Quesadillas easy to prepare and offer big taste results

Diane Rossen Worthington
Tribune Content Agency

Quesadillas, those puffy "little whims," as the Mexicans call appetizers, are tortillas that are filled, folded over and lightly fried or baked to brown the outside. These Mexican sandwiches are a staple for Seriously Simple cooks because they are so easy to prepare and offer big taste results.

Quesadillas can be simple fare with a plain melted cheese center (which kids love) or more complicated creations like this trio of flavors. Corn and flour tortillas are typically used for making quesadillas. There are also a slew of new flavored tortillas available, some of which are high in fiber or protein while others are vegetable and herb-flavored. Choose what you like.

For this recipe, a flour tortilla is filled, folded over and lightly fried to brown the outside. The slightly sweet caramelized fennel and red onion relish becomes the filling, along with shredded jack cheese. You'll have some filling left over, which is delicious as a spread, a filling for omelets or a relish alongside grilled sausages or burgers. For a spicier twist, toss a chopped jalapeno chili in with the fennel and onions. You can also experiment with different Mexican cheeses.

To make it easy, cook the relish a few days ahead and keep refrigerated. Remember that the key to a good quesadilla is using good quality tortillas, shredded cheese that melts into little strings, and other flavors like salsa, vegetables or herbs you prefer. These can be served cut into pieces as a first course or as a main course for brunch or lunch. To drink, choose a chilled Mexican beer or frosty Margaritas.

A few tips and variations:

■Try other combinations like apple and cheddar cheese, cooked potatoes, spinach and spicy jack cheese or cooked black bean for other vegetarian versions.

■Add some cooked shredded beef, pork or chicken for a more substantial version.

■Try different salsa varieties such as pico de gallo, chipotle or even mango.

■When you are working with chilies, always wear rubber gloves. Wash the cutting surface and knife immediately.

Diane Rossen Worthington is the author of 18 cookbooks and a James Beard Award-winning radio show host. seriouslysimple.com

Griddled Quesadillas with Caramelized Fennel and Red Onions

Serves 6

Cooking oil spray

1 1/2 cups Caramelized Fennel and Red Onion Relish (see below)

3 (12-inch) flour tortillas

1 1/2 cups shredded jack cheese

1/2 cup store-bought tomatillo salsa

1/2 cup sour cream

Chopped parsley or cilantro, for garnish

Lightly spray a 12-inch nonstick skillet or griddle with nonstick spray (or add a tablespoon of oil) and place over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Place a tortilla in the skillet and spoon 1/2 cup of the fennel-onion mixture evenly over one half. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup shredded cheese, and fold the tortilla in half, pressing down with a spatula.

Cook the quesadilla until lightly brown, 2-3 minutes, then turn over and cook the other side until lightly brown. Place on a cutting board, slice into wedges and keep warm under foil.

Repeat the process with the remaining tortillas and filling. Arrange quesadillas on a large serving platter and serve immediately, accompanied by salsa, sour cream and parsley or cilantro for garnish.

Caramelized Fennel and Red Onions

Microbreweries and mail-order beer companies are spreading across America and beer is rapidly becoming an essential part of our cuisine. The flavor of the beer will intensify and affect the final taste of this relish, so use an ale that you enjoy drinking.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 large red onions, thinly sliced

2 fennel bulbs, trimmed and thinly sliced

1 teaspoon sugar

1 (12-ounce) bottle amber ale

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the butter and oil. Add the onion and fennel and cook until soft and golden brown in color, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle with sugar and continue to cook for another 5-7 minutes.

Pour in the ale and simmer over medium heat until most of the liquid is evaporated and the vegetables are very soft, about 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper and taste for seasoning.

Advance Preparation: Can be prepared up to 3 days ahead, covered and refrigerated. Remove from the refrigerator 1 hour before using.

Per serving: 347 calories; 19 g fat (10 g saturated fat; 49 percent calories from fat); 32 g carbohydrates; 5 g sugar; 37 mg cholesterol; 505 mg sodium; 12 g protein; 5 g fiber.