, and pepper. If you’re using beans, add them now.
Stir well to combine, and cover. Cook for 10 minutes, or until the sweet potato has softened. Stir once about halfway through cooking to prevent the mixture from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Remove from heat, taste, and adjust seasonings as needed. Set aside.
Step 3 – Assemble and Cook Quesadillas
Place the remaining teaspoon of coconut oil in another large skillet, and place the pan over medium-low heat. Swirl to coat the pan with oil.
Note: be sure to check the ingredient list for your tortillas before adding the coconut oil. If they already contain oil, you won’t need a full teaspoon of coconut oil to grease the pan. Instead, just spread a very small amount on the surface to help with browning.
Place one tortilla in the heated pan and spread about one-third of the sweet potato mixture on top, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges.
Sprinkle ¼ cup of shredded cheese over the sweet potato mixture, and top with a second tortilla.
Cook for 4-5 minutes, or until the bottom tortilla is a golden brown and the cheese is starting to melt. Flip, and cook for another 3-4 minutes, or until the bottom tortilla has browned.
If flipping isn’t your strong suit, you can make things easier by only covering half of each tortilla with the filling and cheese. Once the tortilla has browned and the cheese is melted, fold the tortilla in half and press down with the back of a spatula to seal.
Remove from the heat, and set the cooked quesadilla aside. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.
Slice each into fourths, or thirds if making half-sized quesadillas.
Serve with salsa and guacamole, or your choice of toppings.
Getting in Your Daily Dose of Beta-Carotene
More than just a sweet addition to these quesadillas, sweet potatoes are incredibly nutritious, providing an excellent source of vitamin C, manganese, vitamin B6, potassium, and fiber. But it’s real stand-out quality is that just one cup of cooked sweet potato provides seven times the average adult’s daily need of beta carotene.
Responsible for the vibrant orange color of sweet potatoes, beta carotene is an antioxidant that’s been shown to help prevent vision loss and support eye health. It also plays an important role in gut health and promoting a healthy immune system – something we can all benefit from!
So, keep your eyes and immune system healthy with these other recipes featuring sweet potatoes:
- Vegan Waffles
- Spiralized Noodles with Roasted Red Peppers and Sun Dried Tomatoes
- Sweet Potato Coconut Patties
Let us know how these quesadillas turn out for you by rating the recipe and leaving a comment below!
Photos by Kelli McGrane, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published by Shanna Mallon on February 19, 2013. Last updated: August 5, 2022 at 14:40 pm. With additional writing and editing by Kelli McGrane and Allison Sidhu.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
The written contents of this article have been reviewed and verified by a registered dietitian for informational purposes only. This article should not be construed as personalized or professional medical advice. Foodal and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet, or using supplements or manufactured or natural medications.
About Shanna Mallon
Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home, Houzz.com, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.
29 thoughts on “Spicy Sweet Potato Quesadillas: A Vegetarian Twist on a Classic”
I also have only have had my own wet & soggy attempts at a quesadilla before but you won my heart when you said the inside was like a samosa. I’m so excited to try these – my boyfriend is away for the next few weeks so I’m pretty sure I’ll be making myself a quesadilla every night!
I’ve been looking for something to do with the roasted red pepper tortillas I have stashed in my fridge. I think this recipe will be just perfect.
I served these for lunch yesterday along with homemade refried black beans and it was a smashing success of a meal! The quesadillas were absolutely delicious and were filling without being too heavy. Thanks so much for the tasty recipe!
Hooray! I love hearing that someone else felt the same way! Thanks, Katie! : )
I grew up eating quesadillas all the time, but have never tried something like this! I love how you describe them like samosas, which I LOVE. Definitely going to give this a try!
I would never have thought to fill quesadillas with sweet potatoes! I grew up on Tex Mex food, and I’ve eaten my share of quesadillas, but this is totally new to me. I can’t wait to try it!
These look delicious, Shanna! I have always been a big quesadilla fan- I’m sold!
Let me know what you think!
