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SAY 'QUESADILLA'! THESE WIDE-RANGING VARIATIONS ON 'MEXICAN GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICHES' WILL MAKE YOUR FAMILY ALL SMILES.

Byline: Natalie Haughton Food Editor

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with quesadillas, those favorites of Mexican cooking traditionally made with tortillas and cheese. Not only are they easy and fast to fix, but the filled tortillas lend themselves to all kinds of flavor variations, from savory to sweet.

Rick Bayless refers to quesadillas as ``the grilled cheese sandwiches of Mexico,'' in his cookbook ``Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen.''

``Because the turnovers are so quick to prepare, they should be a part of every cook's repertoire. Quesadillas can take practically any filling you are drawn to,'' says Bayless, adding that ``real Mexican versions are filled with a surprising diversity of ingredients'' ranging from cheese, herbs and chiles to yellow mole or squash blossoms.

For lunch at the Frontera Grill in Chicago, Bayless serves them stuffed with shredded duck and rajas (strips of chile), with grilled shrimp dashed with chopped, canned chipotles, with grilled chicken dolloped with guacamole and with braised wild mushrooms, polano and epazote.

At trendy and not-so-trendy restaurants throughout the country, you'll find all kinds of inspirations with Asian, Pacific Rim, Southwest and other flavor overtones folded in quesadillas. We devised a few of our own delicious concoctions that rated raves, including Greek- and Italian-style quesadillas. We also cooked up a brie cheese, apricot preserve and almond version.

Use your imagination and you're sure to come up with many novel and interesting combinations. You can top the cheese (of all kinds) with caramelized onions, assorted chiles, chopped tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms, bean puree, various vegetables, crab, lobster, cooked chicken, salsa, chili, fresh herbs and much more. The possibilities are numerous.

It's fun, once you get going. You can't go wrong if you combine foods that have an affinity for one another. Quesadillas also offer a good way to use leftovers or clean out the fridge from time to time.

Although quesadillas are traditionally made with homemade corn tortillas in Mexico, cooks in this country most often opt to use flour tortillas as they are more flexible and easier to fold than corn. But be aware that corn tortillas contain fewer calories and fat per serving than flour - 60 calories and 1 gram fat in a 7-inch corn tortilla, compared to 115 calories and 3 grams fat in the same size flour tortilla.

For quesadillas, use tortillas ranging from four to 10 inches in diameter, depending on the size wedges desired and the number being served. A number of flavor and color choices are also available at supermarkets these days running the gamut from spinach, salsa or sun-dried tomato and basil to jalapeno, chipotle chile, herb and garlic, honey wheat, sprouted wheat and more. If you're watching fat, rely on low-fat or fat-free tortillas.

Opt to cook the folded quesadillas (or two tortillas stacked with the filling in between) in a large nonstick skillet with a few teaspoons butter or oil (or a combination of the two) on top of the stove or bake, microwave or grill them. Then cut into wedges and serve with assorted condiments and toppers.

Tortilla sales in the U.S. have been increasing at the rate of 10 percent a year for the last 20 years, notes Irwin Steinberg, executive director or the Tortilla Industry Association representing 180 tortilla suppliers and producers worldwide. Flour outsells corn two to one, according to the association. Not only are tortillas comparatively inexpensive, but they are versatile, reasonably healthy and easy to use in a variety of ways, he adds.

BEAN AND GARDEN QUESADILLAS

1 (16-ounce) can vegetarian refried beans

8 (8-inch) flour tortillas

1 cup julienne zucchini

1 cup julienne carrots

1 tablespoon butter

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Spread about 1/2 cup beans on EACH of 4 tortillas; set aside. In a large non-stick skillet, saute zucchini and carrot in melted butter until crisp tender; season with salt, oregano and pepper. Spread about 1/3 cup vegetable mixture over bean mixture on each tortilla. Sprinkle with about 2 tablespoons cheese; top each with one tortilla.

In a large non-stick skillet sprayed with cooking spray, fry each quesadilla 2 minutes, turning once. Cut into wedges. Serve with jarred salsa. Makes 4 quesadillas.

CHEESE QUESADILLAS

8 teaspoons vegetable oil

4 (8-inch) flour tortillas

1 1/3 cups shredded Monterey Jack OR Cheddar cheese

1/2 cup canned diced green chiles (OR use some chopped fresh chiles) OR 1/2 cup bottled chunky salsa

1 large tomato, finely chopped

Salsa, guacamole and sour cream

Make each quesadilla as follows: Pour 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet and heat until hot. Lay a tortilla atop oil. Sprinkle 1/3 cup shredded cheese, 2 tablespoons green chiles and 1/4 of tomatoes on one half of EACH tortilla. Fold plain half of each tortilla over cheese mixture. Cook over medium heat on both sides until golden and cheese is melted. Repeat procedure with remaining tortillas, cheese, chiles and tomatoes.

To serve, cut each quesadilla into 3 wedges. Serve hot with salsa, guacamole and sour cream on the side. Makes 3 to 4 servings.

NOTE: To vary quesadillas, use any variety of cheese and chiles desired. Minced green onions can also be added or cooked shrimp, crab or chicken pieces, etc.

GREEK-STYLE QUESADILLA

2 teaspoons butter

1 (8-inch) flour tortilla

3 tablespoons shredded Jack cheese

2 to 3 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese

2 tablespoons EACH chopped green onions and chopped hot house cucumber

2 tablespoons EACH chopped tomatoes and chopped Kalamata olives

Garlic pepper

Melt butter in a 10- to 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add tortilla and top all over with cheeses, green onions, cucumber, tomatoes, olives and a sprinkling of garlic pepper. When tortilla is warm but still flexible, fold in half; with metal spatula, press to flatten slightly and continue cooking, turning once or twice, until cheese is melted and tortilla is golden brown (about 2 to 3 minutes). Cut into 4 wedges. Serve hot. Makes 1 serving.

