We’re having zero luck finding good Mexican food in Boulder. Our first attempt led us to a restaurant that had red flags waving all over the place, which we naively ignored, like 1) we were the only people in the restaurant, 2) there seemed to be entirely too many people employed at a restaurant with only two customers, and 3) their cheese dip was of the plastic variety, like what you would find at the PTA-run concession stand. My veggie burrito included peas and carrots straight from the freezer and – ooh! – green beans. Our second attempt at Mexican food led us to circling a strip mall repeatedly, looking for a place that didn’t seem to exist. Our friends swear up and down that good Mexican exists in Boulder; one just has to know where to look. And no, Taco Bell doesn’t count, but I’m beginning to think otherwise.
On a day when nothing but a quesadilla would do, I decided to take matters into my own hands and whip up some tasty Mexican at home. Granted, I’m no Mexican professional, but I get the gist of it: corn tortillas, spicy beans, crumbly cheese, fresh onion, chiles and plenty of cilantro. No prob! I got this.
Now, let’s talk cilantro for a minute. It seems that cilantro is a love-it-or-hate-it herb; some people can’t get enough of its pungent bite, and other people liken the flavor to dirty dishwater. (I kid you not, “dirty dishwater” is a direct quote. You know who you are.) Even the domestic goddess Ina Garten doesn’t like cilantro. Personally, I’m indifferent – I like it in small amounts, or when it’s paired with flavors that rival its own pungency – but cilantro on its own or in large quantities is a bit much. I will say here and now that the following recipe for Mexican pesto is cilantro based – I REPEAT: CILANTRO BASED – so proceed accordingly, amigos.
The recipe begins by roasting a couple of poblano peppers underneath the broiler, and peeling them once they’ve cooled off. A great way to aid in the peeling process is, once they’re nice and blackened and blistered, to place them in a bowl, cover it in plastic wrap, and put the whole thing in the fridge until they’ve cooled off and are easier to handle. The plastic wrap creates a steamy environment for the peppers, allowing the skin to separate from the flesh and peel off real easy like.
The roasted poblanos are then whizzed together in a food processor with a big handful of toasted pepitas (a cute, fancy word for the kernel inside pumpkin seeds), a heavy dose of cilantro, green onions, raw garlic, and plenty of olive oil. The result is a smoky, spicy, bright pesto that’s less Genoa and more Guadalajara. The pesto is then paired with zingy goat cheese and whatever other fillings your corazón desires – spicy black beans, grilled chicken, plump tomatoes, thinly sliced flank steak, (insert your favorite filling here) – and sandwiched between the two sides of a corn tortilla, which is then toasted on a griddle. The pesto and goat cheese melt together into oozy goodness, surrounding the other fillings and making for multiple crispy, melty bites.
This recipe makes a lot of pesto, which can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container (my personal fave: an old school Mason jar) for a few weeks. These quesadillas are great as appetizers before a bigger meal, or on their own with all the fixings, like crumbled cotija cheese, fresh pico de gallo, sour cream, and thick slices of avocado. Until we find our Mexican oasis in the Front Range, these will just have to do. Enjoy!
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Three P Quesadillas
(adapted from Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes)
2 Poblano chiles
1 c. pepitas (raw green pumpkin seeds), toasted
1 c. cilantro
2 green onions, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled & coarsely chopped
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
12 oz. soft goat cheese
Pico de gallo, sour cream and avocado for serving
For the pesto: Char the poblanos under the broiler until they’re blackened and charred on all sides. Transfer them to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, allowing the chiles to steam while they cool. Peel, seed and stem the chiles.
Combine the poblanos, pepitas, cilantro, green onions, garlic, and olive oil in the bowl of a food processor and process until the mixture is finely chopped. Add 1/3 cup of water and blend until smooth. Season with salt. (The pesto can be prepared beforehand and stored in an airtight container in the fridge.)
Heat a griddle or large skillet over medium-high heat. Spread about 1 tablespoon of the pesto over each tortilla and sprinkle with about 1 tablespoon of goat cheese, and any other fillings you’re using. Heat the tortillas on the griddle until they’re just beginning to toast, and fold the tortillas in half enclosing the cheese, pesto and fillings. Continue cooking the quesadillas until they are lightly browned on each side and just beginning to crisp. Serve the hot quesadillas with pico de gallo, sour cream and avocado.
* If the above slideshow doesn’t load, you can view all the photos from this recipe on Flickr.
Laura is a regular contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. She was born and raised in Fayetteville, but has recently moved to Boulder, Colorado. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and avid cook. For more from Laura, see her past stories, visit Flyer Foodie on Facebook or check out Prana & Pie.