Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Quesadillas con rajas: starring queso fresco from Gringa Dairy

Note the colours of the Mexican flag. Most delicious flag ever.

Quesadillas are not a complicated dish, but they are good for two things:
  • They're doable when you don't have a lot of time to cook because you have a three-month-old baby
  • They're perfect for testing out the new queso fresco you bought from Gringa Dairy in London
Actually I've been "testing" the cheese since I got it. So has my family. We keep testing it just a little more, to make sure it's still delicious.

It always is.

The cheese has been a major player in my sandwiches all week as well. It even stood up to my homemade chipotle sauce.

For those of you who are whisky drinkers, my favourite single malt is Ardbeg, which should give you an idea of how smoky I make my chipotle sauce.

You might expect a fresh white cheese like queso fresco to get lost when paired with such bold, spicy flavours, but on the contrary it was present in every delicious bite.

My family and I also got through quite a bit of cheese just on its own (pieces of queso fresco are apparently served as botanas - the Mexican equivalent of tapas - in some parts of Mexico).

Until Gringa Dairy started up, you couldn't get queso fresco in this country, so a lot of us won't know what it's like.

Especially confusing to the uninitiated is the variety of substitutes recommended by various recipes, even in the same cookbook. How can one cheese be the equivalent of feta, mozzarella, ricotta, cottage cheese, and halloumi?

Well, there are different styles of queso fresco, which accounts for some of the above, but the cheese does combine several attributes we don't often see together.

Gringa Dairy's queso fresco holds together in a block but can easily be pulled apart into small pieces (not quite the same as crumbling, as it's a bit softer than feta).

It also slices easily.

On the palate it has a gorgeous texture. I've heard some people call it queso fresco creamy; personally I find it has more firmness than that (it's not a soft cheese like brie or Philadelphia), but it does practically melt in your mouth.

It's nowhere near as salty as feta, but slightly more salty than mozzarella, and whereas some mozzarellas are so mild they almost taste of nothing, this cheese has a definite personality.

Best of all for me is the subtle tang it has, sort of like sour cream, that tells your palate "Hey, don't sit down, cuz this is a party!"

So: this cheese is delicious on its own, as a sandwich filling, or as a topping. But what I dying to do was cook with it, and I chose quesadillas con rajas (strips of chile poblano).

(Chiles poblanos aren't in season in Britain yet, so I had to use tinned.)

By far the best way to make quesadillas is to make some tortillas and fill them with cheese before you cook them, but I didn't have that kind of time so I used premade tortillas, filled them and toasted them in a dry pan.

As usual, I recommend the
Cool Chile Company's tortillas if you're not making your own.

And as you can see from the photo, I basically "sandwiched" two tortillas instead of doing the traditional fold-over.

This was purely to fit more cheese into the quesadillas.

I really love this cheese!

And of course an antojito* is nothing without a salsa or two, so I decided to make salsa verde and a red chipotle and tomato salsa cocida (meaning I fried the salsa once more before serving.

For the salsa verde I used tinned tomatillos (fresh ones are not in season here yet), fresh jalapeños, one diced white onion, two cloves of garlic, and lots of chopped coriander.

Everything but the onion goes in the blender.

Pulse-blend until you have a thick, textured salsa (some lime juice wouldn't hurt if you need to loosen it a bit, but you shouldn't need to).

Then add the onions and stir well.

(You can blend the onions too if you don't want a chunky salsa.)

Tinned tomatillos are better than no tomatillos, but because they are less tart than fresh ones, this salsa benefits from frying before serving to intensify the flavour.

("Frying" a sauce to reduce it is one of the most typical Mexican cooking techniques and really makes the difference between a Mexican salsa and a nearly equivalent one from another cuisine.)

I think I've given this chipotle sauce recipe before, but here it is again:
3 tomatoes, roasted on a dry frying pan or comal until they come up in blackened spots

2 cloves of garlic, roasted with the tomatoes

One white onion, roughly chopped

3-6 chipotles en adobo (or to taste)

1-2 (or more) tsp of the adobo sauce
1 tsp Mexican oregano
When you roast the garlic, leave the papery skins on.

It will cook faster than the tomatoes, so keep an eye on it.

When it starts to blacken, turn the cloves over and let them start to blacken on the other side. Then let them cool and the skins should just slip off.

Everything goes into a blender; just like the salsa verde, you're looking for a textured consistency (though you could also strain it for a more "refined" salsa.

I let this chill in the fridge overnight so the flavours could mingle and develop and fried the sauce again before serving.

I served one salsa on each side, with more cheese down the middle, going for the classic Mexican flag theme.

Simple, but delicious! And the cheese makes strings when it "melts", which is another reason people compare it to mozzarella.

I can already see Gringa Dairy is going to change the way I think of cheese in Mexican recipes.

Before, I would think "What's the best substitute for this type of cheese?" Now ink starting to think "Maybe we can get this cheese in Britain soon!"

(Gringa Dairy is planning to introduce more varieties in the near future.)

And finally, I served the quesadillas with fried plátanos machos ("macho bananas" ie plantains).

These were Caribbean style, rather than Mexican style, meaning the skins were still slightly green (in Mexico, they usually wait until the skins turn black before cooking plantains).

Of you've never had fried plantains before, these were kind of like potatoes, only denser, with just the faintest hint of banana flavour.

Next time I'll wait for them to ripen. Maybe.