|Roasted red pepper quesadillas with salsa verde and Greek yogurt|
Reader Sue S. asks:
We often make a quick dinner of quesadillas, just using flour tortillas and cheese. Is there any way that could be renovated to make it healthier?
Sue, thanks for your question, and the answer is yes!
If you’re making quesadillas with about a cup of regular cheese and two white flour tortillas, you are getting a lot of saturated fat, some protein from the cheese, and almost no nutritional value from the white flour tortillas. (Of course they’re flaky and crispy and the cheese is gooey and delicious. But we’re renovating here.)
To begin, you have some tortilla options. If you are not sensitive to wheat, switch to an organic whole-wheat flour tortilla. You’ll be supporting organic farmers, getting much more nutrition from the whole grain, and adding fiber to the meal. If you are GF, you can use a brown rice or a stone-ground corn tortilla. The rice tortilla will give you a more similar experience to a traditional quesadilla. Just don’t try to fold them cold; they crack.
I swapped in this reduced-fat Mexican cheese blend for regular cheddar, which will still give you the protein benefit without as much fat. Read the labels on shredded cheese; some contain wheat flour to prevent caking. My biggest recommendation here is to measure the cheese. You might be using as much as a cup of regular cheese in the original… I started with a 1/2 cup of cheese for this large quesadilla. I’d either add a bit more next time, or add in some refried beans as the bottom layer to provide more protein and nutrition. Vegans can use soy cheese and skip the yogurt topping.
To amp up your nutrition, I’d add some roasted peppers. Usually they are packed in oil, so make sure you drain them well in paper towels before using. Save the oil and use it to flavor other meals or salad dressing. Check the label, as some of these contain sugar. You can easily roast your own; I explain how in this post. But, this was for a quick dinner replacement, so I wanted to use something fast.
I used nonfat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, and green salsa verde for the topping. Both of these add nutrition. You can also use light sour cream, but Greek yogurt is cleaner and has fewer ingredients. Many salsas contain either sugar or regular vinegar. I find that green salsa doesn’t.
So, the goal is to improve the tortilla base, add some veggies, lighten the cheese and toppings, and sneak in as much nutrition as possible, while still being able to turn the meal out quickly.
I cooked this on a cast-iron skillet just using a little oil spray. Heat up both tortillas a bit before adding the cheese, peppers, and any other filling. If you have more time, open a can of vegetarian refried beans and make that the first layer. You could also quick-wilt a cup of spinach or Swiss chard in the pan before starting the tortillas, and add that in as well. Measure the cheese and spread it evenly, then top with the other tortilla. Cook about five minutes on medium heat, then flip the whole thing over and cook until it’s melty. You won’t get the gooey melt with reduced-fat cheese. If you simply must have regular cheese, use less of it, adding your nutrition with the other ingredients.
Cut into quarters and serve topped with green salsa and nonfat Greek yogurt. You can also chop a couple of cherry tomatoes and/or fresh cilantro to add on top, giving you some more veggie nutrition and bright color.