Recipe: Sweet Potato Quinoa Bowls with Crispy Chickpeas and Chopped Pesto

updated Feb 5, 2020
Sweet Potato Quinoa Bowls with Crispy Chickpeas and Chopped Pesto

A satisfying plant-based quinoa bowl packed with roasted sweet potato, kale, and crispy chickpeas.

Serves4 to 6

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(Image credit: Shelly Westerhausen)

Whether you eat plant-based full-time or want to go meat-free once a week, Tonight We Veg will bring you the feel-good vegetarian meals you crave. Twice a month, in addition to our existing lineup of great veggie recipes, we’ll share easy weeknight recipes that prove how diverse produce-forward food can be, each packed with smart tips we’ve picked up over the years. Cook along with us, and share your creations using #tonightweveg.

Fun fact: My twin sister and I used to run a plant-based food blog. We started it right after college, when I lived in Birmingham and she lived in Cincinnati, as a way to share (mostly with one another) what new and tasty things we were cooking. It fizzled when we both moved to NYC (after all, we now cook almost all our meals together), but there’s one recipe that people continue to go back for: an Israeli couscous salad with broccoli, chickpeas, and pesto, adapted from The Love and Lemons Cookbook.

It’s not hard to understand why: It’s packed with flavor and texture, it’s meatless (but doesn’t leave you hungry), and it’s super easy to make. This quinoa bowl is inspired by that dish, but checks even more boxes for a satisfying vegetarian main. I swapped the pasta for gluten-free, protein-packed quinoa, replaced the broccoli (which, let’s be honest, can get a little smelly in a lunch box) with caramelized sweet potato, and added a hefty serving of nutrient-dense kale. What didn’t change? The crispy, salty chickpeas and brilliant chopped pesto.

(Image credit: Shelly Westerhausen)

If You’re Roasting Veggies, Toss in Some Chickpeas, Too

Pretty much anytime I’m roasting veggies, I toss a can of chickpeas on the sheet tray, too. They get delightfully toasty in the oven (but remain soft and creamy on the inside), adding protein and crunch to whatever I add them to.

For the crispiest texture, you’ll want to drain and rinse a can of chickpeas, then pat them very dry with paper towels or a clean dish towel. Drizzle with oil (about 1 tablespoon per can), season with salt and pepper (or any variety of dried spices), and pop ’em in the oven. They work especially well next to chunks of sweet potato, which take the same time to cook and also thrive in high heat.

Memorize This Formula for Goes-with-Anything Chopped Pesto

Chopped pesto, as its name implies, is made entirely by hand, so it’s great for anyone without a food processor (or anyone who doesn’t feel like pulling theirs out). You’ll start by roughly chopping 1/4 cup tender herbs or greens, 1/4 cup toasted nuts or seeds, and 1 small garlic clove on your cutting board.

Scoop all that up on the side of your knife, slide it into a bowl, and stir in 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon lemon zest. It’s everything you love about pesto, but easier to make and totally versatile. It’s also vegan. Here, we’ll stir it into grains, but you can also spoon it over eggs, smear it on a pita, or stir it into yogurt for a dipping sauce. Have fun trying new combinations (think: basil-almond, basil-walnut, mint-pistachio, cilantro-pepita, or scallion-peanut).

How to Assemble the Quinoa Bowl of Your Dreams

The base of this bowl is quinoa (but you can use whatever grain you please), which I like to cook in vegetable broth for added flavor. You’ll then stir the pesto, olives, and feta directly into the quinoa (at this point, you could serve as-is as a delicious side dish). I love the rich, buttery flavor of Castelvetrano olives, but you can use any olive, or even capers. The feta — which you can omit for a vegan bowl — begins to soften and warm when stirred into the just-cooked quinoa.

To make the bowls, top the quinoa with the sweet potatoes — which will be caramelized on the outside and super creamy on the inside — and crispy chickpeas. Then stir in the kale, which will quickly soak in the flavors of the bowl. To coat it even more, squeeze in a lemon wedge before diving in.

How to get ahead: You can clean and chop the kale, cook the grain, and toss it with the pesto ahead of time (if you’re short on time, start with store-bought pesto). Then, day-of, all you’ll have to do is roast the sweet potatoes and chickpeas. Roasted chickpeas are the crunchiest the night you make them, but are still perfectly tasty the next day.

Sweet Potato Quinoa Bowls with Crispy Chickpeas and Chopped Pesto

A satisfying plant-based quinoa bowl packed with roasted sweet potato, kale, and crispy chickpeas.

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info


For the bowls:

  • 2 tablespoons

    plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided

  • 1 cup

    quinoa, rinsed

  • 1 3/4 cups

    water or low-sodium vegetable broth

  • Kosher salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 2

    sweet potatoes (about 1 pound total), quartered lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 2-inch pieces

  • 1 (15.5-ounce) can

    chickpeas, drained, rinsed, and thoroughly patted dry

  • 1/2 cup

    pitted castelvetrano olives, coarsely chopped

  • 2 ounces

    feta cheese (1/2 cup), crumbled (optional)

  • 1

    bunch lacinato kale, thick stems removed and leaves thinly sliced

For the pesto:

  • 1/4 cup

    tightly packed fresh basil leaves (or tender herb of your choice)

  • 1/4 cup

    roasted, unsalted almonds (or nut of your choice)

  • 1

    small clove garlic

  • 2 tablespoons

    olive oil

  • 1 teaspoon

    finely grated lemon zest

  • 1 tablespoon

    freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus wedges for serving

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper


Cook the quinoa and roast the vegetables:

  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 450°F. Heat 1 teaspoon of the oil in a small saucepan over medium-high until shimmering. Add the quinoa and cook, stirring, until any water has evaporated and quinoa is toasted, about 2 minutes. Stir in the water or broth and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to the lowest setting. Cover and cook for 15 minutes.

  2. Meanwhile, place the sweet potatoes and chickpeas side-by-side on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, season with 1 teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper, and toss to coat. Roast, flipping the sweet potatoes halfway through, until the sweet potatoes are crispy on the outside and tender on the inside and chickpeas are browned in spots, 18 to 20 minutes total.

  3. When the quinoa is ready, remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Uncover and fluff with a fork.

Make the pesto:

  1. Finely chop the basil, almonds, and garlic; transfer to a small bowl. Add the oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, and several grinds pepper, and stir to combine.

Assemble the bowls:

  1. Stir the pesto into the cooked quinoa. Stir in the olives and feta. Divide mixture between 4 to 6 shallow bowls. Top with the sweet potatoes, chickpeas, and kale. Serve with lemon wedges.

Recipe Notes

Storage: The bowls can be refrigerated up to 4 days.