These Quesadillas Are The Best You've Ever Tried

A quesadilla could be called the grilled cheese of Mexican cooking, and as many moms and dads can attest, kids love them as much as adults do. But a quesadilla can be so much more than two tortillas grilled and stuffed with melted Monterey Jack cheese. This sophisticated and deeply delicious recipe comes to us from Nathaniel Lee whose website BeginnerFood guides cooks of all levels in the step-by-step preparation of elegant and simple cuisine. "Every amazing dish we see or taste has been built on the shoulders and traditions of those before us," Lee told us. "Every new dish becomes one for the future generation."

A former professional wedding photographer, Lee is a busy executive in San Diego, where Mexican cuisine is an eye-opening experience. "I was so shocked to learn that I've been cooking quesadillas wrong my whole childhood," he told us. "The real kicker is the fresh tortillas." We certainly agree with Lee: Flour tortillas made from scratch taste so much better than the bagged tortillas sold in supermarkets. Lee's tortillas are super easy to make, and the end result — quesadillas with homemade flour tortillas with pan-melted cheese and crispy carnitas — will be the best quesadillas you've ever eaten. So, let's get cooking!

Gather together the ingredients for these quesadillas with homemade flour tortillas

First, let's make sure you have everything ready for your quesadillas with homemade flour tortillas before you start cooking. The tortilla ingredients are probably already in your kitchen cabinet or pantry: flour, vegetable oil, and salt. For the cheese, Lee suggests panela or queso fresco, two white cheeses you'll find in many traditional Mexican dishes and in authentic tacos. If you've never tried either cheese, trust us, they're so much better than bland Monterey Jack.

You could certainly make this a vegetarian recipe by omitting the carnitas, but meat-eaters know that those crispy bits of fork-tender pork add extra deliciousness to any quesadilla. For the garnish, you'll just need an avocado, a lime, and pico de gallothe rough-chopped tomato-onion-chili salsa that takes minutes to prepare. If you have your own salsa recipe, use that instead or any other salsa you enjoy. Once you've gathered together the ingredients, it's time to roll up your sleeves and make the flour tortillas.

Make the homemade flour tortillas for these quesadillas

"I could never get fresh tortillas where I grew up, but they make a huge difference," Lee said. "There is just something magical about fresh bread products that takes food over the top."

So, to start making the tortillas for your quesadillas with homemade flour tortillas, you'll need a mixing bowl, rolling pin, measuring cups, and a large cutting board (or other work surface), so have them nearby. You will be using your hands to mix and knead the dough, so make sure you've washed them well. Resist the temptation to use an electric hand mixer or stand mixer because it will toughen the dough. But there's another reason to hand-mix, as Lee told us: "It doesn't matter if food is simple or complex, so long as it's made with care."

To start, sift a cup of all-purpose flour into the mixing bowl. Add the salt, oil, and 3 and 1/2 tablespoons of hot water, and using your fingers, mix everything gently as the dough starts to come together. As you're mixing, dribble in the remaining water, and shape the dough into a ball.

Knead the dough and start to form the homemade flour tortillas for your quesadillas

Kneading is the process in bread-making for activating the flour's gluten, which then gives bread texture, but over-kneading will turn out a dense, hard bread. Lee's method is much easier. Simply knead the dough in your hands, pulling and stretching it and folding it back into a ball for only five minutes. You want the dough to have a smooth texture with a slightly rubbery feel.

Line your cutting board or work surface with a large piece of parchment paper. (If your cutting board is smooth, you can skip this step.) Now, gently tear the dough into four equal pieces, and roll each piece into a small ball. Set the four dough balls to one side of the lined cutting board.

Roll out the tortilla dough for your quesadillas with homemade flour tortillas

Lightly dust your lined cutting board or work surface with flour to make your quesadillas with homemade flour tortillas. Don't overdo it, though, because you don't want the dough to absorb more flour, or the tortilla will get tough. Dust your rolling pin and your dry, clean hands with flour, and now you're ready to roll out your tortillas.

Start with one dough ball, and place it in the center of the cutting board. Flatten the dough ball with the palm of your hand, and begin rolling out the dough into a circle by rolling from the middle of the dough outward. Roll out the dough circle to about 1/12 of an inch thick. When you hold up the uncooked tortilla, "you want to be able to see the shadow of your hand through the dough," Lee advised us. Also keep in mind that the dough circle needs to fit into the pan you'll be using to cook the tortillas. Set the rolled-out dough aside on a sheet of parchment paper, and roll out the other three dough balls.

Cook the tortillas for the quesadillas with homemade flour tortillas

"Definitely use a nonstick pan or a really well-seasoned cast-iron skillet or grill," Lee told us. "We'll be cooking our quesadilla cheese-side down to develop flavors, so we can't have sticking." Coat the bottom of the pan with 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil, and heat the pan on medium-high. Add one tortilla to the pan, and cook 1 to 2 minutes until brown spots form, then turn the tortilla over and cook an additional 1 or 2 minutes.

Transfer the cooked tortilla to a plate, and cook the remaining tortillas, adding 1 teaspoon of oil to the pan for each one. If you don't have the right pan for melting the cheese in the next step, don't worry. "You could par-cook your tortillas (cooked one side only)," Lee suggested, "and then melt the cheese inside the tortilla." Now that your homemade tortillas are done, let's move on to the truly eye-opening next step: pan-melting the cheese.

