By Wolfgang Puck
I've always been delighted by the mixture of cultures in America, not least because of the opportunities they offer to taste the foods of many lands without traveling far from home.
In the Los Angeles area alone, I enjoy world-class Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Korean, Mexican, Cuban, Italian, Russian and French food, just to name a few.
And, of course, I can't forget all the many kinds of American cooking, or my own Austrian specialties that I sprinkle onto the menu at Spago.
Not only is it exciting and delicious to eat a wide variety of global cooking, but it can also be instructive in a meaningful way.
Just as you're exploring the differences between cultures through their foods, you sometimes suddenly realize how similar cuisines and the people who eat them actually are.
Take the quesadilla, that simple Mexican combination of tortillas and melted cheese that so many people enjoy.
The word quesadilla translates literally as "little cheesy thing," and it's really not much more than that: a thin, flat flour tortilla enclosing one or more kinds of melting cheese, toasted on a grill or griddle or in a frying pan until the tortilla turns crispy and golden and the cheese is soft and gooey. For many American children, my boys included, it's the first Mexican food they eat. Everybody loves it.
When you think a little about those basics, however, you realize that the quesadilla is a very close cousin to an American grilled cheese sandwich or the simplest Italian pizza or panini: hot, crunchy bread and oozing cheese.
And just like those favorites, the most basic version of a quesadilla recipe can become the starting point for creative cooking.
You can change the cheeses; add pieces of your favorite cooked seafood, poultry, meats, or vegetables; enliven it with spicy or mild fresh or roasted peppers, sliced onions, chopped herbs; or include some sort of sauce, whether fresh tomato salsa, cooked chili sauce or tomato sauce, or some sort of pesto.
But let's get back to the basics. I like to make my own cheese quesadilla by sandwiching three different kinds of cheese between two tortillas and then frying it in a little olive oil. The result is a uniformly golden-brown quesadilla that delivers the full nutlike flavor and crunchy texture of the tortillas. I serve it with a classic version of guacamole, the popular Mexican dip of mashed avocado and seasonings.
Add some fresh tomato salsa and you've got the perfect combination of Mexican flavors and colors.
Three-Cheese Quesadillas Recipe
Serves 4 to 8
4 flour tortillas, each 12 inches in diameter
1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded Mexican-style queso blanco or Fontina cheese
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Extra-virgin olive oil
Place two of the flour tortillas on a work surface. Top with the cheeses, spreading half of each one evenly over each of the two tortillas. Top with other two tortillas and press down with your hands to help seal them together.
Heat a large saute pan over high heat. Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan and then reduce the heat to medium. Carefully transfer one of the quesadillas to the pan, taking care not to let the cheese fall out. Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. With a large spatula, transfer to a cutting board and cover loosely with aluminum foil. Repeat with the other quesadilla.
Let the quesadillas cool for 5 minutes. With a large, sharp knife, cut several times across the diameter of each quesadilla to cut it into 8 or 10 wedges. Serve with guacamole.
Classic Guacamole Recipe
Makes about 2/3 Cup
1 ripe Hass avocado
2 tablespoons minced red onion
1 tablespoon minced jalapeno pepper
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves
1/2 lime, juiced
With a small, sharp knife, cut the avocado into 2 equal halves through its stem and flower ends, cutting all the way down to the hard pit in the center. Hold each half with one hand and twist your hands in opposite directions to separate the halves.
To remove the pit from the half in which it remains, cup that half in one hand. With the sharp edge of the knife blade, very carefully but firmly strike the pit to lodge the blade in it; then, gently twist the blade to dislodge the pit and very carefully remove the pit from the blade. Discard the pit. (Alternatively, and very safely, scoop out the pit with a sharp-edged spoon, keeping the spoons edge close to the pit to avoid losing any of the avocado's flesh.)
With a spoon, scoop out the avocado flesh from the peel of each half and transfer the flesh to a mixing bowl. Mash the avocado with the tines of a fork, as smoothly or coarsely, as you prefer. Stir in the onion, jalapeno, cilantro, and lime juice. Season to taste with salt.
Related: Pizza Mexican Style Recipe
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Recipes: "Three-Cheese Quesadillas "
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