Sweet potato and lentil empanadas with a sofrito-avocado sauce

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This week, Sophie from Vergingonvegan and I teamed up for a mystery ingredient challenge. We each asked our audience to recommend 4-5 ingredients that they’d like us to use, and we’ll come up with two separate vegan recipes. And I’ll tell you right now, it was actually a lot more challenging than I thought it would be.

The ingredients that were chosen, were: chickpea flour, almond meal, nutritional yeast, and lentils.

Sounds simple enough, but trying to think a little bit out of the box, and fighting off that urge that you have to just go for the recipes that are tried and tested is harder than you would think.

Finally, I settled on a recipe that I hope would do my Puerto Rican family proud. Empanadillas also known as empanadas. Which literally translates to wrapped stuffing in bread or dough. It’s a dish that almost every Latin-American country has a variation of, and Puerto Rico is no different.

It’s a dish I grew up helping my mother and grandmother cook, and a dish I loved to eat. Traditionally, it’s made either with a meat and onion filling, or stuffed with a potato mixture and deep fried in oil. I decided to find a way to utilize the ingredients given to me, but also make it a little cleaner.

And because in my house, empanadas are usually always eaten with Tobasco sauce, I decided to make a spicy version of my mother’s sofrito. Sofrito is basically the base flavor that’s used in all Puerto Rico dishes. I have distinct memories of my mother in the kitchen, whipping up a quick batch of her sofrito–a medley of green peppers, cilantro, lemon, onions, and garlic blitzed up to make a paste. Then, when you’re cooking (literally anything), you add some oil to the pan, cook off some sofrito till the house smells like heaven, and then add whatever it is you’re cooking.

So here’s how I made it:

The dough:

  • 1 cup of chickpea flour
  • 1 cup of all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup of melted coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup of nut milk/water
  • A pinch of sea salt


The filling:

  • 2 medium-sized sweet potatoes
  • 1 cup of red lentils
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • Cilantro sprigs
  • 1 spring onion
  • 3 tablespoons of smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon of sweet paprika
  • 1/4 cup of nutritional yeast (this is totally optional)
  • 1/4 cup of almond meal
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Chopped yellow bell pepper (half a bell pepper)

The sauce:

  • 1 spring onion
  • Cilantro sprigs
  • Half a green bell pepper
  • The juice of 1 lime/lemon
  • 2 teaspoons of tahini sauce
  • Half an avocado
  • 1/2 clove of garlic
  • 2 teaspoons of water


Here’s how to make it:

  • Start by making the dough. Mix all the dough ingredients together and knead until it becomes well incorporated and a tacky to the tough (not too dry or too wet). If you feel the mixture is still too dry, add more milk or water (A LITTE BIT AT A TIME). Then, cover with beeswax paper/cling film and set aside at room temperature and start with the filling.
  • For the filling, I started off by peeling the sweet potatoes, dicing them relatively small, and boiling them in water until they were soft enough to mash with a fork.
  • In a separate pot, I boiled the red lentils until they too were tender enough to mash up.
  • In a large bowl, I added the sweet potatoes, lentils, almond meal, sea salt, nutritional yeast, and paprika and mashed the mixture with the back of my fork until they became a nice, smooth mixture.
  • Then, in a pan, I fried the garlic, cilantro, and onion and added them to the filling mixture.
  • Set the filling aside and let it cool off a bit, while you work on the dough again.
  • Set your oven to 200C and allow it to preheat while you make the dough.
  • On a clean surface, roll out the dough as thin and uniform as possible — always making sure to flour the surface and your rolling pin so that it doesn’t stick.
  • Then, with a small plate, place the plate on your dough and cut a circle around it, saving all the scraps.
  • Grab all the scraps left, knead them a bit again and roll them out to make another empanada.
  • Put about 3 large spoons of the filling inside the circle of dough, fold to one side and shut using the back of a fork.
  • Place the empanada on a baking sheet, brush with coconut oil and bake for 20-25 minutes, until they get nice and golden brown.
  • While the empanadas are baking, it’s time to make the sauce.
  • In a container, add all the sauce ingredients and using a hand blender, blitz them all together till nice and creamy.
  • Allow the empanadas to cool a bit before you eat them, and dust some paprika on top.

The recipe sure does sound more complicated than it actually is. And it sure did take me a lot of trial and error to get the dough right. But it’s worth it to be able to see a plant-based, cleaner version of one of your childhood favorite flavors.

I hope I’ve made my abuela proud with this one!

Since you’re here, why not follow me on Instagram Straight-up Bananas


Straight-up Bananas and Tajawal #TajawalTheWorld


This trip, I partnered up with tajawal for their #tajawalTheWorld campaign ! I’m super excited to have had the opportunity to team up with them for my trip to Puerto Rico and California.

tajawal is the first completely catered to the region travel app. In both English and Arabic, prepare yourself to #tajawalTheWorld with exclusive travel discounts and deals!

