Opinion: A Chicano’s Guide To Quesadilla Making

The author, Dallas senior Juan G. Rodriguez, grabs mozzarella cheese from a bag to place on a tortilla. After this step, he folds the tortilla and places it in a pan on top of a stove for a minute and 30 seconds on medium heat (Photo by Phoebe Holm).

Introduction:

I get homesick up here in Albion. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that I’m not boiling alive whenever I step outside. Still though, every time I think back on some of my fondest memories, I find my thoughts returning to the family kitchen. Turns out, it’s a bit harder to get Mexican food the further north you go from the U.S.-Mexico border. Who’d have thought?

Before we left Texas at the end of the summer, my mom and I decided to pack a cooler with as many foodstuffs as we could manage. We stuffed flour tortillas, mozzarella cheese, queso de Oaxaca, jalapeños and bolillos into said cooler. The hope was to have these supplies last me the first week of the semester.

Here we are, more than a month out from the first day of classes, and I just made my first batch of quesadillas on Monday. 

Quesadillas are probably the easiest meal I can make, besides sandwiches. Just a tortilla, some cheese and a bit of heat – and voila! Snacktime has never been this close to being a daily occurrence in the last few years I’ve spent on campus.

The thing is, I struggle with object permanence. I forget I have my fridge stocked, on most days. Thankfully I kept all my cheeses in the freezer – thanks for that suggestion, Mama. The freezer kept my rations preserved, as fresh as when we first bought them, ready for the day I finally managed to work up the energy to make myself a meal.

Imagine my surprise when I saw that the kitchen on the ground floor of Whitehouse was unoccupied one day. Pair that with the fact that I roped myself into doing this article – and I suddenly found myself with the desire to make some food. Funny how things work out, right?

To make things interesting for myself, I decided to do a bit of science. I made at least one quesadilla using one of three methods: Stove, quesadilla maker and microwave.

The results left me shocked.

What Makes a Good Quesadilla:

Do you want to know what the best quesadillas taste like? Of course you do, you’re reading this article.

I’m partial to a crunchy tortilla with a melted, cheesy interior. You want the tortilla to be a bit golden, but nowhere close to burned. You want the cheese to look like it’s trying to run when all it’s trying to do is get a good stretch in. It should look something like this:

Rodriguez holds a quesadilla he made in the microwave with a paper towel to avoid burning himself. The tortilla had broken in half when initially folded, resulting in a space where the cheese began to leak as it melted in the microwave (Photo by Phoebe Holm).

You want something kind of runny, positively melted. You want it to blur the definition between a solid and a liquid – “Schrodinger’s Quesadilla Cheese,” if you will.

With this in mind, let’s get into the fun side of things.

The Stove:

Back home, my family and I heat our tortillas up on a griddle pan. It’s big enough that it lets us heat up four tortillas at a time, which helps when you’re prepping dinner for a whole family.

I’m a family of one right now though, so I didn’t need that many tortillas. I decided to prepare myself two using the stove.

First thing first, heat up the tortillas. I did so on medium heat for about a minute and a half, making sure to flip them over every couple of seconds. You’ll want to do this until they’re nice and soft and easy to fold.

Afterward, start playing dress-up.

As I placed the tortillas out on the plate I was using to prep them, I made a note to use four pinches of mozzarella cheese. know, a very scientifically sound unit of measurement on my part.

Then, I folded the tortilla and placed it back on the stove, making sure to press down on it to make sure that the cheese and the tortilla were evenly heated. Once the tortilla starts tanning on one side, I’d suggest turning it over. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a farmer’s tan situation. About a minute on medium heat should be good enough.

And just like that, the first quesadilla is done. 

Once I managed to bite into it, it became clear to me that the tortilla may have been nice and crunchy, but the cheese was nowhere near the consistency I wanted it to be. There’s no joy to be found in a quesadilla where the cheese is still very much solid.

It created a hole in my heart that I resolved to remedy with the next method.

The Quesadilla Maker:

It felt blasphemous to even consider using this. However, I relented and made an effort to give it a fair try.

The first thing I noticed was that I was going to have to use two whole tortillas for this. It caught me a bit off-guard, but not enough to scare me away. For this, I didn’t bother preheating the tortillas on the stove. Instead, I prepped the quesadilla cold, making sure to place eight pinches of cheese all over a whole tortilla (twice as much cheese for twice the tortilla). After this, I placed the second tortilla on top and made sure the whole thing was in place on the quesadilla maker.

All this time, the quesadilla maker had been heating up in the background. It let out a little “ding!” to let me know when it was ready to start cooking the quesadilla.

As I began to press down on the quesadilla maker’s lid, I could feel the tortilla being cut into slices. Unsure of what to do, I let the quesadilla rest there for about 45 seconds before I went to check and make sure that they hadn’t burned. 

Upon opening it, I found myself greeted by six slices of gooey, cheesy miracles. The tortillas were adorned with some splendid golden spots and at the very least were cooked on the bottom. On top, they felt warm. Content with my results, I unplugged the quesadilla maker and placed five of the slices on my plate to try.

