It's not quite Cinco de Mayo yet, but these aren't quite authentic Mexican quesadillas either.
I'm a sucker for cheese, particularly when that cheese is melted down and mixed into a slick milky substance. Mouth watering yet?
This did not start as a vegetarian quesadilla recipe; it started as a craving for that savory white queso dip they serve at Mexican restaurants. Cheese isn't a healthy thing to eat by the spoonful, though, so I compensated by disguising it with vegetables, beans, and other fresh ingredients. Enter the veggie quesadilla.
How to Make Quesadillas
This recipe does not prepare its quesadillas in the traditional sense. In fact, I spent a few minutes deciding whether the title should instead be written "Vegetarian Tacos." The reason for this indecision is that I prepare a melted cheese mixture beforehand, then add it along with the other ingredients at the end.
To make a traditional vegetarian quesadilla, only the vegetables and spices are sauteed before being placed in the tortilla; the cheese goes in uncooked. You then are supposed to fold the tortilla in half and fry it on a lightly oiled skillet to melt the cheese.
However, given that we're using large flour tortillas instead of tiny, corn-based ones, I feel "quesadilla" is a slightly more appropriate title.
Prep: 15 min | Cooking: 20 min | Total: 35 min
Makes 4 quesadillas
Butter (2 tbsp)
Flour (3 tbsp)
Milk (2 cups)
Provolone cheese, shredded (1 cup)
Garlic powder (1 tsp)
Salt (1/2 tsp)
Ground black pepper (1/2 tsp)
Red pepper flakes (1/4 tsp)
Olive oil (1 tbsp)
Onions, diced (1/2 sweet onion)
Fresh garlic, minced (3 cloves)
Green bell peppers, chopped (1 whole pepper)
Black beans, (one 15-oz. can)
Large flour tortillas (4)
Cabbage, coarsely chopped (1 1/2 cups)
Optional: Diced tomatoes, sour cream, cilantro
To make the sauce: melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour until clumpy. Add milk and stir until thickened. Add provolone cheese, garlic powder, salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Stir occasionally until cheese is melted, then turn off heat.
To make everything else: heat oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add onions, garlic, and bell peppers. Saute for 7-8 minutes or until peppers are tender.
In another small saucepan, pour in beans and set heat to medium. Stir until it begins to bubble, then turn off heat but keep the saucepan on the burner.
To compose quesadillas: toast each tortilla on a clean skillet, then transfer to a plate. Paint the tortilla with a spoonful of cheese sauce, then add some pepper-onion mixture, a few spoonfuls of beans, a helping of cabbage, and (optionally) tomatoes, sour cream, and cilantro. Fold, press, and serve.
Note: There will likely be a bit of extra cheese sauce. I like to use this for dipping tortilla chips.
History of Quesadillas
Quesadillas are cousins to a much earlier, slightly simpler recipe. The dish in question has no official name, so I shall dub it the Southern Thanksgiving Predecessor. Why Thanksgiving? Because, many years before the Spanish colonized Central and South America, people of an indigenous civilization known as the Aztecs were chowing down on small, handheld pies of roasted pumpkin.
Mesoamerican societies were especially fond of corn flour tortilla-based dishes. One dish in particular (the STP) shared a good many similarities with today's quesadilla. The recipe was simple: corn tortilla, some variety of squash, and maybe a hint of honey. It was regarded as a desert meal.
When the Spanish arrived, they brought with them a haul of different cheeses and meats. Once introduced to the natives, it didn't take long for someone to try replacing the STP's squash with meat and its honey with cheese. The Spanish nicknamed this food "quesadillas," which literally translates to "tiny cheesy things."