Alimentary, My Dear
Fast Food Under Way Quesadillas
By Tamia Nelson
September 20, 2005
On a Big Trip, it's
fun to take a break every few days to hang out around a fire or stove and
make an elaborate meal. While someone else is washing and drying your dirty
clothes and repairing any
broken gear, you can simmer a pot
of soup or bake a couple
of slabs of bannock. But on weekend
adventures I'm seldom in the mood to spend long hours in camp. There's
just too much else I'd rather do. These are the times when fast food looks
mighty attractive. No, I don't mean burgers-'n'-fries. I do fast food my
way, or I don't do it at all. Pasta is a
will like the tastes and textures, while hard-charging members of the "food
is fuel" brigade won't find many meals that do a better job of replenishing
their muscles' depleted glycogen stores. Still, the old chestnut is right:
variety is the spice of
life. And when you're looking for a satisfying change of pace, it's hard to
go wrong with quesadillas.
What's a quesadilla? It's a Mexican native that's found a home away from
home north of the border. But first things first. It's hard to talk about
something if you can't say its name, right? So how do you say
quesadilla? Good question. I've heard at least three different
pronunciations: Kay-sa-DEEL-ya, Kay-sa-DEE-ya, and Kuh-sa-DEEL-ya. And I'll
bet those aren't the only variants. Whatever pronunciation you favor,
though, quesadillas are always delicious. They're a snap to make, into the
bargain, and as for variety
well, there are as many ways to build a
quesadilla as there are ways to say the name. Just follow the principles of
cookery and let your imagination run free.
OK. Let's get back to my earlier question: what is a quesadilla?
Easy. Think of it as a toasted cheese sandwich, Mexican style. But that's
not all. Cheese is only the start. Depending on the filling, quesadillas can
satisfy everyone from vigilant vegetarians to keen carnivores. Moreover, you
can eat them as either a quick snack on the trail or a sit-down meal in
camp. How's that for versatility! Ready to give one a try? Great! Let's
build a quesadilla. And since every construction job begins with a list of
materials, that's just where we'll start:
Tortillas are to quesadillas what bread is to peanut butter and jelly
sandwiches. You can make your own from scratch, of course, but if you're not
in the mood, just pick some up ready-made at your local HyperMart. Then
store them in an airtight plastic bag in your refrigerator till you're ready
to head for the put-in.
A few words about tortillas. There are two kinds: corn and (wheat) flour.
Each has its fans. You can choose a size to match your appetite, too
from small to extra-large. For the record, I use 10-inch flour tortillas for
my quesadillas. They're just about perfect for folding and holding, and
they're a good fit in my favorite skillets,
too. Why flour rather than corn? I prefer the flavor, and they seem less
likely to break when folded. If you prefer corn to wheat, however, go for
Got your tortillas? Good. Now you need some
Vegans take notice: queso means "cheese." No cheese, no
quesadilla. The best cheeses are those which won't separate when heated.
Extra-sharp cheddar is not a good choice. The butterfat oozes out on
heating, creating an oily mess. Soft cheeses are also bad news. They burn in
the skillet and drip in your lap. Ouch! So keep the limburger and brie for
something else. What's left? Real quesadillas are built from asadero.
You'll find this in Mexican markets. But what if there's no such thing in
your corner of Canoe Country? Don't despair. Mild, medium, and sharp
cheddars all work well. (But extra-sharp won't, remember?) Color doesn't
matter in cheddars. White or orange, it's all the same. The only difference
is annatto, a natural food coloring. Jacks and muenster are good quesadilla
cheeses, too. Some jacks even boast chunks of chili or jalapeño peppers
if that's to your taste. Me? I walk on the mild side. My first choice is a
nutty, sharp orange cheddar (orange adds color to the dish, but not flavor).
You can stop here if you want to. The simplest quesadillas are little
more than a tortilla topped with melted cheese, then folded in half and
eaten. But why not go further? Why not do more? Paddling's hard work, after
all. Your body needs fuel to function. And to build a really hearty
quesadilla you'll want
But a word of caution. Too much of even a good thing can sometimes
too much. Don't overfill your quesadillas. Better to make
more than one for each person than to overload the tortillas and risk a
sloppy avalanche. That warning aside, you can mix and match fillings to suit
your taste and appetite. Possibilities include
Meat, Poultry, or Fish Beef and chicken are favorites,
but any cooked meat or poultry will do. Fish, too. Whatever you use,
however, the meat or fish must be cooked before you assemble your
quesadillas. Leftovers from a roast or grill, canned meats (drain the juices
first!), or reconstituted dehydrated or freeze-dried meats are all suitable.
Tear or shred the meat into bite-sized pieces or slice very thinly, and
flake the fish. Large cubes are no good, by the way unless you like
spilling your food down the front of your paddling jacket, that is.
Beans Ah, yes. The musical fruit. And they're as
nutritious as they are entertaining. Try black, pinto, or (dark or light)
kidney beans. Canned refried beans are also popular, though health-conscious
diners and vegetarians will want to use the fat-free variety. The good news?
No flavor is lost when the lard is left out. Canned black and kidney beans
are convenient and usually of acceptable quality. As with canned meats,
however, you should drain the liquid from any canned beans before you build.
Then rinse the beans with clean
water. The packing liquid not only makes the quesadilla too juicy, but
it's also blamed for beans' musical qualities. (I'm not convinced,
) Some markets also carry dehydrated beans. Reconstitute with
water, following package directions.
