Plain, basic quesadillas get a flavor and nutrition upgrade in this rustic version that includes pumpkin or calabaza, onion, corn kernels and poblano chile peppers. The savory pumpkin mixture can be made a couple of days ahead and just reheated when you are assembling the quesadillas. Once you've tried these, you'll wish you had made a double batch of the pumpkin and veggies medley in order to have some scrumptious leftovers to use later in the week as a side dish or ingredient in other Mexican-inspired fare (see ideas for various uses below the recipe).
- 3 tablespoons of good quality pork lard (or vegetable oil)
- 1 medium-sized onion (thinly sliced)
- 2 small or 1 large ear of fresh sweet corn
- 3 cups fresh pumpkin (peeled and diced into 1/2-inch cubes)*
- 2 medium-sized poblano chile peppers (roasted, peeled, seeded and cut into thin strips)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups cheese (shredded or thinly-sliced; use a nice melty cheese such as Monterey Jack or authentic Mexican Manchego, Oaxaca, or quesadilla cheese)
- 10 medium-sized flour tortillas (or corn)
- Garnish: Guacamole or a spicy Mexican table sauce
*Use a small orange pie pumpkin, part of a larger jack-o-lantern pumpkin, or a piece of authentic Mexican (calabaza de Castilla) or Caribbean pumpkin squash. The Mexican and Caribbean types tend to be very large and have a very hard, thick rind that requires a machete or at least a very sturdy knife to cut through; they can often be purchased in pieces (rather than whole) in Latin American markets in the United States.
Heat about half of the pork lard or vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the sliced onion, and sauté, stirring occasionally for about 12 minutes, until the onions are cooked and just starting to brown.
While the onions are frying, use a sharp knife to very carefully cut the grains of corn off of the cob(s). Note: Fresh, tender sweet corn gives a wonderful crisp flavor and texture to this mix. If fresh is not available, you can substitute 1 cup canned or frozen corn kernels, but their texture will be chewy in the final product, rather than crisp.
Take the onions out of the skillet and set aside. Allow the other half of the lard or oil to heat in the skillet, then add the corn kernels and diced pumpkin. Sauté over medium heat, stirring frequently, for about 8 minutes, until both the pumpkin cubes and the corn are cooked but still firm. Turn the heat up and continue to sauté for another couple of minutes or so until all the liquid has evaporated
Remove the mixture from the heat and add the chile poblano strips, the reserved onion, and the salt. Toss gently to mix. (At this point, the mixture can be refrigerated for use up to four days later.)
For each quesadilla, place one tortilla on a comal or griddle and distribute a little of the cheese on it. Spoon one fifth of the pumpkin mixture over the cheese, then sprinkle with a second layer of cheese. Place another tortilla on top of everything. Toast over low heat, turning over once, until the cheese has melted and the tortillas have browned to the degree that you desire.
Remove the quesadilla from the griddle and allow it to rest at room temperature on a cutting board for about 4 minutes so that it can firm up a bit. Cut the quesadilla into fourths or wedges and serve. If desired, offer guacamole or a red or green Mexican table sauce so that each person can garnish his or her quesadilla to taste.
Variations on Pumpkin-Poblano Quesadillas
Use peeled and cubed sweet potatoes (any variety, although the orange ones provide the most appetizing color) instead of pumpkin.
Sprinkle a teaspoon of dried epazote (Mexican cooking herb) into the vegetable for additional rustic flavor.
Add a little cooked, crumbled bacon to the pumpkin and vegetable mix. Omit or reduce the additional salt used.
Make your quesadillas even heartier by adding cooked, shredded chicken as you assemble them.
If you prefer your pumpkin mashed rather than in cubes, allow the pumpkin (or sweet potatoes) to cook a little longer, until very soft. Toss them vigorously with the chile strips and onions, and the pumpkin will fall apart. This will produce a more spreadable filling for your quesadillas or other uses of this mixture (see below).