Thursday, December 23, 2010

Variations on an Old Theme

I've never been very good at making grilled cheese sandwiches. I don't know what it is about them, I just find them to be a bother. Could the bread be too thick? Or is it that the tomato I like to add gets too slimy and won't adhere to the melted cheese? Whatever the reason, it was quite the revelation a few years ago when my brother showed me how to make a quesadilla. My technique was further refined later by the Trader Joe's of Daly City's demo station where I learned it was much easier to spread half the tortilla with cheese and salsa and fold it in half than to use two tortillas and worry about one sliding off during the flipping process.

Even better, a former roommate who is half-Mexican introduced me to the burrito. She showed me how to fold them (which took a good deal of practice) and then crisp them in a frying pan so that they wouldn't fall apart and the cheese would be all melted and gooey. (This process helped me appreciate the crispy goodness of cheese that has melted out of its carby confines and fried itself on the pan. Tomatoes are also pretty tasty this way, and I am tempted to one day just sautée some cheddar and diced tomatoes. I think it'd be yummy.)

What I now make for a healthy and filling quickie meal is a culmination of all of the above. First I take a whole wheat tortilla and spread fat-free refried beans in the center, spoon on some salsa, then sprinkle on the cheese. I know that it's easier to fold a tortilla once it has been heated briefly in a microwave (don't have one), oven (takes too long to heat up), or a pre-warmed frying pan (which I usually have going on medium for the crisping process anyway), but I have never actually done this unless I was thawing the tortilla prior to building the burrito or quesadilla.

I try to keep the ingredients as centrally located on the tortilla as possible so that I can fold in two sides, then fold the other sides over so everything is tucked in and compact. After it's all snuggled together and doesn't look too badly that it's going to fall apart, I gently place the burrito into the frying pan that has been lightly spritzed with cooking spray, folded side down. This will keep it from coming open while it's being warmed (and gooey) on the inside. Once the underside is slightly browned and not going to come open, I flip it over and brown the other side. After a few more minutes voila! Tasty food! If I have sour cream on hand, which isn't often, I will add a dollop to finish off the dish.

Between the whole wheat tortillas and refried beans, these puppies are packed with fiber! Fiber is my new friend because I had two grandmothers with heart problems and diabetes attacks me from both sides of the gene pool. Fiber is supposed to lower the risk of diabetes, and with my sweet tooth, I probably need all the help I can get.

Obviously there is a lot of protein in this meal, as well, with both beans and cheese, which is why it's so filling. I find the slight sweetness of the tomatoes in the salsa mixed with the above two ingredients to be most satisfying! Tomatoes also help fight cancer, another monster I am on the lookout for because my father had it twice before passing away at 58, and I never want to go through that if I can help it.

So there you have it, a compact, balanced food that is good for your heart and your health, and that you can eat with your hands. I am always sure to at least keep tortillas and cheese in my fridge so I can make a super simple quesadilla in a pinch, but it's better to have salsa on hand, and best to have a can of refried beans in the cupboard, too! Naturally some rice could added for a side dish, or guacamole (also super healthy) could be piled on top, as well. I tend not to go all out on meals if it's just myself, thus this burrito is perfect for me with its various ingredients. (I am also a fan of casseroles, but they tend to be lower on the health benefits.)

An amazing variation of the traditional quesadilla I had during a tasting at work was made with the same whole wheat tortilla, but thinly sliced gruyère – it's a hard cheese – with even thinner slices of fresh pears and balsamic vinegar. It sounds fancy, but it super easy to make! I just told you how. They're great appetizers at a party if you cut the finished product into thin slices. The pear gets soft, bringing out its sweetness, and mixes well with the balsamic and earthy or nutty taste (depending on the age) of the gruyère. Goes very well with wine.

So, today's lessons? Tortillas and cheese are both very versatile foods, and I'm going to get diabetes some day unless I eat gobs of fiber.

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