Time, and food moves on


Entertaining: Burrito entree suggests the new thinking about meals


I've been writing this column more than 20 years, and during that period I've seen many changes in how we cook and entertain.

In the early days of my culinary career, everyone had more time to spend in the kitchen. I remember allotting three days to make a French cassoulet for a main course.

Until the '80s, we didn't know much about fat grams and ate with abandon foods loaded with cream, eggs, butter or oil; today, there is much more determination to keep good health in mind when cooking. And, in the past, I pulled out my silver, china and crystal every time I entertained, but now I save them for special occasions and tend to set my table more casually the rest of the year.

When I began to plan my first dinner party for this new year, I realized that it was representative of this new time. The simple menu will not take long to prepare. There will be a bowl of fresh salsa with chips for appetizers, followed by sweet potato and black bean burritos served with lime-scented sour cream and a salad. (The sweet potatoes and beans are definitely ingredients with healthy benefits.)

Store-bought sorbet offered with homemade chocolate squares will end the meal. Instead of using our formal dining room, I'm going to set the table in our kitchen with earthenware dishes and serve the meal straight from the island in the center of that room.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burritos

Serves 4

1 pound (about 2 medium) sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

olive oil for drizzling

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed well, drained and patted dry

1 cup diced and seeded cherry or plum tomatoes

1/2 cup chopped sweet red onion

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon plus 4 teaspoons lime juice

1/4 cup plus 4 teaspoons chopped cilantro

8 (8-inch) flour tortillas

1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

1 cup sour cream

2 teaspoons grated lime peel

Place sweet potatoes on foil-lined baking sheet and drizzle generously with olive oil. Roast in oven on center rack at 500 degrees until just tender when pierced with knife, about 8 minutes. Watch carefully. Remove and place in large nonreactive mixing bowl. Cool 5 minutes.

Add black beans, tomatoes, onions, cumin, salt and cayenne. Stir well to mix. Add 1 tablespoon lime juice and 1/4 cup cilantro and stir again. Taste and if needed season with more salt. (Filling can be prepared 3 to 4 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate and bring to room temperature 30 minutes before using.)

When ready to serve, soften tortillas either in traditional oven or in microwave. For regular oven, stack 4 tortillas and wrap well in aluminum foil. Repeat with remaining tortillas. To soften, warm in oven at 350 degrees on center rack 10 to 15 minutes.

For microwave, work with 2 to 3 tortillas at a time. Place tortillas between dampened paper towels and heat on medium (50 percent power) about 20 seconds.

Place 1 softened tortilla on work surface and spread 1/2 cup filling along strip in middle, leaving 1 1/2-inch margin along bottom edge. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons cheese over filling. Fold in sides of each burrito and roll tightly into cylinder. Place in baking pan and repeat to make 7 more burritos.

Cover baking pan with foil. Bake at 350 degrees about 5 minutes until heated through. While burritos are in oven, place sour cream in small serving bowl and stir in lime peel, remaining 4 teaspoons lime juice and remaining 4 teaspoons cilantro.

To serve, remove burritos from pan. When cool enough to handle, slice each in half on the diagonal. Arrange on heated serving platter with bowl of sour cream.

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