Saturday, May 22, 2010

Mexico City-Style Quesadillas (Empanadas) with Cheese and Chile or Mushrooms

I have an intense fear of frying. Don't get me wrong, I love eating the result, but the process itself is a bit daunting. I'm still nursing oil scars from the last time I attempted to manipulate hot liquids. Anyway, scars were worth this particular venture, another Rick Bayless-inspired Mexican banquet. I used masa harina purchased from my local Whole Foods (local being London) and it worked perfectly in the recipe. The key is the baking powder, it makes the masa fluff up when cooking in the oil.

Don't feel you have to keep these two versions separate either. Mix the mushrooms with the cheese, put in more peppers, less, whatever strikes your fancy. I also added in some minced turkey meat with seasoning to satisfy the carnivores in my crew. They all worked perfectly. Because, honestly, what isn't good fried?

Now this recipe, which is adapted from Rick Bayless' old tv show, Mexico-One Plate at Time,  is often called "Mexico City Quesadillas".
To me, they're empanadas, basically due to the fact that you deep fry them in oil. Mmmmm. Oil. Regardless, they're delicious and really, who's to quibble with names?

Makes 12 turnovers/empanadas/quesadillas/whatever


1 pound fresh-ground corn masa,
OR 1 1/4 cups powdered masa harina mixed with 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons hot tap water
2 tablespoons lard or vegetable shortening
1/4 cup flour (use 1/3 cup if working with powdered masa harina)
A generous 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 scant teaspoon baking powder

Cheese Filling (See Note)
10 ounces (about 2 1/2 cups) grated melting cheese like Monterey or a mild cheddar
1 large fresh poblano chile, roasted, peeled and cut into strips

Mushroom Filling (See Note)
12 ounces mushrooms, rinsed or wiped clean (I used dried porcini mushrooms, after soaking them in warm water for about half an hour- absolutely delicious)
1 tablespoons lard or vegetable oil
1/2 medium white onion, finely chopped
2 fresh serrano chiles (or 1 jalapeno), stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh epazote (optional)

Vegetable oil to a depth of 1-inch

Note: One recipe of either the cheese filling or the mushroom filling will be enough to fill all 12 turnovers. If you make both fillings, you'll need to double the dough recipe for 24 turnovers.


1. The dough. In a large bowl, thoroughly mix the masa (fresh or reconstituted) with the lard or shortening, flour, salt and baking powder. Work in a little water, if needed, to give the dough the consistency of soft cookie dough. Divide into 12 balls and cover with plastic wrap.

2. The fillings. If you are using the cheese, divide it into 12 portions and press each portion into a flat oval about 2 x 2 1/2 inches. Set them aside with the strips of chile.

If working with mushroom, pulse them in a food processor until quite finely chopped. Heat the lard or oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring regularly until all the liquid has evaporated. Add the onion, chile and epazote, and cook, stirring frequently, several minutes more, until the onions are soft. Scrape into a bowl. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon.

3. Form the molotes. Using a tortilla press, flatten a ball of the dough between sheets of plastic to make a medium-large (5-inch) thickish tortilla. Remove the top piece of plastic. Lay a portion of your chosen filling across half of the uncovered tortilla, making sure to leave a 1/2-inch border around the edge. If the filling is cheese, top with a strip of poblano. Slip a hand under the plastic beneath the uncovered side of the tortilla, then carefully fold the tortilla over the filling. Press the edges together to seal.

Peel the plastic off the turnover and lay on a tray covered with plastic wrap. Continue making the remaining masa balls into turnovers. Cover with plastic wrap.

4. Fry the turnovers. Heat the oil to 375 degrees, then fry the turnovers 2 or 3 at a time, until browned, about 2 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels and keep warm in a low oven until all are ready. Serve right away.

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