I went to a very well-known Mexican restaurant that just opened in Puerto Rico… one that has many locations in cities around the US, but apparently according to the hard-core fan base, it’s not a chain restaurant. Well… back to my experience, the thing was, I was underwhelmed. After all the fanfare of this restaurant opening in PR and having friends telling me such “wonderful” things about it, I was not impressed. My net takeaway was – I can make better Mexican food at home!
This is how these quesadillas came about… Why make quesadillas with only 1 cheese, or only one ingredient for that matter? And newsflash to all the “fancy schmancy” restaurants out there, quesadillas can be made with something other than just chicken.
Inspired by the fried quesadillas of Guadalajara, here is my take on a great vegetarian option for lunch on even dinner…
SPINACH FRIED QUESADILLA
3 sprouted corn tortillas
1 cup baby fresh spinach – what you can fit in a 1 cup measuring cup
1 cup grated mozzarella or Italian blend cheeses
2 ounces of goat cheese – cream cheese will do in a pinch
Freshly grated Black Pepper
You’ll be able to make 2 quesadillas at a time using a large skillet, but you need to make them in staggered steps. I consider 3 quesadillas is a good serving portion for one, but if you think you are better off with 4 quesadillas, just add one more tortilla and adjust the rest of the ingredients. This is more a method than a recipe…
- In a large non-stick skillet over medium heat, add a drizzle of olive oil and place one tortilla… flip it over on both sides so there’s some of the olive oil on both sides.
- Place some of the shredded cheese on top of the tortilla. Now place a few fresh baby spinach leaves on top of the cheese. You can rip them into smaller pieces with your hands if you’d like. Season the spinach with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Place a few pieces of goat cheese over spinach.
- Carefully, fold tortilla in half so you end up with a half moon filled with spinach and cheese. At first it will seem as if there is too much spinach for the small tortilla, but the heat from the skillet will wilt the spinach and it will reduce the bulk considerably.
- Flip the tortilla a few times so that it gets golden brown on both sides.
While one quesadilla is getting golden brown to the side of the pan, you can use the remaining space to heat up tortilla #2. And start the process all over again.
The other day I posted on Instagram that I was eating a fainá… and many of you liked the picture. But I was wondering if most of you know what a fainá is… I learned about it during my one and only visit to Buenos Aires a couple of years ago.
When you look at the picture above, you just say it’s a pizza, right?? But this is no ordinary pizza… A fainá is a flatbread made with chickpea flour, very typical in Argentina. They usually serve it as an appetizer or as an accompaniment to pizza. But, you can also order a fainá as the CRUST of a pizza, topping it with cheese and any of the traditional pizza toppings, making it a gluten-free alternative.
When we were in Argentina, we went to this little pizzeria in our neighborhood and the owner would make pizza using fainá as the crust. I am not kidding you when I tell you we went almost every day to eat dinner there.
In Puerto Rico, we have an Argentinean pizzeria Juan Pan Pizza, which serves us pizza in a fainá crust. If you call ahead, they’ll make you individually-sized pizzas with a very thin and crispy fainá crust. Usually fainá is a tad thick… and in a pinch, they’ll just top the fainá they have on hand and top it with your favorite pizza toppings.
You see? There are gluten-free alternatives wherever you go… Hope you visit Juan Pan Pizza soon if you live in Puerto Rico or now get to order a fainá on your next trip to Buenos Aires.
It’s incredible when you have the opportunity to live outside your native country, how you turn more patriotic than the flag.
I developed this recipe as part of a special post for my friend Marixsa’s blog, Mamá Boricua en Brooklyn. She’s sharing a series of articles celebrating the Puerto Rican Parade in NYC under the moniker Abrazos Boricuas. She was gracious to invite me to share a bit of my experience living and experiencing the Puerto Rican Day Parade for the first time, 20 years ago!!! Can you believe it?!?!
If you want to read more about my story and the pride I feel about flaunting my “mancha de plátano”, please visit Mamá Boricua en Brooklyn. And to her readers who are visiting KarmaFree Cooking for the first time, we welcome you with open arms. Here I share many vegetarian recipes recipes that express my love for my beautiful Island, Puerto Rico. This is one of them… enjoy!
