Spicy Sweet Potato Quesadillas: A Vegetarian Twist on a Classic

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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.

Vertical image of four quarters of a homemade sweet potato quesadilla that have been stacked on top of each other on a white ceramic plate, with a blue ceramic bowl of guacamole and a glass bowl of salsa in soft focus on the background, printed with orange and white text near the top and at the bottom of the frame.

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.

Vertical overhead closely cropped image of a homemade quesadilla on a white plate that has been cut into quarters, on a white surface with a blue and terra cotta ceramic bowl of guacamole and a glass dish of salsa at the top of the frame.

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.

Vertical overhead image of a white bowl of homemade vegetarian tortillas that have been sliced into quarters, on a white wood surface with a small glass bowl of tomato salsa.

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.

Vertical overhead closely cropped image of a quesadilla that has been cut into four pieces and arranged on a white ceramic plate, topped with a dollop of red tomato salsa, with more of the sauce in a glass bowl at the top of the frame to the right of a blue and orange ceramic bowl of guacamole.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 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.

Vertical overhead closely cropped image of a sweet potato quesadilla cut into quarters on a white ceramic plate, topped with salsa and guacamole, on a white wood surface with a glass dish of the red sauce, more pieces of the dish arranged in a stack, and wedges of lime.

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.

Horizontal slightly oblique image of a quesadilla on a white plate that has been cut into four pieces, on a white wood surface with a stack of more slices of the dish, wedges of lime, a blue ceramic bowl of guacamole, and a small glass bowl of red tomato salsa.

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
Horizontal overhead image of a quesadilla on a white plate that has been cut into quarters and topped with dollops of guacamole and salsa, on a white surface with a glass dish of sauce, another filled tortilla that has been sliced and stacked, and three wedges of lime.

Vegetarian Spicy Sweet Potato Quesadillas


  • Author: Shanna Mallon
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: 3 quesadillas 1x

Description

Spicy, sweet, and perfect topped with salsa and guacamole, vegetarian sweet potato quesadillas are a nutritious spin on a dinner classic.


Scale

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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)
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Transfer to a plate, and repeat with remaining tortillas.
  7. Slice quesadillas into quarters and serve.

  • Category: Tex-Mex
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Vegetarian

Keywords: quesadilla, sweet potato

Cooking By the Numbers…

Step 1 – Chop Vegetables and Measure Ingredients

Horizontal overhead image of a peeled orange sweet potato with a metal food processor shredding disc and the black plastic base of the appliance, on a white wood surface with three slats.

Chop the onion, and mince the garlic.

Horizontal overhead image of a food processor filled with prepped sweet potato, with the shredding disc in place, on a white painted wood surface.

Peel and shred the sweet potato.

Horizontal closely cropped overhead image of shredded orange sweet potato in a food processor, on a gray surface.

You can use the grating blade on your food processor, or manually shred with a box grater.

Horizontal oblique overhead image of a glass bowl of shredded sweet potato with smaller porcelain bowls of diced onion, shredded cheese, and various spices, on a white wood surface with a metal measuring spoon at the top left and several flour tortillas at the bottom right of the frame.

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.

Overhead horizontal image of a nonstick frying pan of shredded sweet potato and spices.

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.

Horizontal overhead image of shredded sweet potato coated with spiced, sauteeing in a large nonstick frying pan, on a white painted wood surface.

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.

Horizontal overhead image of a flour tortilla topped with a shredded and spiced sweet potato mixture in a large nonstick skillet.

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.

Horizontal overhead image of a flour tortilla topped with a spiced sweet potato mixture and shredded yellow cheddar cheese, in a nonstick frying pan.

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.

Horizontal overhead image of a browned flour tortilla in a large nonstick skillet.

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.

Overhead horizontal image of a flour in a nonstick pan, with half of the surface covered with a shredded sweet potato mixture topped with shredded cheddar cheese.

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.

Horizontal overhead image of a plastic spatula pressing down a tortilla that has been folded in half, in a nonstick frying pan coated with a thin layer of oil.

Remove from the heat, and set the cooked quesadilla aside. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.

Horizontal overhead image of a flour tortilla stuffed with shredded sweet potato, folded in half and fried in a large nonstick frying pan until golden brown.

Slice each into fourths, or thirds if making half-sized quesadillas.

Horizontal overhead image of a homemade quesadilla that has been cut into quarters, on a white plastic cutting board with a knife and another folded quesadilla at the top right corner of the frame, on a white painted wood surface.

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!

Horizontal overhead image of a quesadilla on a white plate that has been cut into quarters and topped with dollops of guacamole and salsa, on a white surface with a glass dish of sauce, another filled tortilla that has been sliced and stacked, and three wedges of lime.

So, keep your eyes and immune system healthy with these other recipes featuring sweet potatoes:

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: October 4, 2019 at 14:07 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 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.

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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”

  1. 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!

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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!

  6. 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!

  7. 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!

  8. 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! : )

  9. 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…

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