To kick off our partnership, I’ll be dedicating two posts to cover my travel itinerary. All my recommendations and tips will be included in detail and some super cool vouchers are in the pipeline, you’ll just need to stay tuned!


It’s that time again. The travel-withdrawal time. People keep rolling their eyes at me, seeing as I just got back from a 3-week trip–but that just means the blues is hitting me harder than ever! Give me a break!

This particular trip was like no other. Well, first of all, it’s easily the longest vacation of my adult life ever. Second of all, it was so multi-layered that at times, the anticipation made me super anxious. That and the fact that my family were finally going to get to meet my husband after almost three years of marriage.

We started in Chicago for a week, then took a flight to Puerto Rico for a week, then boarded another plane to California and drove from Los Angeles to Carmel Valley and finally San Fransisco–sheesh, I’m tired just thinking of it again.

At the moment, my life consists of running my start-up and running my blog full time. The two together is enough to turn my hair gray–now add a trip that needs to be carefully planned to the mix, and you’ve got yourself a good old-fashioned heart attack at the wee age of 26! I needed all the help I could possibly get! I mean, we’re on a budget and there’s 4 flights to book, 3 cars to rent and 5 hotels to book. Voila. Instant cardiac arrest.

Lucky for me, I was able to book all the flights I needed, at the times I needed, at the airports I needed and within budget using the tawajal app.

So if you’re interested in how I was able to pull off this crazy trip, go on and scroll right on down, partner!


Day 1 – Day 7

Aah…the windy city. There’s not really much to tell here as my primary goal was to hang out with my aunts, uncles, and cousins. I was born in Chicago and have kind of gotten over the touristy stuff. It’s a beautiful city, with a lot to offer, but my main focus was hanging out with la familia. However, if Chicago is part of your States’ itinerary, I’d really recommend using websites such as ChicagoGreeter where you can get a local to give you a tour based on your interests, free of charge!

Another useful website would be Groupon Chicago–you can get cheap tickets to different shows and activities. ChooseChicago is also another excellent tool to use when traveling to Chicago. It compiles all the best sights to see, free museum days and full itineraries for any kind of traveler! Unfortunately for me, I didn’t have enough time to explore all the art galleries, foodie events or museums I would have liked to,  but Chicago really is a budget raveler’s heaven and I will be back soon, I promise!

Day 7

Then it was wake up, grab a brush and put a little makeup, head on down to the airport again and off to Puerto Rico!

For those of you who don’t know. I am proudly Palestinian and Puerto Rican–strange mix, I know, and I absolutely love it!

We landed in the capital of Puerto Rico, San Juan first and decided to spend the night there and do a little Viejo San Juan exploring. Puerto Rico used to be a colony of Spain and a lot of their influence and ruins can still be found in San Juan. With cobble-stoned roads and old fortresses, parks and cemeteries, colorfully painted houses and city overlooking the ocean you could really feel the beauty of this Carribean island.

If you find yourself in Old San Juan, exploring El Morro, Paseo De La Princesa and Bosque De Las Palomas (the Pigeon Park) are absolute musts! Maybe get yourself a helping of seafood mofongo and a pina colada to combat the sometimes sweltering afternoon sun.


We spent our first night in San Juan at a quaint Carribean-themed inn called Tres Palmas overlooking Punta Las Marias beach. It was reasonably priced, cute and clean but a little far off from the Old Town–about 15-minutes by bus or car, but overall a lovely stay!

Day 8

And so we set off for our journey to Adjuntas. Sadly, Puerto Rico lacks good means of public transportation and so renting a car is absolutely essential to get around. Otherwise, you’ll end up wasting your entire budget on taxis–and to be honest, I don’t even know that taxis will take you from one city to the next. We used Enterprise car rentals in Condado Plaza (15 minutes from Tres Palmas Inn) and the staff were so ridiculously helpful, I couldn’t recommend them more! The drive to Adjuntas is absolutely beautiful. It’ll be over before you even realize it began!

My grandparents also hadn’t met Muhannad (the hubster) and it was just one big family reunion! There were tears, hugs and lots and lots of laughter–mainly because abuelo is a massive jokster and listening to the way him and my grandmother poke fun at each other and push each other’s buttons after 50 years of marriage is hilarious.

On the left is a picture of grandpa and I on the rooftop of his house, admiring the view of the beautiful rainforests of Adjuntas and on the right is a picture of my grandparent’s porch with the sunshine peeking through the coconut and banana trees–absolute heaven!

Every day was a feast, with my beautiful grandmother cooking up a storm every chance that she got. She’d wake up early in the morning to pick fresh papaya, coconuts, bananas and oranges from her backyard garden and make us fresh juices and milkshakes.

Day 9

Family meetings over, it was time to show Mohanned why my  Carribean island is beautiful–it was time to knock his socks off!

We got into our rental and drove towards Toro Verde–home of the highest and longest zipline in the world! If you squint closely, you can see the zipline rope that descends right from the lush green mountains into the national rainforest of Orocovis.


