In the cooking world it is sometimes hard to find recipes for foods that are fast, cheap and easy, but add versatile to that list and you have yourself a dang quesadilla.
This “little cheesy thing,” as the name translates, is a fusion of old world and new world that makes a sort of south of the border equivalent to grilled cheese. The thing is, it wasn't really possible in its current form until cheese arrived in the New World.
Pre-cheese variants existed probably as long as native tribes had been making their home in both North and South America. Anyone who made tortilla-like pseudo breads (a name for flat breads) had the basic building blocks. Most important in our lesson today were the Aztec people, for whom corn tortillas were dietary staples. And we all know, that made tacos, burritos, fajitas and enchiladas possible, so we owe them a big high five.
The food that would be quesadillas were originally tortillas stuffed with pumpkin or squash and baked in clay ovens, according to caciquedillaclub.com. These were eaten as sweet desserts. It was after 1521 that Spanish settlers introduced dairy products, including cheese. Quesadillas followed shortly, still made with squash, but now with cheese in the mix.
The Dona Cholita Tortilleria goes so far as to say that the tortillas we eat today were the result of a collision of three cultures. Of course, native populations will forever be responsible for the corn tortilla, but the cheese of choice today is Oaxaca (some say never cheddar), an Italian cheese introduced by Dominican monks. The Spanish were still an important contributor to today's quesadilla because native cultures in the south ate more vegetables than meat.
The Choctaws of Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana have sometimes been called vegetarians because of how rare the addition of meat was to their diet. They did, however, eat meat occasionally, but in a southern climate with rich resources, indigenous people focused on reliable, dependable gardens for food. In the north, meat would be more available year-round.
As a result, the Spanish had a large influence on local diets due to the introduction of more and more domesticated livestock. Alysa Landry's March 2017 article, “Was the Pre-Colonial Choctaw Native American Diet Vegetarian?” proposes that the introduction of meat into diets of Choctaw descendants may be responsible for some health issues today.
Interestingly, an authetic quesadilla is only one tortilla, folded in half. There is a traditional food called a sincronizada, which is usually ham and cheese and is made from two tortillas.
All that aside, in truth it is hardly necessary to do detailed recipes for the very simple quesadilla. Instead, I present you filling ideas and two recipes if you really want to complicate things.
- Diced avocado, scrambled egg, bacon pieces
- Steak, black beans, chili powder
- Shrimp, artichoke, lime juice
- Chicken, Ro-Tel tomatoes and chiles, green pepper, onion
- Shredded pork, diced, grilled squash, cinnamon
- Chorizo, avocado, squash
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons salt
- ¾ cup shortening
- ¾ cup hot water
Combine dry ingredients and mix well. Cut in the shortening until your mixture is crumbly. Add the water slowly while mixing. You want a moist, but not slimy, dough ball.
Knead the dough ball until all the flour is mixed. Add more flour if it sticks to the surface it is on. Once the dough is a consistent texture, let it rest, covered, for an hour. Cut the dough ball into 10-12 balls and roll them out to 1/8-inch thickness.
On a medium hot skillet, cook each tortilla 1-2 minutes on each side or until the dough is cooked thoroughly.
Pico de Gallo
- 3 onions
- 12 medium sized tomatoes
- Cilantro (to taste, up to 2 cups)
- 3 jalapenos
- Juice of 1 lime
Cut the Jalapenos in half and remove the seeds before dicing. Also dice the onion and tomatoes and combine in one mixing bowl. Add cilantro and lime juice and mix until evenly blended.