On The Range is a weekly exploration of the history and lore of Texas menu items.
Quesadilla translates as "little cheesy thing"--so no true recipe can exist without it. Even vegan variations tend to use soy cheese prominently.
Writing in his book Mexico: One Plate at a Time, Rick Bayless lists three basic types of quesadillas, the primary difference being their methods of preparation:
"The one prepared from a ready-made tortilla (mostly a corn tortilla in Mexico, a flour one in the United States) that's folded around melting cheese and lightly crisped on a griddle is easy to make very good as long as the tortilla is fresh and the cheese is melting and tasty....Our second recipe, the griddle-baked quesadilla made from masa that's pressed out, laid on the griddle, filled and folded, is best when the masa is pressed thin enough to be in proportion to the filling....The third recipe, the fried quesadilla, is perfect when the masa is pressed thin, there's an epazote-flavored nugget of melted cheese inside, and the outside is crispy but tender and greaseless."
Diana Kennedy, author of The Cuisines of Mexico, adds that cooking the quesadillas on the comal or griddle is the method embraced "by those who love the rustic flavor and texture of ground maize." She also suggests serving them immediately, because they become leathery if allowed to stand too long.
As for fillings, she not only employs familiar ingredients such as chorizo and papas, but also such exotic offerings as huitlacoche, a corn fungus she describes as the ambrosia of the Aztec gods, pumpkin blossoms, and sesos, or calf brains.
Yeah, corn fungus and calf brain quesadillas. Let Mi Cocina put that on their menu and see how it goes over.
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Luckily, Matt Martinez list of quesadilla fillings in his book Mex Tex is more prosaic: taco meat, pinto beans, black beans, and such veggies as chopped onion, bell pepper, minced broccoli or cauliflower, baby spinach, chopped or thinly sliced zucchini or squash. Needless to say, a quick survey of recipes on the internet will yield even more variations. And to top it all off, some places, such as Dallas own Quesa-D-Yas, will even bring them to your casa if you so desire and if you live within their delivery area.
In the safer 'burbs, steak and chicken seem to be the fillings of choice in many establishments, as restaurateurs merely use their extra fajita meat to fill quesadillas. At Mariano's Hacienda Restaurant, an establishment created by the inventor of the frozen margarita, the Quesadillas De Fajitas are indeed made with steak or chicken fajita meat, Monterey Jack cheese, grilled poblano peppers, tomato and onion. (If you prefer a meatless version, you can always try the spinach, mushroom, poblano, and cheese creation instead.)
Both Mariano's steak and chicken quesadillas are infused with grilled mesquite flavor throughout, and their tortilla cradles are nicely crispy.
But the cheese makes it what it is.