- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I was asked years ago to revamp the menu of a nationally known Mexican restaurant chain. I did research on what was traditional from those dishes that had become “Tex-Mex.”

Among my discoveries was that, originally, flour tortillas were used to make quesadillas because, in certain areas of Mexico, corn was not indigenous. In other parts of Mexico, corn tortillas were the wrapper of choice for quesadillas. Sometimes called empanadas, these turnovers have evolved through the years.

Quesadillas, those puffy “little whims,” as the Mexicans call appetizers, can be found in most Mexican restaurants with many variations. A tortilla is filled, folded over and lightly fried or baked to brown the outside. Sometimes you can find quesadillas layered, fried and cut into triangles.

In today’s recipe, chicken quesadillas made it onto the revised restaurant menu and received many positive comments. I like to start with this recipe and then add or subtract ingredients to create my own signature. You could embellish these with sauteed squash blossoms (a Mexican classic), cooked cut-up potatoes, different chopped chilies or sliced avocados to invent your own combination.

In California, quesadillas made with corn or flour tortillas are a staple for Seriously Simple cooks. They can be simple, with a plain melted cheese center (which kids love), or more complicated creations.

Olive oil spray on the pan or griddle keeps the outside crispy without being overly greasy. If you don’t have the spray, add a tablespoon of vegetable or light-flavored olive oil to the pan and make sure it is very hot before cooking the tortillas.

Remember that the key to a good quesadilla is using good-quality flour, whole-wheat flour or corn tortillas, shredded cheese that melts into little strings, and other flavors such as salsa, vegetables or herbs you prefer.

These can be served cut into pieces as a first course or as a main course for brunch or lunch. To drink, chilled Mexican beer or frosty Margaritas would make a fine accompaniment.

Help is on the way:

• Try other combinations such as goat cheese and caramelized onions, apple and cheddar cheese, or cooked potatoes, spinach and spicy Jack cheese.

• Make a few of each tortilla type and see which ones your guests prefer.

• Pick up precooked chicken and shred if in a hurry.

• Use cooked, shredded beef or pork instead of the chicken.

• Try different salsa varieties such as tomatillo, chipotle or even mango.

Chicken and Monterey Jack cheese quesadillas

3 cups chicken stock

3 medium-boned, skinned chicken breast halves (or 2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast)

Nonstick spray

4 large flour tortillas

2 cups shredded Jack cheese

1/4 cup fresh store-bought tomato salsa

FOR GARNISH:

½ cup store-bought fresh tomato salsa

½ cup sour cream

In a medium skillet with high sides or a large saucepan, bring the chicken stock (or enough of a combination of chicken stock and water to cover the chicken) to a simmer. If you’re using water only, add ½ teaspoon salt. Add the chicken breast halves and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes or until just tender. Cool the chicken in the stock. Drain the chicken and shred it into bite-sized slices.

Lightly spray a large nonstick skillet or griddle with nonstick spray and place on medium-high heat. Place a tortilla in the skillet and sprinkle with ½ cup of shredded chicken and a tablespoon of salsa.

Top evenly with ½ cup shredded cheese, then fold over the tortilla in half, pressing down with a spatula. Cook the quesadilla until lightly brown, about 2 minutes, then turn over and cook the other side until lightly brown, about a minute longer.

Repeat the steps to cook the remaining quesadillas. Arrange on individual plates and serve immediately accompanied by salsa and sour cream.

Makes 4 servings.

By Diane Rossen Worthington

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES


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