Post #670 The Mexican Grilled Cheese

September 11, 2019 at 8:29 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

When I was growing up in the Arizona desert, I did the “normal” stint in my teens of working at the local fast food places.  I started at the one with the arches, but after a year and a half I moved on to a regional place specializing in Mexican food.  I really liked working there, though I didn’t stay very long.  I learned to make a lot of Mexican foods in bulk from scratch.  I learned to make refried beans by the gallon and learned to use a pressure cooker in the process.  I learned to make corn tortillas from scratch, and to use those to make deep fried taco shells, which I still make today although in a modified technique.  I learned to make salsa in many formats, and I learned to make quesadillas.

Everyone who grew up in my town takes a moment to sigh a little when you say “quesadilla.”  Eye lids go to half mast as you recall the last one you ate.  Quesadillas are a comfort food beyond compare.  Utter simplicity in ingredients and execution.  But so good and so satisfying.  I’ve written about them before, but they bear repeating.

Quesadillas, in my mind, followed the same progression as nachos.  From my experience, nachos started as an innocuous snack that turned into an appetizer, but as they gained popularity turned into Supremes and Grandes and eventually an entire meal.  Quesadillas haven’t had quite the same popularity, but did follow that progression.  I first knew them as a vary simply snack at a Mexican restaurant, but then grew more complex and became an appetizer.  As the public demanded more from them, they “grew up” and turned into a main course as a meal unto themselves.

When I started making and eating them, they were very simple.  We took a large flour tortilla and put it on the low side of the grill.  I spread a very thin layer of green salsa for some kick, and added a thick layer of sharp cheddar cheese.  When the cheese had started to melt a little, the top half of the tortillas was folded over the bottom half creating a half-circle.  That sat on the grill for about a minute, then flipped with a spatula (or your fingers if you were very daring; I wasn’t) and cooked on the other side for a minute or so.  By the time it was done, you had a toasty flour shell filled with melted cheese and peppers.  This was cut into four wedges, put on a plate, served hot with a cup of salsa for dipping.

So you can see the similarity to a grilled cheese sandwich, can’t you?

It was a simple snack and people gobbled them up like crazy.  Including me and my family and our friends and nearly everybody we knew.  Even the northern tourists ate them up, although most never quite got the hang of the pronunciation.  Kay-Suh-Dee-Yuh.

Then, they grew up and became an appetizer.  I was in a TGIFriday’s back in the 90s and noticed a quesadilla on the menu.  I read through the description.  It was still my hometown favorite, but they added meat to it!  What a novel idea!!  Spicy grilled chicken or steak or pork!  Whoda thunk it?  Of course, I ordered it, and didn’t like it.  The cheese they used was waxy and tasteless although it melted pretty well.

That’s the key to anything you make that’s simple in concept and execution.  The ingredients have to be high quality.  Make a note of that kids, cuz it will serve your culinary efforts well the rest of your lives.

But I went home and started my own experiments and came up with a really tasty combo of salsa, chicken/steak, tomatoes, onion, and cheese.  It was large and lumpy, hard to cut into equal wedges, but delicious.

The next time I truly noticed my by-now-proprietary snack was here in Vermont, of all places.  We have a local pizza/sub shop nearby that delivers.  It’s about the only thing that delivers to us.  They have decent food; it arrives hot; and some of the time they get the order correct.  Most of the time they don’t.  So I try not to order anything too complicated.  Usually a sandwich or a cheese pizza.  The couple of times I’ve added fries to it, or a piece of cake, it never showed up.   Partner/Spouse can’t count the number of  pieces of carrot cake they owe him.  Probably a whole cake by now.  But they do have a quesadilla on the menu.  You can have it filled with various things, some of them local.  It took me a few months to be brave enough to try it, but it turned out to be very good.  Loads of cheese, a crispy-ish flour tortilla (not as crispy as I like but it had steamed in the wrap on the way to the house), and a half pound of shaved steak.  It was like a Philly cheese steak in a tortilla.  It even had mushrooms.