I love the idea of grated sweet potato- definitely helps the filling not look like too much!
Exactly, Erin! Although, I will say, grating sweet potatoes by hand is in my top ten least favorite kitchen tasks.
That’s a good idea for filling!
Over stuffing would be exactly what I would do!
What great tips…
Ha! You and me both, Kristen. I tend to get a little overzealous in that department. : )
Shanna – polenta as a soup thickener? That just blew my mind – can’t wait to try it! These quesadillas look delicious as well. I think I definitely do over-fill mine, so that will be something to think about next time.
🙂 Hope you enjoy, Jess!
I eat my fair share of quesadillas but had never had them filled with sweet potatoes. Will definitely give this a try if I manage to track down some sweet potatoes here (they are annoyingly rare in Italy).
Love that you gave quesadillas another try despite bad experiences! It is such a quick and healthy dinner. My favourite combo is beetroot amd goat gouda, served with a quick pico de gallo and guacamole for dipping, delicious!
Mmmm, I like how you think, Sophia!
Quesadillas are definitely not a huge food trend here in Australia, and especially not when I was growing up! As an adult I have only dabbled in them a little, and usually I give them a little Mediterranean twist and use feta, sundried tomatoes, and olives. But spicy sweet potato sounds like a perfect experiment to me 🙂 Thanks for sharing, I’m sure my darling will love these too! Mexican date night it is 🙂
I love hearing new ideas for what to put inside the quesadillas, Amy — thanks for the Mediterranean tip! Hope you enjoy these!
Wow! I actually only make my own with plain cheese! Will try with sweet potato!
It’s a whole new experience, Alyssa — I’d love to hear what you think!
I love this idea. We eat simple cheese quesadillas (whole wheat tortillas and shredded cheddar cheese, no additional oil or anything necessary) as a pretty regular quick lunch around here (so much easier than grilled cheese sandwiches, and both boys–and our dog, the sneaky rascal–LOVE them!). I’m always trying to find ways to make veggies more appealing for my younger son, and I wonder if putting some shredded sweet potatoes in the cheese might be a way to do that. I am positive I will like them, but I will keep my fingers crossed that my selective eater will too! I’m adding sprouted grain tortillas to the shopping list to make these a healthier option for me.
By the way, I have found a key to making the texture nice is to heat the tortillas on both sides before I add the filling. Just warm up the pan and then heat them until it warms through, you will be able to tell, it’s like it removes the excess moisture or something, helping to make it nicely crispy. Then flip, do the same on the other side, remove and do the same to the other tortilla. On the final side of the second tortilla, add filling and then put the first tortilla on top. Shredded cheese helps makes it melt faster, and it helps when the tortillas are warm. Can’t wait to try all this with your filling suggestions!
Good tip, Rachel! Thanks!
The overstuffed quesadilla, who hasn´t been there. This is a different combination but the flavors sound so wonderful, I´m pinning it right now. Beautiful Shanna!
Haha, thanks, Paula. : ) Hope you enjoy!
Hi Shanna! I’m back already to tell you that I made these for lunch today, and they did not disappoint! Unfortunately, my boys still prefer a plain old cheese quesadilla, but I am certainly going to make myself this variety while I serve them the basics. I was thinking it would be good next time to mix in the shredded cheese with the sweet potato filling, so that it all gets gooey and sticky to the tortillas (one side was more cheesy than the other). And I de-glazed my pan with all the yummy spice remnants by sauteeing some kale in there to serve alongside the quesadillas. Delicious. Thanks so much for the recipe!
Thanks for the report back, Rachel! I loved looking through your post and hearing how things went. I’m so glad you enjoyed them! : )
Love that this is adapted from a Moosewood recipe…I live just a few blocks away from the restaurant!
And hear, hear, on the need for THIN layers of toppings. It is so tempting to pile them on, and I still do it sometimes even though I know better. Those quesadillas never stay together…
Julie, I’m so jealous of your living near Moosewood! I would visit all the time…