Mama Said Eat Your Flowers: Squash Blossom Quesadillas
Ask a European what to do with squash blossoms and the answer will be nearly invariable: stuff them with cheese, batter them and deep fry them.
Ask a chilango--a denizen of Mexico's capital region--and the answer will be just as invariable, but different: quesadillas de flor de calabaza, squash blossom and cheese tucked inside a tortilla.
Orange County has a plethora of D.F.-style Mexican restaurants where you can enjoy made-to-order squash blossom turnovers, but they're so easy to make at home. All you need is tortillas (the fresher the better, so if you can make your own, please do), the tangy cows'-milk string cheese called queso Oaxaca and squash blossoms.
1 lb. Oaxaca cheese
2 big handfuls of fresh squash blossoms
1. Preheat a griddle, pour a quarter-sized dollop of cooking oil on, and wipe with a wadded-up paper towel.
2. Shred the cheese; don't be too careful about it, but you don't want any giant chunks either.
3. Wash, spin dry and shred the squash blossoms.
4. Top each tortilla with 1/6 of the cheese and slide onto the griddle.
5. When the cheese is nearly melted, top each tortilla with 1/6 of the shredded blossoms. This will look like much too much, but the blossoms will wilt greatly.
6. Fold each tortilla in half and press gently to nudge into shape.
7. Serve with salsa (see below).
Some of the cheese will escape the tortilla and cook directly on the griddle. Don't throw this away! The resulting brown, slightly crunchy cheese bits are called chicharrones de queso and are, in my house anyway, the cook's treat.
Since that recipe was both easy and obvious, here is a bonus recipe for roasted tomatillo and guajillo salsa.
1 lb. fresh tomatillos, with husks and stems removed
3 guajillo chiles (use California chiles for milder salsa)
1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
6 large cloves garlic, still in their paper
1 handful (about a cup) cilantro, chopped
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2. Cut the tomatillos in half around the "equator", toss with olive oil and salt, and place, cut side down, on a baking sheet.
3. Bake the tomatillos for 20 minutes.
4. In a dry cast-iron pan, toast the chiles and garlic until scorch marks appear on both, pressing gently on the chiles as required.
5. Turn off the heat and add the cumin to the hot pan for 30 seconds, jiggling constantly to keep from burning.
6. Place the toasted chiles in a heat-proof bowl and cover with boiling water. Let soak 5 minutes.
7. Remove the paper from the garlic; this should be easy to do, and the cloves inside should look faintly translucent.
8. Place the roasted tomatillos (oil, juice and all), peeled garlic, soaked chiles (with seeds for spicier salsa, without seeds for milder salsa), toasted cumin, cilantro and lime juice, along with a pinch of salt and several grinds of black pepper, to a blender. Blend for 30 seconds.
9. Return the mixture to a pan and cook over medium-low heat for at least 15 minutes, or as long as an hour, adding water if it becomes too thick.
10. Let cool.
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