Sweet Potato, Black Bean and Chicken Casserole With Avocado Crema

Paul and I don’t have kids (two needy, elderly cats aside), so I always surprise myself when I come up with a decidedly family-friendly recipe. Not on purpose, mind you, because, well, I don’t need to worry about finicky palates (outside of our aforementioned cats). Truth be told, it wasn’t until I posted a photo of the dish on social media and received several requests from moms for the recipe that it became clear that I may have stumbled into a dish that moms, dads, and kids could get behind.

See that…it’s not all fancy vegetarian and gourmet romantic dinners around here after all.

You. Have. No. Idea.

Truth be told that, although I go all Master Chef in my kitchen every now and then, most of the time the recipes I come up with are pretty accessible…dare I say, bourgeois. And, of course, always lean toward the healthy side of cooking and eating. I have a penchant for burgers, casseroles, and healthy takes on takeout — all very accessible, easy and (mostly) quick to whip up. This recipe is a great example of what can happen when you rummage through cupboards and the fridge to throw something together for dinner. Case in point, a random can of yams Paul accidentally picked up instead of sweet potato puree. This giant can of yams sat in cupboard for months before I finally decided that it was time to pull it out of the darkness. It sat on the kitchen counter for a few days, daring me to just do the obvious thing and make a yam version of sweet potato pie. Simply not an option. As a former chubby girl, I make a point of not baking dessert unless it’s going to be shared. Seriously, after all these years of keeping the weight off, I’ve learned what my food landmines are. For me there isn’t a baked good I’ve met that I didn’t want to shove into my face. Cake is my weakness and brownies my Kryptonite. Sorry yams in a can….you will not be pie in this house.

After spending some time pondering the possibilities of (and purpose for) yams in a can, I had a moment of clarity inspired by one of my favorite local restaurants. My go-to menu item at this restaurant is the ultimate Latin-influenced comfort food; heaps of black beans, tender, spicy shredded chicken, rice and plantains. I dug through the veggie drawer and produced some peppers, zucchini and onion. I had some left over chicken that had been destined for sandwiches and grabbed some shredded cheese. A quick stop by the spice drawer provided additional inspiration.

Casseroles are the quintessential weeknight dinner. One of the things I love most about whipping up a casserole is the endless possibilities that arise out of a sense of adventure…and maybe a bit of dinner time desperation. Just the other night I concocted a kale, mushroom, rice and cheese casserole that proved to be a big hit. While it appeared as though I’d planned the meal all week, the reality was I just didn’t feel like coking a meal that involved more than one pan and one baking dish. I feel like casseroles are the culinary award for sheer laziness.

This one is inspired by Latin flavors and takes advantage of leftovers and staples that are easy to keep in the pantry. While your kids may not always play together nicely, the subtle heat of the chili powder and earthy smokiness of the cumin with the sweet potato does. The subtle simplicity of the other ingredients make the whole dish come together harmoniously. It’s filling, healthy and hearty–perfect for a cold winters night. I think the kids will love this one….let me know, won’t you?

Sweet Potato, Black Bean and Chicken Casserole With Avocado Crema

servings: 4-6 | time: about 1 hour


1 pound sweet potato, mashed (or make this recipe even quicker by using 1 can sweet potato puree). Note: if you use canned yams (as I did), you’ll end up with a slightly sweeter dish–though it will be nicely balanced by the addition of the chili powder and cumin)

1 TBSP. chili powder

1 tsp. cumin

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1 14-ounce can black beans, rinsed

2 cups chopped or shredded skinless chicken

1 cup chopped zucchini

1 small red bell pepper, chopped

3/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar or monterey jack cheese (or a blend)

1 ripe avocado

6 ounces plain low-fat yogurt (NOT Greek), or use sour cream

1 handful cilantro

pinch of salt

pinch of black pepper

juice of 1 lime

3 scallions, chopped


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a (roughly) 10 x 7 x 2 baking dish with non-stick spray. Set aside

  1. Place the mashed or pureed sweet potato in a bowl. Add the chili powder, cumin, and garlic powder and stir to combine
  2. Spread the sweet potato in an even layer in the bottom of the baking dish
  3. Layer the rinsed black beans over the sweet potato
  4. Layer the chicken over the black beans
  5. Toss the chopped zucchini and bell pepper, 3/4 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp, black pepper together in a bowl. Layer over the chicken
  6. Sprinkle the cheese over top and cover dish loosely with aluminum foil. Place in oven and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional 10 minutes
  7. Meanwhile, make the avocado crema by placing the avocado, yogurt (or sour cream), cilantro, salt, pepper, and lime juice in a high-power blender or food processor. Blend on medium to get all of the ingredients chopped then turn to high to puree
  8. Garnish the cooked casserole with chopped scallions. To serve, place a generous dollop of the avocado crema on each portion