Jennifer Hanes MS, RDN, LD
Hey there, fellow food enthusiasts! Today, we’re diving headfirst into the world of a beloved Mexican comfort classic – the humble yet oh-so-satisfying cheese quesadilla. 🧀🌮
There’s just something magical about the way gooey melted cheese gets folded into a warm tortilla, and creates a symphony of flavors and textures that’s hard to resist.
It’s worth noting that although we often say, or order, “cheese quesadillas,” this is redundant! A quesadilla is filled with cheese only. An “XYZ” quesadilla is filled with cheese and XYZ. 🍴
The Basics of Cheese Quesadillas
Cheese quesadillas are originally from central and southern Mexico, made with corn tortillas and Oaxaca cheese. Later, in northern Mexico, flour tortillas and Chihuahua cheese were used.
This is the version I’m basing my quesadillas on, both because it’s closer to my experience with Mexico and because we prefer the ingredients.
Although American-Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants often use 2 tortillas to make a quesadilla, traditional quesadillas are actually one tortilla folded in half. A dish called sincronizada is made with two tortillas, ham, cheese, and various vegetables.
Quesadillas are perfect for vegetarians! They are actually a traditionally vegetarian dish, as the filling is usually only cheese (hence QUESAdilla). However, in your kitchen, you can add any leftover vegetables you may have to create a filling meal or whip one up super fast for a snack.
Essential Ingredients for Vegetarian Cheese Quesadillas
Essentially all that is required to make a quesadilla is cheese and a tortilla!
Selecting the right tortilla
A traditional quesadilla from northern Mexico uses a flour tortilla, which is what I’ve chosen to use here. However, there are lots of options here:
A whole-grain tortilla would inarguably have more health benefits. You’ll find more fiber and protein, more vitamins and minerals, and will potentially feel fuller after eating it. However, you’ll sacrifice some in the texture of the tortilla, which will be stiffer and denser to chew.
Corn tortillas are more common for quesadillas from the central and southern regions of Mexico. I don’t particularly like corn tortillas for quesadillas, but you may find that you prefer them. You will likely have to warm up a corn tortilla before filling them, or it may (will) crack when you fold it over.
It may be easiest to just choose what tortilla you already have on hand.
There are also a wide range of specialty tortillas and other flatbreads available. My Mediterranean-inspired quesadillas use pita bread. You can also find high-fiber tortillas, spinach, cayenne, sun-dried tomato flavors, tortillas made from cauliflower, or even chalupa-style.
Variety of cheeses for different flavor profiles
Different cheeses have different flavors, melting points, and stringiness. Oaxa and Chihuahua cheese are traditional. You may see restaurants in America using Monterey Jack cheese as well.
Cheddar is NOT a traditional cheese for quesadillas, but you do you!
Ultimately, choose a cheese that compliments the rest of your dish and that will melt. Oaxa, Chihuahua, and Monterey Jack varieties are pretty mild, which is likely why you often find them used in quesadillas.
Mozzarella cheese is also mild in flavor but will be very stringy when melted, making it a bit messy to eat. If you do decide to use Cheddar, then know that its flavor may overpower any fillings you may try to add.
There are also cheeses that won’t melt and would be pretty terrible choices for quesadillas. Some examples include Cojita, Halloumi, Paneer, and Feta.
Is there a best cheese for quesadillas?
I don’t think so. If you’re going for traditional/authentic, then go with Oaxa or Chihuahua.
Otherwise, what’s your favorite cheese? What do you keep in the house most often? Anything that saves you a shopping trip is a good option in my book.
incorporating fresh vegetables and herbs
While traditionally, quesadillas are filled with only cheese. You can always amp them up a bit.
Some taco seasoning and fresh cilantro would be easy. So would pico de gallo; just make sure to drain any water from it first.
Any vegetables you may have left over from dinner the night before could go in there as well.
Black beans or refried beans (or refried black beans) would amp up the fiber and protein content of your quesadillas and give them more flavor too.
