with fresh corn masa are filled with sauteed poblanos
and onions, folded and sealed, then browned in a
skillet. Food styling by Mark Graham.
needs a recipe for a quesadilla? Grab a flour tortilla, pile
on shredded cheese and heat it up in a pan until the cheese
melts. There, I summed up about 75 percent of the quesadilla
recipes around, and you only had to read one sentence. Of
course, you could add some chicken, which would account for
another 10 percent of the recipes, but thatís stretching
the limit of most peopleís quesadilla comprehension.
absolutely nothing wrong with this kind of quesadilla.
Gooey, melted cheese on a tortilla is almost always a fine
and good thing, but itís not the only quesadilla
available. In fact, itís helpful to think of quesadillas
in two broad categories: those made with pre-made tortillas
and those made with fresh masa.
latter, especially, are less vehicles strictly for cheese
consumption and more like empanadas or turnovers. In
"Authentic Mexican," Rick Bayless describes them
as "deliciously stuffed pockets of Mexican flavor,
bearers of well-spiced vegetables, meats and cheese,
transporters of chile-spiked hot sauce or smooth
guacamole," which sums it up nicely. Notice how cheese
isnít the sole ingredient?
fact, numerous recipes exist for quesadillas made with fresh
masa in which cheese plays a limited or, in some rare cases,
completely nonexistent role. In "My Mexico," Diana
Kennedy offers a number of quesadilla recipes in which the
only cheese is some crumbled queso fresco sprinkled on top.
Dudley Nieto and Bruce Kraigís "Cuisines of Hidden
Mexico" includes a recipe for quesadillas de
huitlacoche (the prized black corn fungus) with no cheese
can a quesadilla exist without cheese? Honestly, youíd be
forgiven for thinking of these as a kind of empanada.
Though, thereís a chance weíre thinking about this too
much. In their rambunctiously entertaining "Tacopedia,"
Juan Carlos Mena and Deborah Holtz delve into the paradox of
"cheeseless quesadillas," noting that while it
doesnít exactly make a lot of sense, "thatís their
name, so what can we do?" Good point.
of whether they have cheese or not, these kinds of
quesadillas are mostly made with fresh masa, the same corn
dough thatís used to make corn tortillas. Occasionally
other ingredients, like lard, wheat flour and baking soda
are added to the masa, though not always. The masa dough is
flattened into a circle using a tortilla press, a small
amount of the filling is added across the middle and then
the masa is folded up to form a half-moon shape. This is
griddled or gently fried until it develops a golden-browned
crust, ever so slightly crackly without being crisp.
are a bewildering collection of variations for these kinds
of quesadilla. Though rajas (charred strips of poblano) and
huitlacoche (a black corn fungus) are very common,
essentially any filling you could have in a taco can make
the transition to quesadilla. The only rule is moderation.
Add too much cheese or filling, and the dough will crack,
unleashing the innards all over the skillet. Certain
additions also change the name. The sincronizada often
features ham in the mix, while gringas demand al pastor
meat. These would both still be considered quesadilla
tempting to crown quesadillas made with fresh masa as the
pinnacle of the quesadilla-making arts. If you havenít
experienced them, Iíd suggest you give them a try. But itís
important to know that thereís no shame in using pre-made
tortillas for quesadillas, as long as you treat them with
the slightest bit of care.
quesadillas made with fresh masa, folded-over quesadillas
basically require cheese. Forget, forever if you can, the
pre-shredded "Mexican cheese" found in the
supermarket. What you want is something tangy that melts
easily. This can be as simple as a decent quality Monterrey
Jack, or, if youíre near a well-stocked Mexican grocery
store, Chihuahua or Oaxacan cheese is deal.
store-bought corn tortillas make fine quesadillas,
especially if you add some fat to the skillet when crisping
them, I do actually prefer the flakiness of flour tortillas
here. When cooked in a little fat, the flour tortillas
develop a gorgeous speckled browned appearance and hold the
fillings without cracking.
extra strength of flour tortillas also allows us to be
slightly more liberal with the amount of filling. That means
that you can add multiple components, just so long as youíre
smart about it. Letís tackle the most common meat-filled
one out there: the chicken quesadilla.
problem with most chicken quesadillas is that the meat and
the cheese never join forces. Instead, the meat usually
falls off after a few bites. The key to fixing this is use
shredded chicken meat, instead of hulking grilled slices.
