Veggin’ Out

Merry Christmas Eve! I hope you all are having a wonderful Christm­astime with friends and family — going to parties, spending time with the kids, going to Christmas craft shows, visiting Santa Claus, driving around to see all the beautiful Christmas lights and decorations – or just hopefully enjoying a few days off from school and work. However you’re celebrating the holidays this year — even if you’re one who prefers to not celebrate — I hope you all are enjoying yourself this holiday season!

Those of you who have been following my column over the years know very well that this is my favorite time of the year. I am a Christmas nut! But with a 1-year-old, it’s a little harder to get the things done that I normally do this time of the year. I just can’t wait until my daughter gets a little older and really starts to understand Christmastime and hopefully shares my love of the season!

And of course, the new year also is upon us! I won’t be attending any New Year’s Eve parties myself this year, but for those of you who will be, it’s always nice to bring something with you! Or maybe you’re throwing the shindig at your own home? Most New Year’s Eve parties consist of finger foods or appetizers as opposed to a full meal, so I have a nice appetizer for you to try out. They take a bit of time to make, but they will be worth it. A vegetarian take on potato skins that also can be adapted to be vegan-friendly, too.

Sweet potato skins

3 large sweet potatoes

14 ounces can of black beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup yellow corn

1/2 cup chopped peppers, green and red

1 red onion, small, finely chopped

2-3 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons chopped scallion, more to garnish

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1/2 cup salsa (you can use canned or make your own fresh)

2/3 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, or non-dairy cheese

1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

Olive oil, to drizzle

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place sweet potatoes on a baking tray. Prick them all over with a fork and put in the oven for 40-50 minutes.

While the sweet potatoes are in the oven, prepare the filling. Heat vegetable oil in a pan on medium heat.

Once the oil is hot, add minced garlic and chopped onion to the pan. Saute around 2-3 minutes.

Add the beans, sweet corn and peppers to the pan. Mix and cook for a minute.

Add chopped scallion and cilantro, add salt, cayenne pepper and cook another minute or so. Remove from heat and set aside.

Once the sweet potatoes are done, allow them to cool a little and then slice them in half lengthwise.

Scoop out the flesh of the potatoes, but remember to leave a thin layer inside so the skins can stand on their own.

Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Drizzle the skins with olive oil and place back in the oven for 10 minutes so that they crisp up.

Meanwhile, prepare the stuffing. Transfer the sweet potato flesh to a bowl and mash it well.

Add the prepared veggie mixture and mix until well combined. Add salsa to the mixture and mix.

Take the skins out of the oven and fill them with the veggie mixture.

Top with shredded mozzarella cheese, or non-dairy cheese, and put back on the tray in the oven until the cheese melts, around 10-15 minutes at 375 degrees.

Garnish with chopped scallion and serve.

This recipe feeds four, but you can modify it, depending on how many people you will be feeding. Or you can cut the skins in half or in quarters, depending on how big they are, to make bite-sized appetizers. You also can prepare them to the point of adding the cheese, and ask your host to have the oven heated when you get there to finish heating them at the party destination so they are nice and warm when they are served.

I hope you enjoy this recipe and have a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Stellfox is a Sun-Gazette correspondent who enjoys vegetarian and vegan food and cooking.

Her award-winning column is published on the fourth Sunday of every month in the Lifestyle section.

She can be reached at the Lifestyle Department email at life@sungazette.com.