Full-fat cheese key in quality quesadilla

  • By Sara Moulton Associated Press
  • Thursday, June 20, 2013 3:12pm
  • Life

At heart, a quesadilla is pretty much a Mexican grilled cheese.

Take a tortilla, stuff it with something savory, add some cheese, fold it in half and toast it. It’s also pretty delicious.

I love any dish that includes melted cheese, and it’s that much better when Mexican ingredients are added to the mix. But as much as I enjoy the standard recipe for this widely loved treat, I was pretty sure I could dream up a lighter version.

I quickly discovered that it doesn’t take a ton of cheese to flavor — and glue together — the fillings of a quesadilla, as long as you use full-fat cheese.

I tried using 4 ounces of reduced-fat cheese, but I found the flavor to be so weak that my tasters didn’t know there was any cheese in the recipe.

A second attempt using 2 ounces of full-fat sharp cheddar was an immediate hit.

The rest of the filling is vegetables. I started by quickly cooking bell peppers and onions over medium-high heat until that magic moment when they were golden at the edges but still retained their crunch.

I added mushrooms for two reasons — depth of flavor and bulk. Carnivores like to think of mushrooms as steak for vegetarians. Any kind of mushroom would be welcome here, but I favor a mix of cremini and shiitake.

Finally, as a big fan of chilies, I had to toss in a jalapeno. But it’s your choice whether to add the seeds and ribs, which make the dish much hotter.

Of course, given that dairy and chilies tend to counter-balance each other, the cheese in this recipe will tamp down some of the heat.

A cast-iron skillet is the perfect pan in which to cook this recipe or, if you happen to own one, a Mexican comal, the pan usually used for making tortillas.

If you use your iron skillet often and care for it with love, it becomes almost stick-resistant, which means you won’t need much oil to cook the quesadillas. You also can grill the assembled quesadillas over low heat for a few minutes on each side to impart a lovely smokiness.

These quesadillas also would work well on a camping trip. Just chop all the vegetables and grate the cheese ahead of time and, since there is no oven for keeping them warm, you can cook them and cut them up to share as they are done.

Finally, wherever and however you cook these beauties, don’t forget the avocado, yogurt and cilantro garnish, an important part of the finished product.

And if you throw together a quick coleslaw to serve on the side — dressing it with lime juice and a tiny bit of vegetable oil — you can easily stretch this into a full meal.

Mushroom, pepper and onion quesadillas

1 firm ripe avocado, diced

1 tablespoon lime juice

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

4 teaspoons vegetable oil, divided

1/2 cup chopped yellow onion

1/2 cup chopped red or green bell pepper (or a mix)

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 1/2 cups assorted sliced mushrooms

1/2 fresh jalapeno, finely chopped (seeds and ribs discarded, if desired)

2 ounces coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese

4 8-inch flour tortillas, preferably whole wheat

Nonfat plain Greek yogurt

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, toss the diced avocado with the lime juice and a bit of salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a large, preferably cast-iron skillet over medium-high, heat 2 teaspoons of the oil. Add the onion, bell pepper and a pinch of salt, then saute until golden at the edges, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Transfer the mixture to a bowl.

Add the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil to the skillet along with the mushrooms and a pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to medium and saute until the liquid the mushrooms give off has evaporated, about 7 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to the bowl with the onions and peppers. Add to it the jalapeno, cheese and a bit of salt and pepper. Mix well.

Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel. Coat it with cooking spray.

Set 2 of the tortillas flat on the counter. Divide the onion-pepper mixture between them, spreading it evenly over each. Press a second tortilla firmly over each.

Heat the skillet over medium. Add one quesadilla and toast until golden, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a baking sheet. Repeat with the second quesadilla, placing it on the baking sheet when toasted. Bake for 5 minutes, or until just heated through. Cut each quesadilla into quarters, then divide between 4 serving plates. Top each serving with avocado, yogurt and cilantro.

Makes 4 servings.

More in Life

From Jasper to Banff: A Canadian adventure in an RV

Jennifer Bardsley plans to take her family on two-week roadtrip through Canada in a tent trailer.

Skippers share sea stories at Marysville speaker series

The Bellingham couple will talk about charter cruises on the historic wooden vessel they rebuilt.

Anxiety, or chronic worry, is a growing problem

Paul Schoenfeld shares four approaches to help keep your anxiety from getting out of control.

Expo in Stanwood can help you get ready for the country

The Country Living Expo and Cattlemen’s Winterschool is set for Jan. 27 at the high school.

Find many of our region’s winter birds in the Skagit Valley

If you love birding, also check out these bird-related festivals, lectures and other events.

What’s new this year for travelers in England, Ireland

The nations are improving tourism infrastructures and adding exhibits to well-known sights.

Curries continues home-cooked Indian cuisine at new location

The restaurant, now located on Evergreen Way, also puts an Indian spin on Northwest cooking.

Bremerton teacher’s comic aims to defy black stereotypes

Boosted by a successful Kickstarter campaign, the series explores greed, power, racism and religion.

Want to buy a house this year? Here’s how to start saving up

Here are five ways to help you put 10 percent of your income per year toward buying a house.

Most Read