Additional Options for Extra Flavor
- Pickled or fresh jalapenos
- Chipotles in adobo sauce (go ahead and add the sauce too)
- Pickled red onions
- Sweet potato puree
- Avocado slices
- Green onions
Mouthwatering Vegetarian Cheese Quesadilla Recipe
Classic Cheese Quesadilla
- skillet or griddle
- Pizza Cutter or a good chef's knife
- 8 wheat tortillas soft taco size
- 8 oz Shredded Chihuahua cheese Monterey Jack if Mexican cheese is not available
- If your tortillas are not soft and easily foldable, gently warm them in the skillet or oven.8 wheat tortillas
- Grate your cheese. Put your skillet or griddle on medium heat to warm.8 oz Shredded Chihuahua cheese
- Add 1 oz cheese to one half of your tortilla and fold over.8 wheat tortillas, 8 oz Shredded Chihuahua cheese
- Cook on each side 2-3 minutes until golden brown and a bit crispy.
- Repeat with each tortilla
- You can store finished quesadillas in a warm oven until all are cooked.
- Cut into wedges with a pizza cutter and serve with sliced limes.
*Nutrition Facts are an estimate only. Differences are expected when making substitutions for any ingredient or when different brands are used.
Variations on the Classic Recipe
There are infinite ways to change up such a simple recipe to suit it to your taste, or to turn the quesadilla into a quick meal all by itself.
Cheddar Cheese Quesadilla
I pretty much always have shredded cheddar cheese on hand, so this is the cheese I use most often if need a quick snack.
If I have any leftover veggies or any pico de gallo in the fridge, I add that in too.
Gourmet Three-Cheese Quesadilla with Caramelized Onions
Caramelized onions are not quick by any means. So many times, if I’m making them, I make way more than I need and use them throughout the week.
Pair caramelized onions with a blend of 3 Italian cheeses, such as fontina, mozzarella, and parmesan.
Or, if you want more tang, consider goat cheese in place of the parmesan.
If you have it on hand or don’t mind making it, a little balsamic glaze would be awesome too!
Veggie-loaded Quesadilla with Avocado Cilantro Sauce
Slice 1 onion, 1 red bell pepper, and 1 green bell pepper, and give them a quick saute. I like them to still have a bit of a crunch left in them.
You can make an avocado cilantro sauce pretty easily, or buy one ready to go at the store. To make your quesadilla, sprinkle your cheese of choice then your veggies and sauce, then a bit more cheese and cook as above.
If you prefer, you could also use the sauce as a dip instead of, or in addition to, putting in the quesadilla
Spicy Pepper Jack and Roasted Veggie Quesadilla
Think outside the box. Try this: roast broccoli, cauliflower, and yellow squash in a 425°F oven until just caramelized. Chop into small, bite-sized pieces.
Build this quesadilla using shredded pepper jack cheese, your roasted veggies, and serve with spicy salsa and sour cream.
Make this quesadilla with cheddar cheese and a black bean corn salad.
Vegan Cheese Quesadilla with Dairy-free Cheese Alternatives
Have a vegan cheese you love that melts well? Use that!
You could also consider hummus as a cheese alternative. That should pair well with caramelized onions!
Egg and Cheese Quesadilla
Scramble up some eggs and make a breakfast quesadilla!
Mastering the Art of Assembling and Cooking Quesadillas
I know this seems easy, but there are some tips to make sure it goes well!
Preparing the Tortillas and Filling
Regular flour tortillas generally don’t need any prep. However, whole-wheat or corn tortillas will likely need to be warmed in order to fold over.
You can do this by wrapping a damp paper towel around your tortillas and microwaving them for about 30 seconds. You could also do this right before you add the filling in the skillet you are using to cook them, or in the oven.
Anything that needs to be cooked in the filling needs to be done before you assemble your quesadilla. The cook time on the quesadilla is very short and serves only to melt the cheese and crisp up the tortilla.
If you try to cook your filling while inside the tortilla, you’ll burn the tortilla!
Proper Cheese Distribution for Even Melting
It can be easy to overdo it when adding cheese to a quesadilla. But if you add too much, you’ll end up with a soggy mess, instead of a crispy tortilla and gooey middle.
Make sure that your cheese is distributed evenly across the bottom half of the tortilla, leaving roughly 1/4″ around the edge.
When adding something else to the filling, I always add half the cheese, the other ingredients, then the rest of the cheese. This way the tortilla stays closed! Use a spatula to flatten the quesadilla while it’s cooking to help evenly distribute the filling.