This zipline is a little different than anything I’ve ever seen. You’re strapped into the harness laying down on your stomach and are thrown down–SuperMan style. It’s enough to make your stomach clench, but what a view!  Although a tad pricey, the views make it worthwhile.

After we were done, it was time to embark on the 3 hour drive back to Adjuntas (It’s only 40 minutes away if you’re coming from San Juan). And of course, no Puerto Rican roadtrip would be complete without a stop at one of the many pincho stands on the road. What’s pinchos, you ask? Well, it’s your typical barbecued chicken, a la Puerto Rico. It’s served on a stick slathered in sauce and topped with some fresh bread from one the many local panaderías (bakeries). It may sound like something you’ve had a million times any where in the world, but it’s fresh, local and delicious, SO YOU TRY SOME CHICKEN PINCHOS, KAAAYY!!


Day 10

The next day, we set off to beautiful La Parguera for my first snorkeling experience in the Caribbean and to check out the bioluminescent bay of Lajas. What a day! We set out to Lajas to meet up with our group. I’d highly recommend getting a tour with Paradise Scuba and Snorkeling. They were just all-around fun folks to hang out with. When you’re stuck at sea for 8 hours, you need people you wouldn’t mind hanging out with, right?

We arrived at the dock, got all the safety instructions that were needed and headed out to the vast Caribbean. The boat was parked, we strapped on our gear and jumped into the ocean for four hours of ocean wildlife discovery. Although absolutely magical, for some strange reason, I did freak out just a bit–not sure why, I’m an avid swimmer and I love the sea, but halfway through, I realized I’d never been that far out into the water before, and something about being in shark territory and seeing quite a few sting rays floating beneath me, kind of scared me. I’d love to give snorkeling another go–maybe next time I’ll mentally prepare myself better!

At nightfall, we prepared ourselves to go out even further into the ocean to see the bioluminescent bay. On a clear night with little to no moon or lighting of any kind, you’re bound to see the sparkling ocean as you swim around. Unfortunately for me, it’s almost impossible to capture the magic on camera unless you’ve got some NatGeo style camera work going on for you. But, I want you to fully understand what I mean when I say the ocean sparkles so I found this here photo of La Parguera by Lissa Paddock on Pinterest.


Day 11

At this point, we’d been driving around Puerto Rico like madmen. So we decided to discover areas closer to Adjuntas. First, we started out in Bosque Guilarte (click here for the coordinates). The local rainforest park. Wonderful for a hike up to the third tallest mountain in Puerto Rico and then a nice chill in one of the wooden tree-houses along the way!

Rainforests equal loads of rain…in case the name wasn’t straight forward enough for ya. So that means, it does rain, at random especially in Adjuntas. But it’s never the rain that’ll ruin your day (unless it’s hurricane/earthquake season, then that’s a whole different story). It’s just the kind of rain, that’ll have clouds floating at your feet when you’re so high up on a mountaintop–a divine experience. God, I love this place.

After our hike, it was time to hop in the car with grandma and grandpa and check out their old house. I’ve got so many beautiful childhood memories in this place, I can’t even tell you. I remember spending summers here as a kid and spending the day playing in the creek right at the foot of their home, trying to catch baby crabs. Or hiking up the hill to pick fresh berries, bananas, papaya, guava, coconuts to drink–you name it. This place really was/is my favorite place on earth!

The entire hilltop is owned by my grandpa’s family and it’s even got the home that grandpa was born and raised in…and so was his mother before him. Sadly, abandoned now and ruined by various earthquakes and hurricanes, the 100-year old wooden house has been reclaimed by Mother Nature. The spectacle is both awe-inspiring and threatening, but beautiful nonetheless.

Grandpa checking out his childhood home.
If you look closely, there are still school books inside.
Abuelo showed us exactly where his bedroom was.

Day 12

Although pooped from the hike the day before, it was time to wake up at the crack of dawn to head out to the crystal-clear waters of the beautiful small island of Guanica (otherwise known as Gilligan’s Island). Reachable only by hourly ferries, the experience was breathtaking. Just make sure you go early as the mangrove island is part of a national park and only a certain amount of visitors are allowed to be on it at a time.


You can swim around in the warm shallow part, or venture by kayak (or not) to the mangrove areas and quite literally go with the flow as the current will push you to its heart content. A beautiful day at the beach with family!

Day 13

Our Puerto Rican journey was close to an end and what better way to wrap  it up then to visit a local organic coffee plantation and have a good old fresh cup of joe and then hurry off to a visit to Charco El Mango. A little swimming hole located 5 minutes away from my grandfather’s house. It’s quite a walk into the forest to reach the swimming hole, but it’s absolutely worth it when you get there. The Charco El Mango (The Mango Puddle) has been called that on account of the mango trees around the “puddle”–with their vines dangling in front of the pool, people (crazy people) use the vines to go all Tarzan and jump into the natural pool!

The sign reads “Keep our beautiful island clean”

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We’ve got quite  a few more trips in store this year and stay tuned for our AMAZING California itinerary up on the blog soon.