If I were to design the perfect food, one of the frontrunners for the title would be the quesadilla. I am admittedly biased, because it is a personal favorite, but I would also point out its obvious efficiency and tastiness are well known and commonly agreed upon.

Unless you are one of the poor, benighted few individuals who are cursed with either an allergy to, or the inability to appreciate the greatness of cheese, I think we can take as a given that it is one of the blessed creations of the universe. Cheese comes in many different kinds, but it is one of the ingredients that are used to provide a powerful punch of flavor to a dish in a comparatively small package. Especially when melted.

This small amount of filling deserves and equally efficient way of transporting it to the plate. Hence, the tortilla. Whereas bread will create a sandwich when filled, the same concept without yeast will create a very flat piece of bread. A way to deliver the goodness of grain, and the chewiness of the proteins and fats used to hole it together, along with the savoriness of the crust that is produced by grilling it.

At its most basic, that is a quesadilla.

From there, you can just stack them in a giant pile of tastiness, or you can add to the fillings, or add many different toppings. It can be sliced into triangles, or not. It can be folded into multiple thicknesses, or not. It is versatile, portable, and easy to cook and eat.

They originated in Central and Southern Mexico, and were usually made of smaller corn tortillas, with Oaxaca cheese, (which is similar to a cross between a slightly salty Monterey Jack and Mozzarella cheese,) and possibly other fillings mixed in. These fillings included various vegetables, mushrooms, squash blossoms (which are very tasty,) chorizo, potatoes, other meats, or chicharron. Usually, they were served in multiples, with different fillings in each.

Later, as they made their way northwards, the dish evolved. In Northern Mexico, they started making them with flour tortillas instead of corn. By the time they reached the U.S., they were being made with different types of high moisture cheeses, such as Jack, Cheddar, Colby, or a mixture. They would sometimes be filled with additional items, but more often would be topped instead with various kinds of salsa (red, green, or Christmas which is both of those simultaneously,) guacamole, sour cream, or anything that the imagination could think of.

My Favorite Quesadilla Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 shallots, or one small onion (minced)
  • 1 cup of crimini mushrooms (rough chopped into brunoise size pieces)
  • 4 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 can chopped green chiles
  • Butter and corn or vegetable oil for grilling as needed
  • 8 large flour tortillas (9-inch to 10-inch, thickness to taste) I like them thick
  • 2 cups shredded Oaxaca cheese
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1 cup shredded Sharp Cheddar cheese

Instructions

  1. Prepare the filling:Sauté the shallots, mushrooms, and garlic in butter. Salt and pepper as you cook. Add the chiles at the end to warm through. Set aside in a bowl with all pan juices.
  2. Mix the cheeses together in one bowl.
  3. Assemble and cook: Melt 1/2 teaspoon butter and/or oil in a large skillet. (Too much fat will make your quesadilla soggy)
  4. Mix the cheese thoroughly with the other ingredients
  5. Add a tortilla to the warmed oil and top with a little over ½ cup portion of the filling.
  6. Watch for the cheese to melt. Once the cheese starts to melt, begin lifting a corner of the tortilla and checking the underside. When the cheese has partially melted, add a tortilla on top, then flip the quesadilla. Cook for enough time to brown the tortilla.
  7. Plating: Transfer to a cutting board and let cool slightly. Top with green salsa, red salsa, guacamole, and sour cream in the center, then cut into wedges.

If preparing several quesadillas for a crowd, slide the un-cut quesadillas onto a baking sheet and keep warm in a 200°F oven. Wipe the pan clean and repeat. Then plate all of the quesadillas you will be serving immediately at the same time.

Tony Moir is a cyborg who holds world records in synchronized luge and panda steeplechase. Or maybe he isn’t. But he lives in San Francisco with his lovely wife and three outstanding sons.

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