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E2: Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili with Cornbread

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E2: Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili with Cornbread

Oct 12, 2023

Theresa faces skepticism from the crew about her black bean and sweet potato chili's taste compared to meat-based chilis. She offers baking tips for cornbread and debunks the myth that high-carb recipes are unhealthy.


      Serves: 4

      Time: 30 minutes

      Recipe Cost: $6.87

      Cost per serving: $1.72


      • 1 large yellow onion
      • 2 medium (or 1 large) sweet potatoes peeled and chopped to ½ inch cube
      • 3 cloves fresh garlic peeled, minced
      • 2 15-oz. cans black beans, rinsed and drained
      • chili spice blend (2 tbsp. chili powder and 2 tbsp. cumin)
      • ⅛ tsp. cayenne pepper, optional
      • 2 15-oz. cans diced tomatoes
      • 2 cups vegetable stock, add more for a desired consistency
      • 1 avocado
      • ¼ bunch fresh cilantro
      • salt
      • ground black pepper
      • 2 tbsp. olive oil


      1. Peel and coarsely chop the white onion. In a large sauce pot over medium heat, warm 2 tbsp. oil until hot but not smoking. Add the onion and sweet potatoes, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent and the potatoes are just tender, 5 to 7 minutes.
      2. While the onion and potatoes cook, prep the garlic and black beans. Finely chop, press, or grate garlic. Rinse the black beans.
      3. To the pot with the onion, stir in the garlic, chili spice blend, and as much cayenne pepper as you like and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the black beans, tomatoes, vegetable stock, and 1 cup water, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 30 minutes.
      4. While the chili simmers, cut the avocado in half. Remove the pit, scoop out the flesh, and cut the flesh into ¼-inch-thick slices. Coarsely chop the cilantro.
      5. Serve chili in bowls and garnish with avocado and cilantro.

      Nutrition Facts

      • Serving Size: 2 cups
      • Calories: 323
      • Carbohydrates: 55 g
      • Protein: 13 g
      • Total fat: 8 g
      • Cholesterol: 0 mg
      • Sodium: 573 mg
      • Saturated fat: 1 g
      • Fiber: 16 g
      • Sugar: 12 g
      Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili with Cornbread


      Serves: 9

      Recipe Cost: $2.61

      Cost per serving: $0.32


      • 1 cup cornmeal (fine ground is best)
      • 1 cup whole wheat flour
      • 4 tsp. baking powder
      • ½ tsp salt
      • 1egg
      • ¼ cup sugar
      • 1 ¼ cup milk
      • ⅓ cup canola oil


      1. Preheat the oven to 400˚F.
      2. Combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt to a medium bowl.
      3. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg. Add the milk and then the oil and whisk to mix in.
      4. Oil an 8 or 9-inch square baking pan or 12 muffin cups. Pour batter into pan and place the pan into the preheated oven.
      5. Bake for 20-25 min (12-15 minutes for muffins) until starting to turn lightly golden on top and cooked through. (Can test by inserting a toothpick into the center of the pan and if it's cooked it won't have batter on it).
      6. Cut into 9 pieces and serve cornbread while still warm.

      Nutrition Facts

      • Serving Size: 1 piece
      • Calories: 176
      • Total fat: 1.1 g
      • Cholesterol: 19 mg
      • Carbohydrates: 38 g
      • Fiber: 3 g
      • Protein: 4 g
      • Sodium: 150 mg
      Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili with Cornbread

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      Scot: So excited for the first recipe that we get to try today for the "4-Week Make Your Own Meals Challenge" with the U of U Health Cooking Crew. We asked you and you told us you wanted recipes that were easy, nutritious, and fast, and I think we've got one of those today. Really excited to introduce you to it.

      But before we get to our first recipe, how's the crew feeling about the first recipe of the challenge? Nayeli, where are you at?

      Nayeli: Honestly, I am so ready to cook, but more than anything, I think I'm really excited to eat. I'm not going to lie about that one.

      Scot: How about you, Jhonny? Where are you at?

      Jhonny: I'm cautiously optimistic.

      Scot: Oh, all right. We'll see if we can turn that around. Alex, how are you feeling?