Melt and brown the cheese in the pan for your quesadillas with homemade flour tortillas

Like most people who make quesadillas, Lee also used to melt the cheese inside the tortilla. But in Mexican restaurants in San Diego, "the cheese is cooked on the griddle, then flipped and folded," he told us. "The result is so much more flavor to the cheese because you get those slightly crispy brown bits." This quesadillas with homemade flour tortillas recipe makes two quesadillas — two homemade tortillas for each one — so divide the cheese into two equal portions.

Heat your nonstick pan or skillet over medium-high heat, and scatter half of the cheese in the bottom of the pan. Using a spatula, pat the cheese down as it melts. Cook the cheese until it's browning underneath, about 2 minutes. Now, you're going to add the carnitas.

Add the carnitas to your quesadillas with homemade flour tortillas and top with another tortilla

Traditionally, carnitas is made from pork shoulder or pork butt (also known as Boston butt) that needs to be slowly cooked for hours to melt the connective tissue and fat. But Lee has created a fantastic recipe for carnitas that's made in an Instant Pot, which produces soft and tender pork that's crisped-up in a nonstick skillet. You can pull the carnitas apart into chunks, but for this recipe, it's better to shred it instead.

You can make a big batch of carnitas and freeze it, but for these quesadillas with homemade flour tortillas, you'll need just two cups, equally divided for each quesadilla. Sprinkle half of the carnitas over the cheese, and cook for two minutes. Now, lay one of your freshly made tortillas over the carnitas and cheese, and let all of those wonderful flavors meld together for about a minute. Next, you're about to do an easy maneuver that will make you feel like a master chef.

Flip the quesadilla with homemade flour tortilla onto a plate and top with another tortilla

This next step is why it's so important to have a nonstick pan or well-seasoned skillet or grill. Use a rubber spatula to check that the cheese isn't sticking, and loosen it a little, making sure that everything slides easily. Hold a large plate or tray in one hand, and then grip the handle of your pan with your other hand. Take a deep breath, then flip the quesadilla — tortilla side down, and cheese side up — onto the plate. Quickly cover the carnitas and cheese with a second freshly made tortilla. Using the plate as your guide, flip the quesadilla back into the pan with the new tortilla face-down on the bottom of the pan. Cook for one minute, then slide the quesadilla onto your cutting board. Loosely tent the quesadilla with foil to keep it warm while you make the second quesadilla with a homemade flour tortilla.

Cut the quesadillas with homemade flour tortillas into triangles, garnish, and serve

Keep the second quesadilla warm while you slice the avocado and cut the lime into wedges. Cut each quesadilla into four triangles and arrange them into a star pattern on a serving plate. Fan out the sliced avocado on top of the quesadilla triangles, and garnish with pico de gallo or other fresh salsa. Serve with the lime wedges for everyone to squeeze over the quesadillas.

When you bite into this quesadilla with a homemade flour tortilla, you won't believe the intense flavor of the pan-cooked cheese in combination with the carnitas. If you don't want to use carnitas, you can substitute the pork with carne asada or pollo asada, so long as it's pre-cooked. Lee's childhood favorite was bacon, and who could blame him? We asked Lee what he loves most about this recipe. "It's easy while still demonstrating how to develop and deepen flavors." Give Lee's scrumptious quesadilla a try, and we're confident that you won't go back to the old "grilled-cheese" version again.

These Quesadillas Are The Best You've Ever Tried
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A quesadilla could be called the grilled cheese of Mexican cooking, and as many parents can attest, kids love them as much as adults do. But a quesadilla can be so much more than two tortillas stuffed with cheese. This sophisticated and deeply delicious recipe comes to us from Nathaniel Lee.
Prep Time
15
minutes
Cook Time
45
minutes
Servings
2
quesadillas
the best quesadilla
Ready in 60 minutes
Ingredients
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 7 tablespoons hot water
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (for rolling)
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil, divided (1 teaspoon per tortilla)
  • 2 cups shredded or grated panela, queso fresco, or other Mexican melting cheese
  • 2 cups pre-cooked carnitas, browned and shredded
  • ½ cup pico de gallo (or your favorite salsa)
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 1 lime
Directions
  1. Have a mixing bowl, rolling pin, and measuring cups on hand. Measure out the 1 cup flour, 7 tablespoons hot water, and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in separate cups or small bowls.
  2. Add the flour, oil, half of the hot water, and a pinch of salt to the mixing bowl.
  3. Mix gently with your hands. Dribble in the remaining water while you're mixing the dough.
  4. Gather up the dough and form it into a ball. Knead the dough in the bowl for 5 minutes or until it's smooth and rubbery. Tear the dough into four equal-size pieces.
  5. If your cutting board is textured, line it with parchment paper. Dust the parchment and rolling pin with flour. (If your cutting board is smooth, you don't have to line it first.)
  6. Roll out each dough ball into a disc.
  7. Heat 1 teaspoon vegetable oil in a non-stick pan or well-seasoned skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 cup of the cheese to the pan, and spread out evenly.
  8. Cook the cheese for 2 minutes or until it melts and begins to brown. Spread 1 cup of the carnitas evenly over the cheese and cook an additional 2 minutes.
  9. Top the carnitas and cheese with one cooked tortilla. Cook for 1 minute.
  10. Flip the quesadilla onto a plate, cheese side up. Top with another cooked tortilla, and slide the quesadilla back into the pan. Cook for 1 more minute.
  11. Transfer the quesadilla to the cutting board and repeat with the remaining tortillas, cheese, and carnitas. When ready to serve, slice each quesadilla into eight triangles, arrange them on a plate, and garnish with the sliced avocado. Spoon pico de gallo or other salsa over the top, and serve with lime wedges.
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