ITALIAN-STYLE QUESADILLA: Substitute mozzarella cheese for Jack cheese, cut up pieces of fresh buffalo mozzarella for feta and chopped artichoke hearts for cucumbers. Sprinkle tortilla with 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil.

CHICKEN CORN QUESADILLAS

1 cup sour cream

2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

4 teaspoons seasoned rice vinegar

6 tablespoons minced green onions

4 (9-inch) four tortillas

1 cup cooked corn kernels

1 cup diced cooked chicken (smoked, if desired) OR turkey breast

1 medium Anaheim chile pepper, seeded and minced OR 1/4 cup diced green chiles

Vegetable oil OR a combination of 1/2 vegetable oil and 1/2 butter

In small bowl, combine sour cream, mustard, vinegar and 4 tablespoons green onions. Set aside.

Arrange tortillas on a flat surface. Spread one side of each tortilla with sour cream mixture using about 1/2 of mixture. Arrange a sprinkling of corn atop sour cream mixture on one half of each tortilla. Top with chicken and a sprinkling of remaining 2 tablespoons green onions and a few chiles. Fold tortillas in half.

Heat a little oil on griddle or in a large skillet and brown quesadillas, two at a time, until light golden on both sides. Cut each quesadilla into 4 or 5 wedges and serve with remaining mustard sour cream. Makes 4 servings.

SMOKED SALMON AND MASCARPONE QUESADILLAS

3 (9- OR 10-inch) flour tortillas

1/2 cup mascarpone cheese (available at Trader Joe's and supermarkets) OR whipped cream cheese

1 (3- to 4-ounce) package thinly sliced smoked salmon

1 small red onion, very thinly sliced and slices halved

3 small roma tomatoes, thinly sliced

1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 1/2 tablespoons butter

Sour cream, salsa and guacamole, for garnish

Lay tortillas flat on a working surface. Spread about 2 1/2 tablespoons mascarpone evenly on one half of each tortilla. Divide salmon evenly over mascarpone. Place onion and tomato slices over salmon on half of tortilla. Fold plain half of each tortilla over salmon mixture.

Heat 1/2 tablespoon EACH oil and butter on a large griddle or in a large skillet until hot. Add 1 folded, filled tortilla and cook on both sides until golden. Repeat with remaining oil, butter and tortillas.

Cut each tortilla into 4 wedges and serve with a large dollop of sour cream, salsa and guacamole on the side. Makes 3 to 6 servings.

BRIE QUESADILLAS

1 teaspoon butter

1 (8-inch) flour tortilla

Brie cheese, cut into small pieces or thin slices

1 1/2 tablespoons apricot preserves

1 1/2 tablespoons sliced OR slivered almonds OR chopped pecans

Heat butter over medium heat in a large skillet until hot. Add tortilla and top one half with brie cheese, apricot preserves and nuts. Fold plain half of tortilla over cheese. Cook over medium heat on both sides until golden and cheese is melted. Cut into 4 wedges. Makes 2 appetizer servings.

Tortilla flattery

For a different taste treat, give these quesadilla filling combinations a try.

-- Goat cheese with sun-dried tomatoes, black olive tapenade and a sprinkling of chopped fresh basil or tarragon.

-- Bay shrimp, boursin cheese and a dash of chopped fresh tarragon.

-- Smoked mozzarella cheese, barbecue sauce, chopped red onions and diced cooked chicken breast.

-- Hoisin sauce, chopped green onions and water chestnuts, diced cooked chicken breast and garlic pepper.

-- Gorgonzola cheese or brie with sliced pears or apples (or mangoes) and toasted chopped walnuts.

-- Scrambled eggs, chopped cooked bacon, guacamole and salsa.

-- Cooked bacon pieces, chopped tomatoes and Cheddar cheese.

-- Ham pieces, gruyere cheese and mushroom slices or pineapple pieces.

-- Cream cheese (mixed with a little powdered sugar and vanilla, if desired) and fresh peach or strawberry slices or raspberries.

-- Smoked gouda, chopped oranges, diced fresh green chiles and chopped fresh cilantro.

-- Cubed or sliced panela cheese, a favorite tropical fruit salsa and a little chopped fresh mint.

-- Thinly sliced panela cheese, fresh tomato slices and a drizzle of cilantro pesto.

-- Crumbled queso fresco cheese, cooked diced potatoes, roasted poblano chile strips and chopped white onions.

-- Chopped mango and red onions, crumbled queso fresco cheese, Jack cheese and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

-- Goat cheese, roasted red pepper strips and chopped fresh basil. Toss in an anchovy or two, if desired, or a few prosciutto slices.

-- Salami and provolone cheese slices, a little mustard and a few fresh basil leaves.

-- Black or other canned beans, shredded cheese of choice, sour cream, diced chiles, chopped tomatoes and avocado.

-- Avocado slices, poblano chile strips, fresh lemon juice, chopped tomatoes and shredded Jack cheese.

-- Grilled eggplant and tomato slices, shredded mozzarella cheese, fresh basil leaves and olive tapenade.

-- Pizza sauce and shredded Jack cheese.

-- Chocolate chips, banana slices and a drizzling of caramel topping.

CAPTION(S):

4 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) VIVA QUESADILLA!

Pile on toppings for delicious grilled cheese sandwiches of Mexico

Nick Koon/Orange County Register

(2 -- 4 -- color) no caption (quesadillas with different toppings)

Orange County Register

Box:

Tortilla flattery (see text)
COPYRIGHT 2002 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

 
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Recipe
Date:May 1, 2002
Words:1834
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