      Alex: I'm super excited, a little bit nervous, and I'm really hungry right now, so I'm excited to talk about food.

      Scot: Okay. So that's the U of U Cooking Crew. Our recipe architect and nutrition expert is Theresa Dvorak. She's a Registered Dietician and the Director of Culinary Medicine in the University of Utah College of Health's Department of Nutrition and Integrative Physiology. How are you feeling, Theresa? Are you up to the challenge?

      Theresa: I am ready. Bring it on.

      Scot: I'm making some big promises for you.

      Theresa: I know.

      Scot: Easy, nutritious, fast. I can't wait to find out if you rose to the challenge. And we're also excited that you are part of the "Make Your Own Meals Challenge." Now, the purpose of this challenge is to help you get in the habit of making more meals at home while overcoming some of the common barriers, like lack of time, cooking skills, or just not enough good recipes.

      Some of you told us on our social media channels financial constraints were a concern when it comes to cooking at home. Varying tastes in your family, we heard a little bit about that from the crew. Dietary restrictions. And during all of this, we hope to learn a little bit more about what it means to eat healthy.

      We discussed a lot of those issues in our first episode. If you haven't listened, be sure to subscribe to the podcast at When you get there, just click the Take The Challenge button and you can subscribe to the podcast on the podcaster of your choice. And you'll also find this first recipe we're going to talk about today at Same website.

      So without further ado, Theresa, introduce the first recipe for the "4-Week Make More Meals at Home Challenge."

      Theresa: This week we are going to be making sweet potato and black bean chili.

      Scot: And there's a little side dish that you've given to us too.

      Theresa: I have, because what is chili without a solid cornbread next to it? So, yes, recipe number two is cornbread.

      Scot: All right. So we've got the sweet potato and black bean chili, and you said healthy cornbread.

      Theresa: Cornbread is cornbread. I think it's all healthy.

      Scot: All right. So is there a differentiation between regular cornbread and healthy cornbread, or are we just reminding people . . .

      Theresa: Yeah, so this recipe, the one alternate that maybe folks aren't familiar with, with their traditional cornbread recipe, is that it's made with half cornmeal, which is standard, but we're using half whole-wheat flour instead of the unbleached white flour. And so a little bit higher in fiber and protein and micronutrients there.

      Scot: Theresa, what was the inspiration for bringing us this as our first recipe? I mean, we talked a lot about our likes and dislikes in the last episode, kind of some of our own challenges to making our meals at home. How does this fit those things?

      Theresa: The challenge was looking at the variety of skillset that's coming to our virtual table here and finding a good place to build off of as well as start with success.

      I have some maybe more culinary-challenging recipes that we're going to hit later in the series. But when we are thinking about behavior change, we really want to set ourselves up for success, and I think soups are one of those great ways. It's really easy to hide our mistakes and they often really taste delicious.

      And they hit a lot of the markers that we were talking about last episode. So it's inexpensive. These are ingredients that you can find year-round, whether it's sweet potatoes, which are pretty much always in stock in a grocery store, and canned beans, and canned tomatoes. Certainly, we could use fresh if we wanted to, but these things are really staples.

      And when we're thinking about a time and not spending a lot of time and getting a lot of bang for our buck, soups are one of those . . . I like to call them kind of just one-pot meals or just dump-and-go kind of meals.

      There's not a ton of chopping in this particular recipe, but we're adding it to the soup. And then there are a lot of variations that can happen with this soup as well, kind of looking at individual tastes and preferences.

      The other reason why I picked this recipe is because it can have a lot of variations. Something we briefly touched on in the first episode was thinking about decreasing food waste and helping to keep the cost low of foods.

      Soups are a great way to use foods that might be kind of not looking so hot in the fridge. They're still fine, but maybe they look a little wilty or they look a little wrinkly or something of that sort.

      Soups are a great way that I can cut off half the potato, parts of it that may be wrinkly or what have you, and I can put the rest in a soup. Or a zucchini or I could put carrots in this soup. You could put some kale or spinach and increase the greens there.

      And so it's really great, also, for kind of making larger batches and doing maybe just a few minutes of extra work to do an extra onion and open a few more cans of beans and tomatoes and things of that sort. But then you're increasing that output exponentially, which is really fantastic. And it freezes really well.

