Every step of a quesadilla recipe is a moment to turn an okay quesadilla into a really good one. And if you thought “I’ve made a quesadilla. It was good. What is there to know?,” think again.
Here’s how to make any quesadilla a top-notch one:
Corn is the more authentic, more flavorful tortilla choice—but for quesadillas, I say flour all the way. Flour tortillas are more pliable (more on quesadilla shaping later), and they also form a wonderful crispy exterior. I think that half-moon quesadillas are easier to eat than small, circular ones, so I recommend picking up the grande burrito-sized tortillas.
Choose a cheese that will melt nicely. I tend towards slightly milder cheeses so that they don’t overpower the fillings, but you do you. Cheddar, Monterey jack, goat cheese, or Oaxaca cheese are all good options—choose one, or combine two for a creamy, melty mashup. Grate your cheese if it needs to be grated, crumble if not. In a pinch, you can certainly use pre-sliced cheese.
You could stop here and make a cheese-only quesadilla. But if you’re after more of a meal, it’s time to turn to fillings.
I try to keep my quesadilla fillings relatively simple. I stick to flavor combinations that I know play well together, incorporating leftovers whenever possible. (Note: At this stage, I recommend avoiding things that are better cold, like salsa and avocado—they’ll come later.) Here are a few of my favorite filling combinations:
Chop the fillings relatively finely—make sure there are no big chunks and all components are a relatively uniform size.
Cook your ingredients however you like; I recommend roasting hardier vegetables like squash and cauliflower, blistering peppers over a stove and peeling them; and giving greens a quick sauté. Pre-cook any meat before adding it to the filling and chop it into bite-sized pieces.
Here’s the key step: Once everything is prepped, I like to toss all of the fillings together in a hot pan for a few minutes so they can get to know each other. Mash things that need to be mashed, say, sweet potatoes, with the back of your spoon. Make sure to season everything with salt and whatever spices you like—cumin and cayenne are some of my go-to’s. The end result might not win any beauty pageants, but no one is going to see it, anyway.
I am a firm believer that condiments are the best part of a quesadilla. Salsa is always a good choice, as is sour cream and guac. I often whip up a speedy dipping sauce by mixing together plain yogurt with Sriracha and a drizzle of honey or a squirt of lime. I also like to have a few slices of avocado on hand to messily mash on top of the finished product.
Heat a pan or griddle large enough to contain your tortilla over high heat. Add a nub of butter to the pan—yes, butter. It makes the end result so much crisper and more bronzed than oil ever could. Once it stops foaming, lay out your tortilla. Cover the entire thing with a thin, even layer of your cheese(s), making sure to get all the way to the edge.
Once the cheese starts to melt, spread your fillings over one half of the tortilla. Leave for a minute or two, then fold with a spatula and press lightly over the top to make sure that the cheese sticks to the filling on both sides.
To fold the quesadilla so that all parts of the tortilla are equally cheese-filled, Contributors Editor Sarah Jampel likes to make a shape that's akin to a flattened burrito shape rather than the traditional half-moon.
I know that some people like the crispy perimeter of the tortilla that never knows cheese—the frail, brittle bits that snap off and crunch like chips. Me, on the other hand, I want a quesadilla experience that's as cheese-centered as possible. That's why I fell in love with (and now replicate) Taqueria Diana's cheese quesadilla (pictured here). Instead of folding the tortilla in the typical half-circle, tuck all of the edges in to make a rectangle. All parts of the tortilla get full cheese contact.
Whichever way you fold the quesadilla, transfer it to a cutting board and let it rest for a minute to mitigate cheese ooze. Using a large kitchen knife, cut the quesadilla into four pieces or fewer if you folded it like a burrito.
Serve with an absurd amount of condiments.