Quesadillas made by simply grilling cheese inside a flour tortilla can be delightful, but adding Mexican spices gives quesadillas an authentic flavor and a delightful kick. For a chicken or steak quesadilla, dry spices can be rubbed into the meat before cooking. For a cheese quesadilla, it's best to chop fresh spices into tomato salsa, or blend them into sour cream or guacamole.
Ancho chiles can be bought fresh or found in powder form, and are sometimes called poblano peppers. They add are mild, with a similar flavor to bell peppers, and can give quesadillas an earthy flavor.
Garlic and Onion
Garlic and onion, too, can of course be fresh or powdered. Both of these well-loved ingredients give quesadillas a warm kick. If bought fresh, garlic and onions can be chopped and sauteed with peppers, which will provide texture as well as flavor. This blend of spices is particularly good for any kind of meat that might go into a quesadilla.
Cumin's origins are in the Middle East, and the spice is more highly associated with Indian food than with Mexican. But cumin is responsible for the comforting warmth and slight bitterness of Mexican food, and is a key ingredient to any blend of Mexican spices.
Cilantro is the leafy part of the coriander plant and is unique in its simultaneous refreshing quality and bitterness. Cilantro can be chopped fresh and tossed directly into a quesadilla. It can also be used, along with lime, to flavor rice, which can be a satisfying quesadilla side dish.
Chipotle peppers are smoked-dried jalapeno peppers. As a result of the smoke-drying, they lose some of their heat, leaving them sharp but palatable. The drying process also gives them a rich, smoky flavor. Chipotle powder can be blended with garlic and cumin and rubbed onto meat, and fresh chipotle can be chopped up with tomatoes, both of which can be added to quesadillas.
Mexican oregano is much stronger than its better-known Italian cousin, but tomatoes love it just as much. Mexican oregano is hotter, grassier and more pungent than Italian oregano, and it couples well with the fire in other Mexican flavors.
Chili powder is a mix of dried chiles, cumin and Mexican oregano. While it won't provide the color or texture that fresh chiles can, chili powder is an inexpensive and easy way to achieve authentic Mexican flavor. It, too, can be rubbed onto meat, or shaken into tomatoes or guacamole.
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Samantha Cohen has been writing professionally since 2004. She enjoys writing book reviews and lifestyle pieces about fitness and cooking. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Masters of Fine Arts degree in writing from the California Institute of the Arts.