Vegetables The candidates include cooked, thinly sliced
fresh vegetables like onions, red or green bell peppers, chili peppers, or
jalapeños. Cook chopped garlic along with them for that extra touch
(and toot). Chopped or sliced seeded tomatoes that is, raw or cooked
tomatoes from which the seeds have been removed are also tasty.
Canned chili peppers or jalapeños can be used, too, so long as the
peppers are drained first. And drained, ready-made roasted peppers taken
from a jar or can are delicious. Some folks like sliced green or black
olives, or slivered sun-dried tomatoes.
That pretty much exhausts the list of primary structural materials. But
you're not done yet. Now it's time to inventory the trim and fittings. It's
time to consider
Spices, Herbs, and Other Flavorings
Some like it hot, and quesadillas can be made as spicy as you can stand
it. Chili powder or a purchased packet of salsa or taco spice mix is a good
starting point. Cooks who prefer more control over their flavorings might
wish to try ground cumin, ground coriander, or fresh cilantro. Yes, I know
fresh cilantro isn't a spice. But this parsley-like herb has a
pleasantly sharp tang and is a traditional element in Mexican cooking. I've
also used ground cinnamon and dried oregano for flavoring, and while these
may not be authentic, they are delicious. Squeeze a little fresh lime
juice into the filling, too, or use the reconstituted juice from one of the
plastic limes you'll find in the HyperMart. And folks who like it really
torrid can always use a hot pepper sauce.
Still not satisfied with your architectural plan? No problem. There are
Guacamole, salsa, or picante make fine garnishes for quesadillas. The
HyperMart carries them ready-made in degrees of heat from mild to scalding.
nuts are also good. I like toasted pepitas squash seeds
for their crunch and flavor.
Got your list of materials? Then we're ready to build. But before we
begin, let's take a minute for the mandatory OSHA briefing:
Trust me on this one food poisoning adds nothing to any outing.
(If you're not the sort to take anything on trust, just ask Farwell, who has
vivid memories of several days spent running rapids in a canoe with a Sigg
chamber pot tucked under his seat. Convenient? Yes. Comfortable? No way! And
at dinner time the Sigg pot had to report back to the galley. Needless to
say, Farwell didn't enjoy his meals much.) Of course you can take foods on a
weekend trip that you couldn't bring on a longer expedition, but all fresh
foods can spoil. That's why it's worth bringing a small soft cooler and a
couple of freezer blocks along on your weekend adventures. They're not much
of a burden, and once the food is eaten, the empty cooler can be folded flat
away. Be sure to freeze any spoilage-prone foods (cooked meats, for
instance) in advance of the trip, too, and then store them in your cooler
under way. By the time you reach camp they should be nearly thawed, yet
still be cold enough to check bacterial growth.
Now there's nothing holding us back. It's time
To Build a Quesadilla
You don't need many tools just a skillet with
a lid and some cooking oil to grease it. (I use canola or corn oil.)
Since you'll have to flip the quesadilla in the pan, a spatula is useful,
although a spoon or fork can also do the job with a little deft handwork.
Assembly is similarly straightforward. You can fold one tortilla to make a
half-moon, or use two to construct a sort of sandwich-in-the-round. I favor
the half-moon, perhaps because I find it easier to flip. In any case, you
build your quesadilla up from the foundation. Here's the construction plan
- Place one tortilla on a clean, flat surface. (The bottom of a
reasonably flat-bottomed canoe or kayak will do in a pinch.)
- Sprinkle a thin layer of grated or crumbled cheese over half of the
tortilla, leaving a one-inch border along the outer edge.
- Spoon a heaping tablespoon of whatever filling you favor on top of
the cheese and spread it evenly, taking care to leave the border empty.
- Dust spices and herbs over the filling.
- Fold the quesadilla in half, pressing gently down around the one-inch
- Heat your lightly-oiled skillet over a medium flame or
the oil is hot. (How hot is hot enough? If it sizzles vigorously when you
drop a tiny crumb of tortilla in the oil, you're good to go. If the oil
smokes, however, it's too hot.) Then place the quesadilla in the pan and
cover. (Covering the skillet helps melt the cheese and warm the filling.)
After 1-2 minutes, lift the lid to check on progress. The first side should
be golden brown and crispy. If it is, carefully flip the quesadilla and
cover the skillet again. Heat the second side for another 1-2 minutes, or
until it, too, is golden brown. Don't use too high a flame! You'll burn the
tortilla before the cheese is melted.
- Serve the quesadilla whole or cut into wedges. Repeat as often as
To make quesadillas-in-the-round, cover one tortilla with cheese and
filling, then add spices and garnish, leaving a one-inch border all around
the circumference. Cover with the second tortilla, "seal" the edges, and
heat in a covered skillet as already described. WARNING! Flipping
this quesadilla requires considerable finesse if you want to avoid spilling
the filling. Practice at home first.
Fast food on the riverbank? Why not? Quesadillas are just the start. You
could take the same ingredients and make a fajita with them, wrapping
everything up in a tortilla roll. In fact, fajitas are another of my
favorite quick meals. But quesadillas are special. I love the contrast
between the ever-so-slightly crispy exterior and the chewy filling. And
they're delicious, too. In fact, I think I'll build a couple for lunch. No
burgers-'n'-fries for me today, thanks. I'm doing fast food my way!
Copyright © 2005 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights