Vegetarian Quesadillas

When our niece Gina served us her version of quesadillas made with leftover steak and vegetables, I was so impressed that I asked for the recipe. The recipe turned out to be a set of instructions which you can find here. It is easy to follow and produces delicious appetizers or light lunches in almost no time.

Gina’s instructions call for using various leftover ingredients from your refrigerator, but for once there weren’t many leftovers in our fridge. The most obvious one was a resealable package of some corn tortillas that remained after Jerri had made Layered Enchilada Pie . I also found half an onion and a chunk of Cheddar cheese.

A quick visit to the supermarket solved the problem of vegetables for my quesadillas. I chose things that I like, and you should do the same. You might, however, want to avoid broccoli, brussels sprouts, turnips, carrots, beets and other vegetables usually associated with the north country. The ones listed below create a tasty quesadilla and offer a good starting point.

INGREDIENTS:

2 small to medium jalapeño peppers
1/2 medium red bell pepper
1/3 cup chopped zucchini squash
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup chopped mushrooms
1/4 tsp. Mexican seasoning
Dash of salt
2 T olive oil
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 or 2 T butter
8 corn tortillas

PROCEDURE:

Wash and cut the stem ends off the jalapeño peppers and slice them into quarters. Remove and discard the white membrane and seeds. Chop the peppers into an eighth to quarter-inch dice. Clean and chop the rest of the vegetables into a third to half-inch dice. Shred the cheese.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over moderate heat, add the vegetables, Mexican seasoning and salt. Cook the vegetables three or four minutes, stirring them often, until they are tender but still crisp. They will continue cooking when you fry the quesadillas.

Set the vegetables aside in a bowl and wipe the frying pan with a paper towel. Butter a tortilla very very lightly and put it butter side down in the frying pan over moderate heat. Sprinkle the tortilla with some shredded cheese and spoon on an even layer of vegetables, then top with more cheese. Butter very lightly a second tortilla and put it butter side up on the cheese.

Cover the pan and cook the quesadilla for three minutes. Press the top tortilla down on the filling and turn the quesadilla. Cook for a minute covered and a second minute uncovered. Turn the quesadilla over to make sure that it is lightly browned on both sides. Fry it an extra minute or two if necessary. Place the quesadilla on a warmed plate and repeat until you have made four of these tasty morsels.

To serve, cut in halves or quarters with a pizza cutter. If you wish, pass the salsa.

NOTES: Feel free to experiment with other vegetables, more spice, different cheese, etc. If you are averse to any spiciness, you can substitute a green bell pepper for the jalapeños and make up your own seasoning with salt, garlic powder and whatever. Chopped very fine, however, the jalapeños simply offset the blandness of the other vegetables and do not taste very hot. You really should try it, perhaps starting with only one jalapeño.

MEXICAN SEASONING: You can find Mexican seasoning in the spice section of most supermarkets, or you can make enough to spice up a lot of dishes in a few minutes.

INGREDIENTS:

1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
1?2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1?2 tsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. paprika
1 1?2 tsp. ground cumin
1?2 tsp. sea salt
1?2 tsp. black pepper
1 pinch ground cinnamon
1 pinch ground cloves

PROCEDURE:

Grind the pepper flakes and oregano in a mortar. Add the salt and black pepper and grind more to mix well. Add the other ingredients and grind briefly to mix everything together. Store in a tight container in a cool place out of direct sunlight.

Caribbean Black Bean Soup

Many years ago for two days in a row I lunched on a vegetable soup made with pork, black beans, whole kernel corn and a variety of peppers. The final touch was lime juice which produced a bright fresh flavor. It was so good that I returned the second day just to have another bowl of the stuff. As I recall the waitress told me that it was a Cuban soup.

It was rather spicy, which may explain why it disappeared from the menu. Many cooks in northern Wisconsin think that they are being generous when they stir a tablespoon of chili powder into a gallon of tomato sauce and kidney beans. I have often thought of trying to create a soup that at least reminds me of that wonderful example of that Caribbean cuisine.

Having a few extra ears of sweet corn left over from dinner the night before and a pork hock languishing in the freezer, I decided to give it a shot. I began by reading about fifty recipes on the Web, most of which appeared to be nothing like I remembered. I then made a list of ingredients that I guessed had been in the soup I had eaten those many years ago and started work. The one ingredient I would never have included on my own was the molasses. In fact, I added it only after my wife and I tasted the soup just before I served it. We agreed that the molasses adds depth to the flavor without any sweetness.

I call this my Caribbean soup because it is simply one that reminds me of soups from the Bahamas, Jamaica and the Mayan Riviera. As one glance would tell you, I am not a native of the Caribbean, but I do love the foods developed by generations of cooks using ingredients common on the islands and coasts of that sea.

INGREDIENTS:

1 lb. dried black beans
1 smoked ham hock
About 2 qts. water
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 large bay leaf
3 T olive oil
1 large yellow onion (2 cups chopped)
1 medium green bell pepper (1 cup chopped)
1/2 medium red bell pepper (1 cups chopped)
1 large or two small jalapeño peppers (about 1/3 cup chopped)
1 large carrot
1 rib of celery
3 large garlic cloves
1 1/2 – 2 cups whole kernel corn
1 T cumin
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chicken broth or stock
1/2 tsp. hot sauce
1 T molasses
2 – 3 T lime juice

PROCEDURE:

Sort and rinse the beans the night before you plan on making the soup, removing any stones or other contaminants. Put the beans in a mixing bowl and cover them with an inch or more of cold water. Let them soak overnight.

Drain and rinse the beans until the water runs clear and put them and the pork hock into a soup pot or large Dutch oven. Add enough cold water to cover the beans and hock by an inch. Add the salt and bay leaf. Bring the pot to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer the beans and hock for about two hours.

Prepare the vegetables while the beans are cooking. Remove the dry outer layer from the onion and chop it into a quarter-inch dice. Set the onion aside in a small bowl.

Wash and stem the bell and jalapeño peppers. Remove the white membranes and seeds and chop the peppers into a quarter inch dice. Peel and clean a large carrot, cut it lengthwise into quarters and chop it into eighth-inch pieces. Clean and chop the celery into a quarter-inch dice. Remove the paper and stem ends from the garlic cloves and mince them. Set all these vegetables aside in a medium-sized bowl.

When the beans are tender and the meat is starting to fall off the bones of the hock, remove the hock from the broth. Put three tablespoons of olive oil into a skillet or frying pan over moderate heat and add the onions. Stir frequently while you cook the onions until they are translucent but not brown. Add the peppers, carrot, celery and garlic to the onion along with the cumin and black pepper and cook the vegetables about four minutes, stirring often.

Add two cups of chicken broth to the bean mixture and stir in the vegetables from the skillet along with the corn. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for thirty minutes, stirring occasionally. When the hock has cooled somewhat, remove the skin and fat and chop the meat into bite-sized pieces. Stir the meat into the simmering soup.

Taste and adjust the seasoning. You may want to add more salt, hot sauce or lime juice. Serve as is or over cooked rice in soup bowls.

NOTES: Since pork hocks vary in size and saltiness, you could start with only a teaspoon of salt to begin with and add more when you are adjusting the seasoning. You can use frozen or canned whole kernel corn. Kernels cut from left-over ears of corn on the cob also work just fine. You can substitute lime juice from a bottle, but I do think that freshly squeezed juice has more flavor.

If you like your soups spicier, add more hot sauce or just put the bottle on the table. Do the same with lime juice if you want more than a hint of lime.