Which led me to another variation of the quesadilla.  It’s sort of like a fusion.  Take a cheese-filled dish of any kind and grill it between two flour tortillas.  I’ve seen or heard of shrimp scampi quesadilla.  The Philly cheese steak I just told you about.  I know of someone who likes hot dogs and cheese and toppings rolled in flour tortillas and grilled.

When I was a kid, quesadillas were folded.  Now, I use two large flour tortillas and place one on top of the cheese-covered one once the cheese has melted a little so they stick together.  They hold so much more that way.

The process is easy.  Heat a skillet large enough to hold whatever size flour tortilla you’re using.  It’s gotta be flour because they toast up better than corn tortillas.  Don’t get the skillet too hot, and don’t use any oil or sprays in it.  Partner/Spouse uses butter to toast his quesadillas, but I don’t.  While the skillet is heating, get your fillings ready.  Here’s where you can go to town.  Use whatever fillings you like, but make sure to bind it all together with cheese.  Use whatever is your favorite cheese, but make sure it’s a melty type of cheese.  Go nuts with it.  Try Brie, or Gruyere, or Povolone, or American.  Mix it up and and use more than one kind.  Use a cream cheese spread.  Just don’t use a cheese spread designed to be a dip.  It will turn to liquid and ruin your quesadilla.

Once the cheese(s) have been selected, prepare the veggies and meats if you’re going to use them.  Leftover meats are excellent for this, but you can use fresh cooked, too.  Grilled meats are excellent.  We tend to use spicy meats and veggies because that’s our favorite flavor pallette, but use whatever you like.

When everything is ready, put one tortilla in the pan and spread the cheese(s) and fillings as thickly over the top as you like.  Watch the cheese carefully and when it starts to melt into the filling, set the other tortilla on top and press lightly.  Judging carefully when the cheese is fully melted, use a large spatula to flip the quesadilla over.  The top quesadilla should be a deep brown and crispy toasty.  Let the bottom tortilla reach the same level of browness (is that a word?) which should take about a minute or two.  Set the quesadilla on a flat surface and use a large knife or a pizza cutter to cut into several equal wedges.  Serve hot with a dip if you like.

Quesadillas are pure comfort foods.  What are some of your favorite comfort foods and how do you shake them up to keep them new?

As always,

 

 

 

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6 Comments »

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  1. My kids favorites…brie and pear quesadillas or pb&j..no cheese on that one!

    • Roberta! I didn’t know you read my blog! I’ve had the pear and gorgonzola quesadilla once and loved it. I’ll have to try the brie. I love pears in nearly any form but when they’re with melty cheese, well! Can’t get much better!

  2. Occasionally I do a ‘stack’ of quesadillas. Make just as you mentioned but put one layer of meat and cheese between two flour tortillas and then top with cheese and veggies, add another flour tortillas and pop in the oven or toaster oven for just a few minutes. Crispy and delicious.

    • I love that idea! It turns it into a Mexican Lasagna, of sorts. I’m gonna have to experiment with that. You haven’t read the entire blog, I assume, but I do another dish where I layer corn tortillas, cooked chicken, cheese, salsa, and black beans in the crock pot and cook it till it’s heated through. That’s really good too.

  3. WAY back when I was married my ex and I would make Quesadillas the way you mentioned towards the end …2 flour torillas, a bunch of seasoned cheese. And, if we felt like treating ourselves, some artificial crab legs. Fancy right? ( we didn’t have much).
    But I like the idea of the Shrimp Scampi quesadilla you mentioned. Lots of potential there.
    There’s something about that slight toasting of the tortilla that makes such a difference.

    • So funny we both measure our lives by “back then” and “now”. Although my Sue and I managed to stay friends. She was just up here for a visit and slept most of the time. Totally relaxed. Another thing we used to do with flour tortillas when I was a kid was make “Mexican Pizza” basically cheese on top of the tortilla and toasted in the oven until it was brown and crisp and the cheese melted.


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