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Healthy quesadilla’s secret: full-fat cheese

Full-fat cheese the secret to a healthy quesadilla

Published: Wednesday, May 15, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
Caption
(AP photo)
Mushroom, pepper and onion quesadillas are shown in Concord, N.H. Full-fat cheese is the secret to a flavorful recipe.

At heart, a quesadilla is pretty much a Mexican grilled cheese. Take a tortilla, stuff it with something savory, add some cheese, fold it in half and toast it. It’s also pretty delicious.

I love any dish that includes melted cheese, and it’s that much better when Mexican ingredients are added to the mix. But as much as I enjoy the standard recipe for this widely loved treat, I was pretty sure I could dream up a lighter version.

I quickly discovered it doesn’t take a ton of cheese to flavor – and glue together – the fillings of a quesadilla. as long as you use full-fat cheese. I tried using 4 ounces of reduced-fat cheese, but I found the flavor to be so weak my tasters didn’t know there was any cheese in the recipe. A second attempt using 2 ounces of full-fat sharp cheddar was an immediate hit.

The rest of the filling is vegetables. I started by quickly cooking bell peppers and onions over medium-high heat until that magic moment when they were golden at the edges but still retained their crunch. I added mushrooms for two reasons – depth of flavor and bulk.

Finally, don’t forget the avocado, yogurt and cilantro garnish, an important part of the finished product.

Mushroom, Pepper And Onion Quesadillas

Start to finish: 30 minutes

Servings: 4

1 firm ripe avocado, diced

1 tablespoon lime juice

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

4 teaspoons vegetable oil, divided

1/2 cup chopped yellow onion

1/2 cup chopped red or green bell pepper (or a mix)

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 1/2 cups assorted sliced mushrooms

1/2 fresh jalapeño, finely chopped (seeds and ribs discarded, if desired)

2 ounces coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese

Four 8-inch flour tortillas, preferably whole wheat

Nonfat plain Greek yogurt

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a small bowl, toss the diced avocado with the lime juice and a bit of salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a large, preferably cast-iron skillet over medium-high, heat 2 teaspoons of the oil. Add the onion, bell pepper and a pinch of salt, then sauté until golden at the edges, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Transfer the mixture to a bowl.

Add the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil to the skillet along with the mushrooms and a pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to medium and saute until the liquid the mushrooms give off has evaporated, about 7 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to the bowl with the onions and peppers. Add to it the jalapeño, cheese and a bit of salt and pepper. Mix well.

Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel. Coat it with cooking spray.

Set 2 of the tortillas flat on the counter. Divide the onion-pepper mixture between them, spreading it evenly over each. Press a second tortilla firmly over each.

Heat the skillet over medium. Add one quesadilla and toast until golden, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a baking sheet. Repeat with the second quesadilla, placing it on the baking sheet when toasted. Bake for 5 minutes, or until just heated through.

Cut each quesadilla into quarters, then divide between 4 serving plates. Top each serving with avocado, yogurt and cilantro.

• Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals” and has written three cookbooks.

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