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Eric Akis: Marvelous mushroom quesadillas

In this twist on a Mexican classic, tortillas are stuffed, folded and cooked with a flavourful, spiced, cheese-rich, mushroom mixture.
Cheesy Spiced Mixed Mushroom Quesadillas Quesadillas deliciously filled with a spiced, cheese-rich, mushroom mixture.

If you think mushrooms are marvelous, and enjoy Mexican-style food rich with cheese, you’ll enjoy my recipe for cheesy, spiced, mixed-mushroom quesadillas.

A quesadilla (pronounced keh-sah-DEE-yah), is a filled and folded tortilla that’s cooked until golden on the outside and the filling is hot. To make the very flavourful filling for my quesadillas, three types of mushrooms — brown, shiitake and oyster — are sliced and sautéed with two types of peppers and a mix of dried spices. They are also flavoured with lime zest and lime juice.

When you start cooking the mushrooms, there will be a mound of them and it will look like you have too many. But as they cook moisture will seep out of them and evaporate and they will greatly reduce in size.

Once the mushroom mixture is cooked and cooled, grated cheese is tossed in, along with some chopped cilantro. You can make the filling a few hours before making the quesadillas; keep it covered and refrigerated until needed.

Once you’ve filled, folded and cooked the quesadillas, you can cut them into wedges and serve them as an appetizer or snack with tomato salsa and sour cream. You could also serve them, as I did, as a main course, accompanied with that salsa and sour cream, and also some warm refried beans and Spanish-style rice (see recipe below).

Cheesy Spiced Mixed Mushroom Quesadillas

Tortillas stuffed, folded and cooked with a flavourful, spiced, cheese-rich, mushroom mixture.

Preparation time: 40 minutes

Cooking time: about 22 minutes

Makes: 16 wedges of quesadilla, three to four servings

3 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 lb. (about 8 to 12, depending on size) small to medium brown mushrooms, thinly sliced

1/4 lb. (about 12 to 16, depending on size) oyster mushrooms, tough lower stems trimmed off, caps and upper parts of the stems thinly sliced

1/4 lb. medium or large shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps thinly sliced

1 medium red bell pepper, finely diced

1 small to medium jalapeño pepper, halved, seeded and finely chopped

1 tsp chili powder

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp oregano

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1/4 tsp garlic powder

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 tsp finely grated lime zest

2 Tbsp lime juice

200 grams aged white cheddar cheese, grated (about 2 1/2 cups; see Eric’s options)

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro (see Eric options)

4 (10-inch) flour tortillas or flour and corn blend tortillas

• sour cream and store-bought or homemade tomato salsa, to taste

Place oil in a very large skillet (mine was 12 inches wide) set over medium, medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add the mushrooms, bell pepper, jalapeño, chili powder, cumin, oregano, paprika, garlic powder, zest and juice. Cook and stir until the mushrooms are very tender and the moisture seeping from them has evaporated, about eight to 10 minutes.

Spread mushroom mixture out on a wide plate and cool to room temperature. Add the cheese and cilantro, season with salt and pepper, and then toss to combine.

Preheat oven to 200 F. Set a clean, large, non-stick skillet or griddle over medium heat. Place an equal amount of the cheesy mushroom mixture on one half of each tortilla. Fold each tortilla into a half-moon shape and gently press on it to help it hold its shape.

Cook two of the stuffed tortillas three minutes per side, or until the cheese is melted and the tortillas are golden brown. Set the cooked quesadillas on a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven while you cook the last two.

Cut each quesadilla into four wedges and serve with the sour cream and salsa.

Eric’s options: If you don’t care for cilantro, replace it with thinly sliced green onion. Instead of using aged white cheddar cheese, try using plain or flavoured Monterey Jack cheese.

Spanish-style Rice

This aromatic, nicely spiced, Spanish-style rice is similar to the types served in many Mexican restaurants. Serve it as a side dish for quesadillas and other Mexican-style dishes.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: about 25 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

2 Tbsp olive oil

1⁄2 cup finely diced onion,

1⁄2 cup finely diced green bell peppers

1⁄2 cup finely diced red bell peppers

1 cup long-grain white rice

1 tsp chili powder

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

1 3/4 cups chicken stock

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 green onions, thinly sliced

Heat the oil in a medium pot set over medium heat. Add the onions and bell peppers and cook four minutes, or until softened. Stir in rice, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder and cayenne and cook, stirring, two minutes more.

Pour in the stock, season with salt and pepper, then increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Cover rice, reduce the heat to its lowest setting, and cook 15 minutes, or until the rice is tender. Fluff the rice with a fork, mix in the green onions, and serve.

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Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.