The Spice is Right: Chile
Barbara, over at Tigers and Strawberries, has invited food bloggers to participate in an event centered on the uses of a variety of spices. For the first three rounds, I was a passive onlooker, reading the entries and gleaning inspiration from those who contributed. But when she announced the most recent edition, The Spice Is Right IV: It’s Too Darned Hot!, using chiles in any form, I knew I’d have to get off the sidelines and get in the game. We love spicy food around here, especially in the summer. (Mostly because it gives us the excuse to pair our food with very cold, fun beverages.)
But immediately, I was stumped about what to make. You see, my favorite spicy cuisine is Thai, and my favorite way to use chiles is in my attempts to make Thai food at home. But that seemed a rather silly entry for this event because Barbara knows way, way more about Thai cuisine than I do, and if you really want to learn how to make it properly, you should go dig through her archives.
So then I thought perhaps I’d try to find some sort of exotic and unique chile and concoct a new inventive creation all my own.
But, well, the thing about the heat (and, wow, is it ever hot in south Louisiana) is that it makes me crave simplicity. It’s almost as if my palate is lazy too–my tastebuds don’t want anything that’s going to make them work too hard, much like my body doesn’t want me to cook anything that requires my being in the kitchen too long.
So I return to the most common of chiles, the dark green one that grows abundantly in the garden, the one that appears most frequently in my cooking, the ubiquitous jalapeno.
Some people like their food to be either savory or sweet, but nowhere in between, no blurring of the lines. I, on the other hand, fall in the contrast camp. When I snack, I find that I need two–a sweet and a salty–and I like to alternate them (a handful of popcorn followed by some M&M’s, and so on). Perhaps that makes me odd.
But it also makes me a huge fan of recipes like this one, where the flavor (and texture) is all about the contrasts. Spicy, sweet, sharp, tangy, salty, herby, soft, crunchy–this quesadilla has it all. Pair it with a frozen margarita (rimmed with salt, of course), and a handful of lime-flavored tortillas to serve with the extra salsa, and I am one happy girl. Even in this heat.
And, I haven’t even had to work hard–with minimal effort, all the contrasts I need are packed snugly into one, crispy tortilla. What more could my taste buds ask for?
Blue Cheese and Mango Quesadillas with Mango Salsa
–inspired by a recipe in The Cheese Lover’s Cookbook and Guide by Paula Lambert
2 ripe mangoes, pitted and peeled
2 T. red onion, finely chopped
4 T. bell or banana pepper, finely chopped (I used one purple bell and half of a yellow banana)
1 jalapeno chile, minced (and seeded if you prefer less kick)
2 T. cilantro leaves, chopped plus a few extra leaves
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 t. Kosher salt
1/8 t. cracked black pepper
4 small flour tortillas
4 ounces blue cheese
In a small bowl, toss together the red onion, peppers, chile, cilantro, and lime juice. Dice one of the mangoes and gently mix it in. Finish with salt and pepper and set aside.
Slice the remaining mango into wedges, and have them, the extra cilantro leaves, and the blue cheese handy.
Heat a drizzle of olive oil (just enough to coat the surface) in a heavy skillet over medium heat. When hot, add a tortilla. Cook until the bottom is crisp and brown, and flip it over. Crumble 1/4 of the blue cheese on the surface. Lay 5 slices of mango on top of the blue cheese, and place a cilantro leaf between each of the mango spikes.
Continue to cook until the cheese is melted. Remove to a plate, top with a spoonful of salsa, and repeat the process for the remaining 3 tortillas. To eat, fold the tortillas in half and dig in! Oh, and don’t forget the margaritas. Serves 2 as a light meal.
Notes: You may have to add oil between quesadillas; a dry skillet will burn your tortillas in a hurry. And, you can, of course, go ahead and fold the quesadillas over while they’re in the skillet as you normally would. But, I think they look so pretty served open faced, and if you add the salsa before you fold them, then you don’t have to worry about making sure you get everything on your fork before you take a bite. Less work even in the eating!