Mexican quesadillas with squash blossoms

Traditional Mexican food uses squash blossoms as flavoring in a wide variety of dishes. Sauté squash blossoms and onions to stuff tortillas, and then use them as added flavoring for a mild salsa whipped up in the blender.

The Runaway Spoon
Where there's squash blossoms, there's squash. Use diced summer squash with tomato, jalapeno, and spices to make a savory salsa.

I love squash blossoms, as I have said before. So imagine my delight on my recent trip to Tepotzlan in the central mountains of Mexico, to find squash blossoms used in a huge variety of dishes. I had freshly made quesadillas with Oaxaca cheese for breakfast each morning, and stalls in the market offered sautéed squash blossoms as an add-in for tacos. The restaurant at the hotel offered them in more nuanced dishes. But perhaps the best use of squash blossoms I have ever experienced was incorporated into hand-made tamales at Cocinar Mexicano cooking school. I could never duplicate that experience, so I guess I’ll have to go back someday.

But the quesadillas I could copy. I wanted to zazz them up a little, so I came up with a simple squash salsa. After all, where there are blossoms there are squash. For me, this is all about the blossoms, so I don’t want to mask their flavor too much. Many of the taco vendors in Tepotzlan, and many of the recipes I’ve read at home include poblano peppers, but I’ve left that out so the blossoms sing. I only use a small amount of jalapeno in the salsa for the same reason; the squash should really shine through. That’s also why I use mild flour or white corn tortillas.

Oaxaca cheese is a mild, stringy melting cheese that I find easily at an ethnic market and frequently at my regular grocery. If you can’t find it, shredded mozzarella is a decent substitute. This recipe makes 5 quesadillas and enough salsa to accompany them.  It’s an odd number, I know, but it is hard around these parts to get squash blossoms in bulk, and 2 dozen is about all I can wrangle from my grower at a time (he doesn’t want me to corner the market). If you can get your hands on more, please feel free to double the recipe.

Cut in half, these quesadillas make 10 lovely little nibbles. The squash salsa is also good with corn chips, or over a grilled fish.

Squash blossom quesadillas with summer squash salsa
Makes 5 quesadillas 

For the salsa

1/2 cup diced onion

1 cup finely diced summer squash, divided (about 1 large squash)

1 plum tomato

1-inch piece of jalapeno pepper, seeds removed

2 tablespoons cilantro leaves

1 clove garlic

2 squash blossoms

Juice of half a lime

Salt

For the quesadillas

20 squash blossoms

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup diced onion

4 ounces Oaxaca cheese, shredded into strings, or mozzarella

5 small flour or white corn tortillas

For the salsa

1. Place the onion, 1/2 cup of the squash, the tomato, pepper, cilantro, lime juice, garlic, and squash blossoms in a blender and blend until you have a chunky purée.

2. Pour the oil into a large skillet and add the remaining diced squash. Sauté over medium high heat for about 3 minutes, until the squash is slightly softened.  Add the purée from the blender and cook for a further 3-5 minutes, until the salsa is thickened and any excess liquid has evaporated. Salt to taste. Set aside to cool.

For the quesadillas

1. Pull any hard stems and spike leaves off the blossoms and pull the stamen out of the center. Shred the blossoms into narrow strands, using your fingers or scissors. Pour the olive oil into a skillet and ad the onions. Sauté over medium heat until the onions are soft and translucent, but do not brown, about 8 minutes. Reserve a handful of the shredded squash blossoms, and then add the rest to the onions in the pan. Cook, stirring constantly, until the blossoms are soft and wilted. Take the filling off the heat.

2. Lay the tortillas on the counter (if you use white corn tortillas, wrap them in a wet paper towel and zap them in the microwave for 15 seconds to soften). Layer about an ounce of cheese and a good dollop of the squash blossom filling over on each. Sprinkle a few of the remaining strands of squash blossom over each, then fold in half.

3. Heat a skillet to high heat and cook the quesadillas two at a time until the cheese is melted and each side is golden brown.

4. Serve immediately with the squash salsa.

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