Leftover roast chicken is great here.
like to add something acidic to help cut through the
heaviness. That can be as simple as adding some canned
pickled jalapeno slices, but if you have an hour, you can
easily make quick-pickled jalapenos and red onions, which
add an appealing freshness to each bite.
only crime here is unmelted cheese. Cook over too high of
heat and the outside of the tortilla burns before the cheese
has time to melt, so make sure to cook over a steady medium,
flipping the quesadilla occasionally to prevent the tortilla
be afraid to get creative. Quesadillas thrive on innovation.
Ever tried kimchi quesadillas, which were popularized by Los
Angeles chef Roy Choi and his Kogi Truck? Sounds crazy, but
the spicy pickled heat of the fermented cabbage works
extremely well against a pile of gooey cheese. Honestly, my
family often has quesadilla night when we need to use up
leftovers. Nothing like thrift to lead you down unexpectedly
WITH FRESH CORN MASA
for fresh masa dough at tortilla factories or Mexican
grocery stores, or use masa flour for tortillas and follow
the directions on the package to make the dough.
tablespoons canola oil, divided
large white onion, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
clove garlic, minced
cup chopped fresh epazote (if available) or fresh cilantro
ounces fresh masa dough
pound shredded Monterey Jack or queso Chihuahua
using a gas stove: Place poblano chiles on the grate above a
burner. Turn heat to high. Cook until blackened on the
bottom. Use a pair of tongs to rotate the chiles until
blackened all over. Transfer chiles to a paper bag to steam,
15 minutes. Peel off blackened skin, and remove stems and
seeds. Cut poblanos into 1/4-inch thick slices.
using a broiler: Adjust oven rack to top, and heat broiler
to high. Set chiles on a foil-lined baking sheet, and slide
sheet underneath the broiler. Cook until blackened on top, 3
to 4 minutes. Flip and cook until blackened on the other
side, another 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer chiles to a plastic
bag to steam for 15 minutes. Peel off blackened skin, and
remove stems and seeds. Cut poblanos into 1/4-inch thick
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high
heat. Add poblano and onion slices; season with salt. Cook,
stirring often, until onions are lightly browned, 8 to 10
minutes. Add garlic and epazote (or cilantro), and stir
well. Cook until garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds. Turn
off heat. Transfer chile and onion mixture to a bowl; set
aside until cool. Clean out the skillet.
Heat remaining tablespoon of oil in the skillet over medium
Divide masa into 1 1/2-ounce balls (about the size of a
pingpong ball). Place an 8-inch round sheet of plastic (thin
grocery store bags work extremely well) on the bottom plate
of a tortilla press. Set one masa ball on the plastic, and
place a second 8-inch round sheet of plastic on top. Flatten
the masa gently with the tortilla press, until itís about
a 4-inch circle and about 1/16-inch thick. You may need to
press more than once for an even quesadilla, turning the
disk 90 degrees between each pressing.
Carefully remove the top sheet of plastic. Place an ounce of
cheese and a few strips of the poblano and onion on half of
the masa circle. Using the bottom plastic sheet, fold the
quesadilla in half to form a half moon shape. Compress the
edges, so that no filling can get out. Gently roll the
quesadilla onto your hand; transfer directly to the skillet.
Cook, flipping the quesadilla every minute or so, until the
exterior is nicely browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Repeat with
remaining masa balls. Serve with guacamole.
information per quesadilla: 293 calories, 14 g fat, 6 g
saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 33 g carbohydrates, 1 g
sugar, 12 g protein, 317 mg sodium, 3 g fiber
QUESADILLAS WITH PICKLED RED ONION AND JALAPENOS
4-6 minutes per batch
apple cider vinegar
red onion, thinly sliced
jalapenos, thinly sliced
ounces shredded Monterey Jack or queso Chihuahua
ounces cooked, shredded chicken breast
(8-inch) flour tortillas
tablespoon canola oil
Pour apple cider vinegar into a medium bowl. Add salt and
sugar; stir until dissolved. Add red onion and jalapenos.
Set aside for an hour. Drain before using.
Place a quarter of the shredded cheese and shredded chicken
on half of a tortilla. Add pickled red onion and jalapeno
slices to taste. Fold in half. Repeat with remaining
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Place two of
the quesadillas in the pan. Cook, 2 minutes per side. Repeat
with other two quesadillas. Cut into triangles and serve
information per quesadilla: 450 calories, 27 g fat, 13 g
saturated fat, 74 mg cholesterol, 28 g carbohydrates, 3 g
sugar, 25 g protein, 1,048 mg sodium, 1 g fiber