SWEET PLANTAIN CANOES FILLED WITH CREAMED SPINACH
4 sweet ripe plantains
1 bag of fresh baby spinach
1 medium onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, smashed
4 oz of cream cheese
A splash of half & half or milk
A pinch of nutmeg
2 tbs of pine nuts
1 cup of grated mozzarella cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste
- Bake the plantains in their own skin… cut a Little bit of the ends and you make a shallow slit on the inside of the plantain from one end to the other. Place in a baking sheet covered with parchment paper side to side and bake in a 350F for about 30 minutes.
- While the plantains cook, we prepare the filling… In a large skillet over medium heat, add a drizzle of olive oil, the onions and garlic clove. Sweat slowly for the onions to cook and the garlic to infuse its flavor, without browning.
- When the onions are cooked and translucent, remove the Garlic clove and add the spinach in batches to the skillet. It might seem like too much, but the spinach will wilt down a lot. Cover the skillet for a few minutes to help the wilting process. Mix the spinach and the onions well to help the spinach wilt and for the flavors to meld together.
- Add the cream cheese in pieces to make it easier to melt with the spinach. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. You’ll end up with a creamy spinach mixture. If you feel the mixture is tight, add a splash of milk or half and half.
- When the plantains are cooked, take them out of their blackened skins and place in a baking dish all 4 plantains together side by side or in individual lasagna dishes or even shallow ramekins might work well too.
- Place the plantains with the natural curve to the top. If you made the slit to the skin previously, now make the slit slightly deeper to fill the plantain on the inside. Place ¼ of the spinach mixture over each plantain. Sprinkle the pine nuts over the plantains evenly and cover them all with the grated mozzarella cheese.
- Return the plantains to the oven for a few minutes at 350F to melt and brown the cheese a bit.
Enjoy these plantain canoes with a nice salad and rice with corn on the side.
This was one of the main dishes we created for our 3rd KarmaFree Cooking class recently. We were super excited because we got picked up by the local newspaper El Nuevo Día and we received tons of calls from people interested. We hosted 7 students who are not vegetarian, but are very interested in following a more natural and meat-free diet. I was thrilled!!
Angie is the expert among us making tofu scramble… but I made sure the ingredients were colorful, vibrant and easy to find in any supermarket.
1 package of extra-firm tofu
1 vegetable bouillon cube with seas salt and herbs
½ red onion, chopped
1 orange bell pepper, chopped
1 package of fresh baby spinach
2 cups of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
Butter or Dairy-free alternative like Earth Balance
Freshly Cracked Black Pepper
½ tsp turmeric
- In a large skillet over medium high heat, add the olive oil, a pat of butter and add the onions and peppers to soften. Add the bouillon cube too and dissolve it in the mixture.
- Drain the tofu as much as you can. In a bowl, pat it with a few paper towels. Mash the tofu and add to the onions and peppers in the skillet. Miox it well so the tofu starts infusing itself with the flavors in the skillet.
- Season with black pepper and turmeric. Mix well.
- Add the tomatoes and spinach to the mixture. Mix it all well and cover for a few minutes so the spinach wilts .
- Uncover and raise the heat a bit so the liquid that most probably accumulated at the bottom can evaporate a bit.
Serve alongside these Double Mustard Roasted Potatoes and your favorite toast.
Even though I am not currently dating someone special… I still like to cook something nice, even if it’s just for myself.
After all, Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate LOVE and there are many ways to express and celebrate love – love towards your parents, love towards your kids, love towards your siblings, love towards your pets, love towards your partner, love towards your neighbors, your family in general, your co-workers, your friends and most of all, LOVE TOWARDS YOURSELF. Because, if you don’t love yourself, how do you expect others to love you too???
Here are a few ideas I have cooked in the past to impress a few loved ones… hope you choose to make one to impress YOURSELF!!!
Cheese, Spinach and Mushroom Manicotti
Roasted Stuffed Tomatoes over Pasta
Eggplant and Goat Cheese Bake
Korean Seasoned Tofu
Chame’s Spinach Salad with Figs and Blue Cheese
Poached Pears with Blue Cheese and Almond Praline