Eric Akis: These quesadillas are beyond cheesy

Eric Akis

Quesadillas are filled and folded tortillas, cooked until golden on the outside and hot in the middle. Add a few accompaniments and you have a tasty snack or meal that has wide appeal.

Quesadillas, pronounced keh-sah-DEE-yah, date back to colonial Mexico. In their simplest form, they are filled only with a stringy style of cheese, such as Oaxaca cheese.

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Over time in Mexico, and in the many other countries where quesadillas are now made, other ingredients began to find their way into the tortillas. They include vegetables, cooked meat, seafood and other types of cheese.

For example, in one of my quesadilla recipes, I decided to fill it with nicely seasoned and roasted squash, poblano peppers and onions. After those items were set on one side of each of my tortillas, I topped them with Oaxaca cheese and cilantro, then folded the untopped side of the tortilla over the filing. When cooked, the quesadillas were quite hearty, comforting and perfect for winter.

My second quesadilla recipe saw them filled with a combination of cooked, crumbled chorizo sausage, chopped cooked kale, black beans and mildly spicy jalapeño-flavoured cheese — another hearty, flavourful combination that was perfect for the season.

When cooked and cut, both recipes yielded 16 nice wedges of quesadilla, which should feed three to four, depending on the size of your appetite. You could serve them as an appetizer or as a meal with items noted in each recipe’s introduction.

For a more filling meal, you could also serve the quesadillas with Mexican-style rice, which I shared a recipe for in a recent column on enchiladas. You can find that recipe at timescolonist.com.

Quesadillas with Squash, Oaxaca Cheese and Poblano Peppers

Sweet, earthy squash and onion, stringy cheese and rich-tasting peppers fill these quesadillas flavoured with cilantro and spices. Serve them with such things as salsa, sour cream, diced avocado or guacamole, and sliced jalapeños.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: About 25 minutes

Makes: Three to four servings

48 (1/4 -inch wide x 3-inch long) slices of peeled banana squash (see Note 1)

1 large poblano pepper, halved, seeded and finely chopped (see Note 2)

3/4 cup finely chopped red or white onion

3 Tbsp olive oil

1 tsp ground cumin

1/4 to 1/2 tsp chipotle chili powder

1/2 tsp dried oregano

• salt and freshly ground pepper

275 to 300 grams Oaxaca cheese, grated (see Note 3)

1/4 to 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

4 (10-inch) flour tortillas

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Place squash slices, poblano pepper, onion, oil, cumin, chili powder, oregano, salt and pepper in a medium bowl and toss to combine. Set squash slices and other ingredients on the baking sheet, ensuring the squash sits in a single layer. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the squash is just tender. Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature.

Turn oven to 200 F. Set a large, non-stick skillet (mine was 12 inches wide) or griddle over medium heat. Place an equal amount of squash, peppers and onions on one half of each tortilla. Divide and top those ingredients with grated Oaxaca cheese and cilantro.

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 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 store-bought or homemade salsa (see recipe below) and other desired accompaniments (see recipe introduction).

Note 1: Cut and seeded pieces of banana squash are sold at many supermarkets. You’ll need about 300 grams to get the amount required here. Peel before slicing.

Note 2: Dark green poblano peppers are available in the produce department of most supermarkets. They have a mildly spicy, richer flavour than green bell peppers, although the latter could be used if you can’t find a poblano pepper.

Note 3: Oaxaca cheese is Mexican-style melting cheese sold in the deli section of some supermarkets. I bought the Queso Dorado brand of that cheese at Thrifty Foods. If you can’t find it, you could try another cheese that melts well, such as mozzarella or Monterey Jack.

Quesadillas with Chorizo, Kale, Beans and Jalapeño-flavoured Cheese

Four unique ingredients combine in the filling for these quesadillas and provide a deep and full flavour. Serve the wedges of quesadilla with such things as salsa, sour cream and diced avocado or guacamole.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: About 15 minutes

Makes: Three to four servings

250 grams fresh chorizo sausages (about 3 sausages, depending on size)

2 Tbsp olive oil

4 very large green kale leaves

2 (14 oz./398 mL) cans black beans, drained well, rinsed, and drained well again

275 grams Jalapeño-flavoured Monterey Jack cheese, grated (see Note)

4 (10-inch) tortillas

Remove the casing from each sausage and pull the meat into about 1/2-inch nuggets. Place the oil in a large skillet and set over medium, medium-high heat. When the skillet is hot, add the pieces of sausage and cook until nicely browned, about four to five minutes. Lift pieces sausage out of the pan and drain on paper towel.

Bring two inches of water to a boil in a pot. Trim off the tough stem and centre rib from each kale leaf. Coarsely chop the leaves, then cook in boiling water three minutes. Drain kale well, cool in ice-cold water, then drain well again, squeezing out as much water as you can.

Place the kale, beans and grated cheese in a bowl. Crumble the bits of cooked sausage into the bowl and then toss to combine.

Preheat the oven to 200 F. Set a large, non-stick skillet (mine was 12 inches wide) or griddle over medium heat. Place an equal of amount of the sausage/kale/bean 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 golden brown.

Set the cooked quesadillas on a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven while you cook the last two.

Cut each quesadillas into four wedges and serve with store-bought or homemade salsa (see recipe below) and other desired accompaniments (see recipe introduction)

Note: Jalapeño-flavoured Monterey Jack cheese is sold in the dairy case of most supermarkets. If you prefer a milder taste, you could use plain Monterey Jack cheese in this recipe. If you enjoy a spicier taste, use habañero-flavoured Monterey Jack cheese here.

Speedy Tomato Salsa

This flavourful salsa is quickly blended in a food processor. It will keep for about a week if stored in a tight-sealing jar in the refrigerator.

Preparation time: Five minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: Two cups

1 (14 oz./398) can diced tomatoes

1 medium jalapeño pepper, seeds removed, flesh coarsely chopped

1/2 medium onion, coarsely chopped

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp granulated sugar

1/4 tsp garlic powder

2 Tbsp fresh lime juice

1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro

• salt to taste

Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until well combined, but still a little coarse in texture.

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

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