Fish tacos with black beans and roasted sweet potatoes

Living in Colorado really can be as magical as it sounds.  Right now, the fall colors are in full swing, the mountain ranges are capped with fresh snow, the mornings are wrap-in-a-blanket-with-a-cup-of-coffee cold, and the days are pleasantly crisp.  We just returned from a weekend on the Western Slope experiencing all of this wonderful fall weather.  We were able to visit the outdoor hot springs in Ouray, have lunch in Telluride, hike up to Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon, and enjoy some time away from Denver.  Before you get too jealous, know that this isn't necessarily typical weekend behavior - we spend many of Mike's days off just lounging around our apartment, running errands, and renting movies - but some weekends are really special around here, and the magic of fall in the mountains is too awesome to pass up when you're a short drive away.

However, I know that Mike was not feeling grateful for the fall weather we were previously loving when he had to ride his motorcycle 5 hours back to Denver in temperatures as low as 25 degrees (meanwhile, I was driving our warm Subaru with the seat heaters on).  By the time we got to Dillon, he was chilled to the bone and practically frozen to his seat, so we decided to grab a hotel room for the night and continue our drive in the heat of the following afternoon.  It's all part of the fun, and we got to extend our weekend by a day, thanks to Mike's suffering.

These fish tacos are a simple weeknight winner.  The hint of sweetness from the sweet potatoes pairs beautifully with the mild-flavored tilapia and the bold, spiced-up rice.  The 10 grams of fiber and 30 grams of protein per taco makes this a filling and healthy meal.
What's so sweet about sweet potatoes?  Loads of vitamin A!  Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning it needs to join up with fat to be absorbed into our bodies, and it makes itself at home in our fat cells once it has made its way in.  There are two main types of vitamin A in our food: retinol or preformed vitamin A (found in animal products such as liver, dairy, and fish) and provitamin A carotenoids (found in orange-colored fruits and vegetables, leafy greens, and broccoli).  Once absorbed, carotenoids are converted to vitamin A in the body for use.

Use for what, you ask?  Optimal vision, healthy reproduction, proper growth, and immune function, to name a few.  The brightly colored pigments in sweet potatoes contain anthocyanin, an antioxidant compound that helps to reduce inflammation and fight cancer-causing free radicals.  Sweet potatoes can also help to regulate blood sugar.  Never thought a starchy root vegetable would help blood sugar?  They can when they pack 7 grams of fiber per cup and a very reasonable glycemic index!

Fat-soluble vitamins tend to stick around in our bodies longer than water-soluble vitamins, making it easier to overdose, but there is only a real danger of vitamin A overload if you are eating large amounts of preformed vitamin A from animal products.  Remember that carotenoids must be converted to active vitamin A, and our bodies are able to sense when we've had enough and simply stop the conversion process.  Pretty sweet, huh?

With cooler weather and Thanksgiving rolling around soon, sweet potatoes are making more of an appearance in grocery stores.  But don't limit their use to that Thanksgiving casserole - sweet potatoes are very versatile, and they're great baked, steamed, or roasted.  Roasting (a personal favorite of mind) brings out more of the natural sugars and emphasizes its innate sweetness.  Sprinkle with a bit of cinnamon, and you've got yourself a tasty treat.
Fish tacos with black beans and roasted sweet potatoes
Serves 4

1 large sweet potato, roughly peeled and cut into a small dice (1/4 inch cubes)
Olive oil
3 5-ounce tilapia fillets (or fish of choice, preferably something neutral and meaty)
Canola oil (or other high-heat oil)
Chili powder
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
4 large whole-wheat tortillas
Salsa, lettuce and Greek yogurt for topping
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. 
  2. Place the sweet potato cubes on a sheet pan and toss with enough olive oil to lightly coat.  Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper.  Spread in an even layer on the pan and roast in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, stirring once halfway through. 
  3. Pat the fish dry and season both sides with salt, pepper, and chili powder.  Heat a grill pan on the stove over medium heat and brush with a bit of canola oil.  Place the tilapia fillets on the hot pan and cook for 6 minutes per side or until the fish flakes apart easily.
  4. As the fish finish cooking, brush the tortillas with a bit of oil and heat them through on the grill pan, about 30 seconds per side. 
  5. Flake the fish apart.  Distribute the fish, roasted sweet potato, black beans, and desired toppings between the tortillas and serve with easy Spanish rice (recipe below).  This would also be delicious with caramelized onions - you could easily throw some big slices of onion in with the sweet potato while it roasts.

Easy Spanish rice
Serves 4

1 quart water
1 cup dry brown rice
1/2 cup salsa of choice
  1. Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan.  Add the rice and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.  Stir occasionally.
  2. Drain the rice in a colander, return to the saucepan with the salsa, and stir.  Put a tight-fitting lid on the pan and let it sit for 10 minutes.  The rice will absorb the excess liquid giving a lighter, fluffier result. 

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