Quesadillas with some trimmings

I started making my own flour tortillas about two years ago. There are plenty of decent flour tortillas available in Cape Town, but the price for a pack of eight (around R35-45, or about $3.50) is discouraging. Rolling out a few tortillas is admittedly time-consuming, and in the greater scheme of me using my time wisely, probably not the most lucrative. At the same time, I consider cooking to be a legitimate and reasonably serious hobby, so I do not find it bothersome to spend an extra 30 minutes or so making my own tortillas.

The rest of the components that I like to pair with quesadillas are much less time-consuming; pico de gallo, guacamole for toppings, and seasoned, pan-fried chicken for the filling. The preparation time for these dishes combined (30-40 minutes) takes only a little more time to prepare than the tortillas.

Thus, if you want this to be a moderately quick meal to prepare, go and buy some tortillas. If you live in a place where tortillas are either painfully expensive, or entirely unavailable (the only place I found tortillas in Japan, in a large frozen stack, was at Yamaya), budget yourself about 40 extra minutes to make some tortillas, for a total of about 1 hour 10 minutes of preparation time.

Quesadillas with some trimmings

Yield: about 4 servings

For the tortillas (makes 8 tortillas):

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for cooking

For the filling:

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts*
  • 1 small bell pepper, any colo(u)r
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 fresh chili; or about 1 tsp dried chili flakes
  • 1 small tomato (roma tomatoes are a good size)
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1 cup shredded cheese, such as cheddar, edam, american, or any other medium-fat mild cheeses that melt well.
  • glug of cooking oil (I use olive oil, about 1 tbs)
  • salt and pepper to taste

*Any tender, shredded meat will do, it’s up to you. For a vegetarian option, add a bit more cheese and use cooked black or pinto beans. If these varieties aren’t available, kidney beans are a decent substitute.

For the pico de gallo:

  • 1/2 small purple onion (regular onion will suffice)
  • 3-4 medium-sized tomatoes de-seeded; use roma if available (this variety is fleshier, with less seeds and juice)
  • 2-3 tsp lemon or lime juice
  • small handful fresh cilantro/coriander/dhania
  • salt to taste

For the guacamole: 

  • 1-2 avocados, depending on size
  • 1/2 small purple onion (regular onion will suffice)
  • 3-4 tsp lemon or lime juice, depending on avocado size and taste
  • small handful fresh cilantro/coriander/dhania
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional: 1/2 small tomato, de-seeded
  • Optional: 1/2 teaspoon chili powder or flakes

Method:

Tortillas:

Take the chicken out of the fridge and let it warm up a bit as you prepare the tortillas. Sift together flour and salt in a bowl. Make a well in the center of the mixture and add water. Stir with a fork or a dough-hook until the dough comes together. Roll out onto a floured surface and knead until dough just comes together, about 1-2 minutes. Use some oil to grease the bowl, then return dough to bowl. Cover with a damp cloth and let rest for about 20-30 minutes.

The Trimmings: 

Once you set aside the dough to rest, get two bowls ready, and put the lemon juice for each dish in the bowls. Chop the onion and place into each bowl (notice that each dish requires 1/2 an onion). Stir the chopped onion into the lemon/lime juice. This is an important step, since the lemon/lime juice will “cook” the lemon, reducing its sharpness. Finely dice the fresh coriander, again placing into each bowl. Chop up the tomatoes, removing the seeds and juice. If you are adding tomatoes to the guacamole, do not it add to the bowl yet.

Guacamole:

Cut the avocado(s) in half and remove the pit. Scoop out the flesh into one of the bowls and mash it up until reasonably smooth and as uniform as you like. Add the salt, pepper, and optional chili flakes and tomatoes and stir until just combined.

Pico de Gallo:

Add the chopped tomatoes to the lemon/lime juice, onion, and coriander mixture, and stir to combine. Add salt to taste.

Tortillas:

Once the trimmings are finished, the dough has probably rested sufficiently. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. On a floured surface, use your hand to flatten each piece into a disk (this will help keep the tortillas round). Don’t be afraid to use flour as liberally as needed. Pre-heat a large frying pan (11-inch at least). Roll out the tortillas using a rolling pin. To obtain the most consistent thickness, rotate the round about 45 degrees (add flour each time, otherwise it will stick) after about two turns with the rolling pin. Be cautious when you rotate the rounds; add flour to avoid any stickiness. You may get pinches/wrinkles if you aren’t rotating enough or adding enough flour. Continue rolling and rotating until the round is about 10 inches in diameter, or can fit comfortably into the pan.

Spread a small glug of oil evenly in the pan. A large, wide, flat spatula will be very beneficial for this process. Fry each tortilla for about 1-2 minutes per side, until small bubbles appear in the dough. Be sure to add more oil for each new tortilla (you don’t need to replenish the oil for each side of each tortilla).

Filling:

Now that the tortillas are finished, heat a glug of cooking oil in another pan (use the tortilla pan for the quesadilla assembly following this). Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with a little salt, pepper, and paprika, and fry until cooked through (about 5-10 minutes depending on the size of the breasts). While the chicken is cooking, chop up the vegetables and shred the cheese for the filling. Once the chicken is cooked through, set aside (ideally in a bowl that will catch the juice). In the same pan, add the chopped onion, garlic, pepper, chili, and tomato. Cook for 1-3 minutes, and then add the cumin, coriander, oregano, and a little more salt and pepper. Continue cooking until some of the liquid from the vegetables starts evaporating, about another 3-5 minutes. As the mixture cooks, shred the chicken with a knife and fork. Add the shredded chicken to the pan, and stir until just combined. Remove from the heat and keep covered.

Quesadilla Assembly: 

In the heated pan you used to make the tortillas, heat a small glug of oil (about 1 tsp). Place one tortilla in the pan and about 1/8 cup of the cheese on the tortilla, spread out to within about 1 inch (about 2 centimeters) of the edge of the tortilla. Spread 1/4 of the chicken mixture over the cheese, and then add another 1/8 cup on top. Place a second tortilla over the mixture, and press down with your hand, or the flat spatula. Keep pressing down, and occasionally rotate, until the bottom tortilla becomes golden brown and slightly crisp, about 4-5 minutes. Flip the quesadilla over and cook the other side until browned and slightly crisp (use the spatula to press down on the side which as been cooked). Repeat this process for the remaining 3 quesadillas.

A good way to keep the quesadillas warm as you fry the others is in a heated oven, at about 100C (200F). To serve, cut the quesadillas into quarters using a pizza-cutter. Dig in!

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