      Scot: All right. Let's go to the crew here. First of all, you've had a chance to take a look at the recipe. One of the things that we want to tease out of this podcast is the ability to determine if it's healthy. So based on what you're seeing, does this look like a healthy recipe, and why? And we'll find out from Theresa where we're at.

      So Nayeli, why don't you go ahead and start? Do you think this looks healthy? Does this chili look good?

      Nayeli: As I looked at the ingredients, I will say it does. It does seem like a healthy meal. But I guess one of the things that I kind of question is why is there no meat in this dish. And maybe that's the answer there. Maybe adding meat might be a little bit unhealthy or something. But in my brain, if I think healthy meal, chili wouldn't be one of the first things that comes into my head.

      Scot: Okay. And why is that?

      Nayeli: Just because it seems like it's something that's . . . As I mentioned, usually there's a lot of meat in there. It's very . . . I can't think of . . .

      Scot: It just doesn't seem like . . . Maybe because it tastes so good, how could it possibly be healthy?

      Nayeli: Yeah, actually now that you mention that, it's kind of where my mind takes it to.

      Scot: All right. Theresa, what are your thoughts about that? The meat issue and then also the other issues that Nayeli brought up.

      Theresa: Typically, in a chili, the base is going to be ground beef. In this one, we're showing some alternatives to having a meat-free dish while still being really satisfying. That was something else that was talked about in the first episode, that satisfaction level, and so giving us some alternatives. Beans, the complex carbohydrates, and all of those combinations, and the spice profiles and things like that are really going to give us that savory kind of fulfillment that meat typically does play.

      And certainly, meat is going to have a lot more saturated fat than what this particular dish does. Certainly, it's going to bring in cholesterol and things of that sort as well that we might want to decrease.

      And when we think about a traditional chili, there's very little fiber, and this is quite a high-fiber dish with the black beans, the tomatoes, the sweet potatoes, and things of that sort.

      And certainly, meat can be okay as part of a meal. We want to think about it more as a garnish maybe, or as just a quarter of that plate versus half the plate like a traditional American-style diet, and bringing in more of those vegetables and legumes and things that we're doing here in the chili.

      But it's also sometimes the toppings, right? So I think chili or potatoes kind of get the bad rap. They become unhealthy a lot of times with the toppings that we put on them.

      So if I'm thinking about a standard kind of chili bar or if I'm at a restaurant and I order a bowl of chili, it's going to come with a ton of sour cream and cheddar cheese and maybe bacon bits or what have you on top, similar to what you might see on a baked potato or something like that. And it's really those added pieces that can either work for us or work against us when we're trying to either add certain things to our diet or take certain things away.

      Scot: Jhonny, as you're looking at this recipe, what do you think? Look pretty healthy?

      Jhonny: It's definitely healthier than anything I eat on the regular, that's for sure.

      Scot: Really? Okay.

      Jhonny: Yeah. So I'm the type of person who always has to have some type of meat on their plate. If somebody gives me a non-meat dish, I'm like, "Okay, this isn't a meal."

      Scot: "Where's the meat?"

      Jhonny: Yeah. So I'm actually very interested in trying this out, simply because it looks really good and I definitely want to try something and transition into less meaty meals.

      Theresa: And thank you for that, Jhonny, for keeping an open mind. It's a big behavior change. When we're used to having a lot of our plate be animal protein and fewer vegetables and legumes and things of that sort, it is a little bit of not only a palate shift but also a brain shift as well.

      Just allow yourself to really taste the flavors and be present with the meal, and then see, "What else could I add to this to increase that savoriness?" or, "Do I want a little bit more spice? Should I up the cayenne pepper in it? Do I want to add some toppings like avocado or something crunchy or something of that sort to heighten that kind of fulfillment or satisfaction level of the dish?"

      But I encourage you . . . and it sounds like you're coming to the table with an open mind, so just keep that open mind and you might find something that you enjoy. Or we need to modify it, and that's okay too.

      Scot: Jhonny, let me tell you, I'm the son of a cattle rancher. So if anybody asks, "Where's the meat?" it's me. And I married a vegetarian.

      But I've transitioned more to a plant-based diet. I've not eliminated meat entirely. And I've also seen the research that shows that a plant-based diet versus a meat-based diet is much healthier for you from a lot of standpoints. Not to mention it reduces your chance of cancer, it could reduce your chance of cardiovascular disease, that sort of thing.

      I learned as soon as I stopped trying to expect things without meat to taste like meat, and just appreciate the flavors that are there, like Theresa is recommending, the happier I was with vegetarian dishes.

      Nayeli: That's a really great way to put it.

      Scot: Alex, what do you think? Looking at this recipe, is this a healthy recipe? I mean, you've already been kind of given the answers, but maybe you're seeing something we're not.

      Alex: I mean, it definitely looks delicious. I obviously love beans and I love potatoes and I love bread. I think for me the only concern is it's a little carb-heavy for my usual meal. And so that would just be a concern if there's something I could substitute for it, or if maybe I am missing something. There is so much fiber, which is really amazing, and I know I don't get enough fiber each day.

      Scot: Well, you're not the only one. Ninety-five percent of Americans don't get enough fiber, believe it or not.

      Theresa: Right. When we think about carbohydrates and when we think about how we're digesting them, we have to think about as well, "What is coming along with that sugar?"

      So a carbohydrate in its simplest form is a sugar. And often what we find with a dish like this is the higher levels of protein and fiber as well as all of our micronutrients.

      And so it's not just the sugar, it's not just the white flour that often leaves us wanting more. So if I'm sitting down with a bowl of white pasta with a similar kind of nutritional amount of carbohydrates, that's going to leave me really wanting more and not satisfied compared to an equal amount of carbohydrates here with chili that's loaded with flavor, loaded with spices, as well as that protein and fiber.

      It's going to be much more satisfactory not only to my taste buds but to my stomach as well. And it's those protein, fat, and fibers connected to the carbohydrates that are also going to slow down the digestion of those carbohydrates, which will help to keep me fuller longer.

      And so when we're thinking about carbohydrates, it's not just looking at that total grams of carbohydrate, but what else is incorporated in that meal? I don't know if that helps at all, helps you ease that carbohydrate load.

      Alex: It definitely did, and I feel a lot better after you explained that. So thank you, Theresa. I appreciate that.

      Scot: Nayeli, what other questions do you have about the recipe before we hit the kitchen?

      Nayeli: I mean, just in general, I will say I was a little sad to not see cheese on the ingredients because I'm the cheese girl and I love cheese.

      Theresa: You can garnish. Just sprinkle. Don't dump.

      Nayeli: And just a little bit of sour cream maybe. I'll try it out, though, how it's listed and we'll see how it goes. I'm really excited. I'm looking forward to it.

      Scot: I mean, I think a little cheese and a little sour cream probably . . . Like Theresa said, sprinkle, don't dump.

      What about this? So I one time ran out of sour cream for my baked potato and I had some Greek yogurt in the refrigerator and I used that and I really couldn't tell the difference, believe it or not. And Greek yogurt has a lot more protein if you want a protein bump,

      Theresa: Yes, but I didn't want to go overboard healthy dietician here and talk about all my substitutes. So thank you, Scot, for doing my hard work for me. But yeah, Greek yogurt is often tangy and gives you kind of that same mouthfeel. It'll make the soup a little bit creamier as well, which is really nice.

      Scot: Alex, do you have any questions or anything as you're looking at the recipe you'd like to bring up?

      Alex: No questions, but I do think . . . I can't believe I'm saying this, but I've never really baked something before. So I'm a little . . . It doesn't look too difficult, which is great, but on the other hand, I've never done that before. So it's a first for me and I am nervous/excited.

      Nayeli: Also, I'm not used to using the oven a lot, so that's also something that I'm . . . This is something new for me.

      Theresa: I love that. So can I give a couple of baking tips?

      Alex: Yes, please.

      Nayeli: Please.

      Theresa: I have the recipe as a couple of different options. You can either make it in an 8-by-8 or a 9-by-9 square baking dish but don't feel limited with that. You could do it in a pie pan. If you had a cast iron ovenproof skillet, you could make it in that. A muffin tin would work just fine. So don't feel like you have to go out and buy a special baking pan for cornbread. It's really forgiving.