I say five because we lost one to the floor. Slice number three, you will be missed.

A quesadilla slice rests on the floor, completely immersed in shadow. This was slice number three, the fallen soldier that was lost to the kitchen floor and rendered inedible (Photo by Phoebe Holm).

I feel like if my mom reads this, she’ll be wondering why I bought a quesadilla maker when I have a stove already available. 

“Estás gastando dinero cuando deberías estar ahorrando,” she’d probably say. In response, I’ll let her know that I only borrowed it. 

It feels like heresy to admit this, but the results were astounding. I probably wouldn’t buy something like this myself, but I wouldn’t complain if it was the only tool at my disposal to make quesadillas. After all, they were closer to the halfway point of crunchy and gooey than any of the other attempts. 

I would happily use this again with no complaints.

The Microwave:

Rodriguez places his prepped quesadilla into the microwave. The tortilla used in this attempt had been heated up in the microwave beforehand, a mistake Rodriguez says he “recognizes and is prepared to atone for” (Photo by Phoebe Holm).

Rodriguez places his prepped quesadilla into the microwave. The tortilla used in this attempt had been heated up in the microwave beforehand, a mistake Rodriguez says he “recognizes and is prepared to atone for” (Photo by Phoebe Holm).

This didn’t feel blasphemous so much as it felt like I was disparaging my entire bloodline. I could have sworn the room went five degrees colder as the souls of my ancestors rushed forth to haunt me for such a deed.

However, the results were more than worth it. 

Believe me when I tell you it produced the gooiest cheese I have had in a long time. I made the first quesadilla using a cold tortilla that I had not heated up beforehand. As I folded it, it split in half along the crease. I just accepted my fate and placed the quesadilla, already prepped on a plate, into the microwave. 30 seconds seemed reasonable enough to heat it up.

When the timer went off and I tasted my creation, I was hit by the realization that I actually really loved the result. The tortilla was soft, not the ideal I’d aspired to attain, but it was the cheese that had really managed to achieve Schrodinger status. It was one-half of the perfect quesadilla.

I couldn’t leave it at that though. I had to see if I could perfect it.

So I placed a new tortilla on my plate and in the microwave. 30 seconds total, 15 on each side. By the time it was heated up, it was sweaty. I felt like I was committing a crime, quite frankly. Still, I ventured forth, determined to see this through. 

Four pinches of cheese and thirty seconds later, I had the worst quesadilla I have ever made. 

It was rubbery in texture – I didn’t know where the cheese ended and the tortilla began. My pain was immeasurable. My afternoon was clouded by thoughts of this quesadilla in particular. Even today, I am still haunted by the image of the sweaty tortilla.

A tortilla rests on a plate that is covered with condensation generated in the microwave. This is the tortilla that was used in the failed quesadilla attempt (Photo by Phoebe Holm).

That doesn’t mean I didn’t eat it, though. 

I’m a lot of things, but I’m not the type to waste food.

Conclusion:

Quite frankly, the first microwave quesadilla actually surprised me with how good it turned out. Considering the fact that I made it the fastest – in under a minute and a half – I think I might have found a new snack to make any time I’m in my room and I don’t feel like leaving to make my food.

See, I have a hard time mustering up the energy to do a lot of things, cooking being one of them. I enjoy making my own food, don’t get me wrong. It’s simply the fact that it takes a great deal of effort just to keep myself together and do the regular sort of things that I already do. 

But if you’re expecting me to do more on top of what I already do, to expend more of my energy when I’m already at my limit, you’re gonna come out of this disappointed.

So, knowing that I could have a quick and easy meal ready in under two minutes is an absolute revelation. I feel like a whole new possibility has opened itself up to me. I’m excited to make more of these quesadillas throughout the year; I might even play around with the recipe a bit.

The stove method was not as much of a surprise as you’d expect. I knew, going into this, that it would struggle with the cheese. It’s the one department I always find myself coming short on. There’s a delicate balance to be struck; you don’t want to burn the tortilla, but you also don’t want the cheese to still be solid. I’m trying to make them the way my Abuela does. She knows how to get the quesadilla crunchy and gooey without actually burning the whole thing. It’s a work of art and I envy her ability to do so. 

As for the quesadilla maker, I’d say if you have one, use it. Do so with joy. If you don’t though, don’t go out and buy one when you already have a microwave, especially if you don’t have the money for a dedicated quesadilla appliance. 

All in all, this was a really good experience. I have no regrets, none whatsoever. Questionable quesadilla aside, I at least know now what not to do. 

I consider that a win, quite frankly.

About Juan G. Rodriguez 43 Articles
Juan G. Rodriguez is a senior sharing his time between Dallas and East Texas. He is majoring in English and minoring in Political Science. As an individual with two pencil leads in his left knee, writing seems to be the only career that Juan is capable of. Contact Juan via jgr13@albion.edu.

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