Quesadillas are an essential clean-out-the-fridge meal in my house. Leftover meat, shredded cheese, a few handfuls of beans, any forgotten herbs in the crisper. These all have a good home in a quesadilla.
And in my almost ten years of being a mom, I’ve made about a gazillion of them. On nights when dinner needs to happen in the twenty minutes between coming home and heading out the door to soccer practice, quesadillas have my back. And my kids love eating them.
But weeknight savior that they are, I grew tired of quesadillas years ago. I guess that happens when you make a gazillion of anything. Pork, chicken, steak—to me, every version tastes pretty much the same. Even copious amounts of sour cream and avocado have failed to resuscitate any level of excitement for me.
So when these broccoli quesadillas came into my life, let’s just say they were, well, mind-blowing. (It’s the small things, right?)
I recently picked up the cookbook Nopalito: A Mexican Kitchen by Gonzalo Guzmán and Stacey Adimando, to read again more thoroughly, and came into a quesadilla enlightenment.
Having never traveled to Mexico, I didn’t realize that quesadillas—whether served street-side or prepared as an everyday meal at home—are usually packed with seasonal vegetables and cheese. As the authors explain in the book, meat is typically reserved for tacos. Nopalito’s Quesadillas with Brussels Sprouts—filled with an electric mix of caramelized shredded sprouts, charred onion, and homemade cascabel chile oil—made me realize that I’d been completely underestimating quesadillas’ potential!
Wholly inspired, I started dreaming about my ideal quesadilla. Broccoli immediately came to mind, since it’s one of my family’s favorite vegetables. Plus, even though I’m a huge proponent of buying local, seasonal produce, I adored the idea of a vegetable filling that I could turn to any night of the week, any season of the year.
Like Brussels sprouts in the Nopalito original, broccoli takes on an entirely different personality when shaved—it gets even crispier, crunchier, and more caramelized on all sides. I knew I could use the slicing blade on my food processor to make easy work of this task.
To up the complexity of the shaved-broccoli filling, I wanted something spicy, like Guzmán’s chile oil, yet simpler to pull off. Canned chipotles in adobo sauce were just the ticket. Taking a cue from this nutty salsa macha I fell in love with last year, I used my food processor (wiped cleaned from its previous broccoli task!) to whir chipotles with peanuts, a few tablespoons of the adobo sauce, olive oil, vinegar, and honey—just enough to tame the fiery kick and ensure my kids could tolerate more than one bite.
From there, the path was simple: Sauté sliced red onion with the shaved broccoli, hot and fast, until charred, then stir in a few big spoonfuls of the chipotle-peanut sauce and lime juice. Stuff tortillas with the broccoli filling and cotija, then fold and brown in a skillet. Serve with chipotle sour cream, which sounds (and tastes!) all kinds of fancy but is just sour cream and more of the chipotle-peanut sauce stirred together.
When I took my first bite, it was like a choir of angels started singing on high. The quesadillas had layers of flavor from the charred vegetables, the smoky-spicy-tangy sauce, and the salty cheese—and the tender-crisp broccoli was a perfect foil to the creamy chipotle dipping sauce. My kids, who initially expressed all sorts of skepticism about my dinner experiment, admitted that they liked them. My son, always the diplomat, said that while he prefers my other, meatier quesadillas, the broccoli ones have “really complex flavors.” I’ll take that!
So have I replaced the clean-out-the-fridge quesadillas in my rotation for good? Not yet. Standbys are standbys for good reason. But on nights when I have a little more time and want something more special, I make these broccoli quesadillas for dinner and savor every bite.
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).Order now