      Really, you just mix all of the wet ingredients in one bowl or container, then mix all the dry ingredients in another bowl or container, and then combine the two, put it in your pan, and put it in the oven.

      Everybody's oven works a little bit differently. So there's a range of time on the recipe for a reason, because some ovens run a little hotter, and some ovens run a little bit cooler. And so some might be done on the 20-minute mark versus the 22- or 25-minute mark.

      I always test a little bit in the center of that baked good with a toothpick or a butter knife or something like that. And it should slip in and out and exit cleanly. So you shouldn't have kind of gunk on it.

      If you find that it's browning too quickly, what we do is called "tent it." So you lay a piece of tinfoil over the top of it and let it finish baking. Then it won't brown or burn quite as much on the top.

      If you find that your toothpick is coming out and it's kind of gunky, it's not finished baking, but it's the nice golden brown that you're looking for, go ahead and put a piece of tin foil over the top and it'll continue to cook but not brown.

      Scot: Jhonny, any other thoughts or observations before we get cooking?

      Jhonny: In the recipe, it calls for minced garlic, and I know that can be really messy. Usually, if I don't want to go through the trouble, I'll go and buy the already minced garlic containers that you can get at the store. Theresa, are there any downsides or anything to keep in mind about using the already minced garlic versus mincing your own?

      Theresa: I would say because this is a four-recipe challenge, that's okay for right now. But what I want at some point in time, Jhonny, is I want you to try mincing your own garlic. I promise you that it's going to show up in more than just this meal, and kind of taste the difference.

      But that's perfectly okay. I think that's a great place to start. If you feel really intimidated by the garlic, go for it on this first round, and then as you're kind of warming up in the kitchen, we can practice those skills later.

      Scot: All right. We're just about there. I want to check in with everybody on one last thing, though. So what is the game plan for making this meal? I find if I don't come up with a game plan, when I'm going to go shopping, when I'm going to make it, it doesn't get made.

      So first of all, do you have all the ingredients? When are you going to the store? When are you making it? Let's start with Nayeli.

      Nayeli: So I think for the most part I do have most of the ingredients, but for sure I have to run to the grocery store. But I'm planning to make this early in the week. As I mentioned before, I have a whole schedule with my roommates, so I am on the list early in the week. Yeah, I promise I will make this recipe and I will let you guys know how it goes.

      Scot: All right. How about you, Jhonny? What's your game plan for getting this thing together?

      Jhonny: Well, I usually cook for my roommates on the weekends, so this is going to be pretty easy and simple. And they're either going to like it or they're going to like it.

      Scot: That's right, because the best food is food somebody else made for you.

      Alex, what's your game plan?

      Alex: Yeah, this sounds like football Sunday chili to me. So I'm going to go on Sunday. I will have to go to the store to get some ingredients, so I'll bring my kiddo with me and hopefully, we can get this cooked up and ready to watch some football.

      Scot: All right. And I plan on going to the grocery store actually probably tonight. I'm going to make it tomorrow night because I'm going to be out of town over the weekend and I want to be able to report back as well. So I had to actually plan that out.

      And I think that's where some people can stumble, is you don't have the ingredients, and then you're like, "But I don't want to go to the store." And then what are you doing? You're not cooking at home again.

      All right, crew. It's time to get cooking. Go make that recipe. Share it with your family and friends. We're going to talk about how it was, and how it went in the next episode.

      And we also hope that you, the listener, will take the "4-Week Make Your Own Meals Challenge." Just go to and click Take The Challenge. That'll subscribe you to the podcast. And then if you scroll down, you're going to see this week's recipe. Make it, and then be sure to post your pictures and tell us about what you thought. How did it taste? What challenges did you face?

      Share your insights, your setbacks, and your successes on our social media channels. You can find us at Instagram is @UofUHealth. And you can also send us an email if you want to really tell us what you think at

      The Cooking Crew will return next week with our take on this week's recipe and also an introduction of recipe number two.

      Thanks for joining us and taking the "4-Week Make Your Own Meals Challenge."