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October 20, 2003

Small Time Cooks: Quesadillas

This guy lumbered into my office—the biggest case I'd seen in weeks. He was about 6 foot 8. Seems this guy thought his business associate was skimming a little off the top. He wanted me to tail him for a few days, see what turned up—go where he goes. Playing follow-the-leader took me to Pilsen for lunch one afternoon. Pilsen has the best homemade Mexican food this side of the Red River, and it made me think of my younger days in Texas. Tex-Mex was always great food, and it was so easy to make.

Hyde Park Produce had almost everything we needed for only a few bucks. Tex-Mex makes so much food for so little. Maria invited some friends over and we made stacks of quesadillas with all the sides: salsa, fajita-style onions and peppers, mushrooms, and pico de gallo. I used a quesadilla as a plate for the amazing sides.

Serves 6 to 8.

We bought all the ingredients below for about $25. Not bad, considering we had enough food to feed eight people.

Mushroom-Spinach Quesadillas

2 cups shredded spinach

18 sliced white mushrooms

2 lbs. Monterrey Jack cheese

10 to 20 large (but not too large) flour tortillas

Put a pan on medium-high heat and melt a little butter. Make sure the pan is big enough so that the tortilla can lay flat. It's alright if the tortilla goes up on the sides a bit. Use smaller tortillas if you have to. Once the pan is hot, lay down a tortilla flat on the pan, and move it around in the pan to smooth out the melted butter. Sprinkle with about 1/4 cup of cheese, then with spinach and mushrooms as you like them. Sprinkle a bit more cheese on the top. Once the cheese starts to melt, take a spatula and gently fold the tortilla in half. Press down with the spatula, and flip after a minute. The bottom should have turned golden brown. Let sit on the other side for a minute, then move to a plate. Start over at the beginning for the next quesadilla. If the pan is hot enough, you should be able to just put in the butter followed by the tortilla. If the melted butter becomes brown, turn down the heat a bit. If you have the heat right, you can keep cranking out the tortillas.

Pico de Gallo

1/2 white onion, diced

8 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced

2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro

Juice of 1 to 2 limes

A pinch of salt

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and put in the fridge or serve. If you have a food processor, it makes chopping everything much faster. This recipe may take a little time, so if you're not a fiend for Pico de Gallo, halve the recipe. Alternatively, you can buy equally good salsa at Hyde Park Produce.

Black Bean-Corn Salsa

1 (16oz) can black beans, drained of juices

1 (8oz) can corn kernels, drained of juices

Juice of half a lime

Partially mash the black beans in a bowl with a fork, then stir in the corn and squeeze in the lime juice.

Fajita-Style Onions and Peppers

1 white onion

2 green bell peppers

Peel and slice the onion into thin strips. Cut the stem off the bell pepper and seed it, cutting it into strips. Get a pan very hot with a little vegetable oil in the bottom, and cook the crap out of the onions and peppers, keeping the heat on high. When the onions are caramelized, they're done.

Kissed Mushrooms

10 white mushrooms, sliced

Add a little oil to a pan, get it really hot, and put in the mushrooms. Toss the pan or stir every 20 seconds or so, so that the heat "kisses" the mushrooms and they slightly singe on the edges.

Vegan Soft Tacos/Burritos

10 to 20 flour tortillas

2 cups cooked long-grain white rice

1 Tbsp. chopped cilantro

1/2 lime, juiced

Pico de Gallo (see recipe above)

Black bean-corn salsa (see recipe above)

Fajita-style onions and peppers (see recipe above)

Kissed mushrooms (see recipe above)

Add the cilantro and lime to the rice, mixing well. Put together a delicious soft taco/burrito.

If you want, you can also put chicken in the quesadillas. Get some thin chicken breasts, clean them well, and slice them into thin strips. Melt some butter in a pan, and toss the chicken strips in when the butter sizzles. Sprinkle on salt, lime, and pepper, or just add fajita seasoning if you can find it. It's awesome if the chicken caramelizes a bit. Make sure it's cooked. Put the chicken in with the mushrooms and spinach.