I usually cook quesadillas on the stove top with a skillet. However, they can also be cooked in the oven, the air fryer, or with a panini press. You can even find quesadilla makers sometimes.
Each method has its own pros and cons.
The oven allows you to cook many quesadillas at once, but you likely won’t get a super crispy tortilla.
An air fryer would be really good at getting the tortilla crispy, but if you’re not careful, you could burn the tortilla before the cheese melts.
Both the panini and the quesadilla maker could shorten cooking time by allowing both sides to cook at the same time. However, when using these, along with the air fryer, you can’t really watch what is going on and could burn the tortilla on accident.
Achieving the Perfect Golden Brown Crust
I usually see the best results when I use a nonstick skillet without any cooking fat. This allows the tortilla to have even contact with the skillet.
Just place your tortilla on a pre-warmed skillet, then leave it alone for 2-3 minutes. Flip and repeat. You can always go back to the first side if you need to later.
Air Fryer Cheese Quesadillas
Follow the Classic Cheese Quesadilla recipe above (or any variation you choose!) until you’re ready to cook it. Make sure you choose a tortilla size that will fit and lay flat in your air fryer basket when halved.
Because air fryers can vary wildly in their times and temps, you really gotta keep an eye on your quesadilla. As a general guideline, set your air fryer to 350°F and cook for 5-7 minutes, flipping halfway through.
You’ll likely have to press the top of the tortilla back down before you flip it.
In the air fryer, the tortilla puffs up a bit giving it a slightly different texture, but will still be crispy.
I strongly encourage you to check on your quesadilla often the first few times you make them. Once you know the settings that work best for your air fryer, you’ll be good to go!
Accompaniments and Dips
Pair your easy cheese quesadilla with a big salad to balance it out. Because this is meant to be a super fast meal, choose a bagged salad that has all the ingredients ready to mix together.
I would also make sure to include a dip or garnish for your quesadilla. Here are some ideas:
- Classic Guacamole
- Fresh Salsa
- Pico de Gallo
- Mango Habanero Salsa
- Sour Cream or a Yogurt-Based Dip
baby led weaning quesadilla
Quesadillas are great for baby-led weaning.
Simply let them cool a bit, cut them into easy-to-grip slices, and give them a fun dip!
Quesadilla Party: Hosting a Gathering with Vegetarian Delights
I’ve been to a quesadilla bar housewarming party years ago. I actually forgot about it until I started writing this post.
This could be a fun way to get everyone mingling in the kitchen!
Build your Quesadilla Bar with various tortillas, fillings, toppings, cheeses, and dips. Some options include:
- white, whole-wheat, and corn tortillas
- caramelized onions
- roasted red peppers
- sauteed mushrooms
- black beans
- refried beans
- at least one meat option (depends on your crowd, really. Here in Texas, I’d probably need two or three options at least)
- shredded cheddar (I know it’s not traditional, but I bet it goes fast!)
- shredded Chihuahua cheese
- shredded pepper jack
- shredded Mexican or taco cheese blend
- pico de Gallo
- sour cream
Fun and Interactive Cooking Session for Guests
If you can, set up different cooking stations.
You could potentially have a panini press, a quesadilla maker, an air fryer, a skillet, and a griddle all going at once!
You could even steer people together by “assigning” cooking stations.
Pairing Quesadillas with Beverages
There’s so many options here!
For alcohol-containing options, consider a white and a red wine (maybe Chardonnay and Malbec), margaritas, Mexican beer, michelada, or a chelada could be fun.
Virgin options could include Mexican Cokes (almost a crime not to have them, really), agua frescas, or a variety of Mexican sodas, such as Jarritos.
And there you have it! Our cheesy journey through the world of cheese quesadillas comes to a delicious end. We’ve explored the basics, shared tips and tricks, and hopefully ignited a newfound love for this timeless dish.
Remember, cooking isn’t just about following a recipe – it’s about making it your own. So whether you’re adding a sprinkle of your favorite spice, a handful of sautéed veggies, or even a touch of nostalgia, the easy cheese quesadilla canvas is yours to paint.
From solo kitchen adventures to cozy family meals, these quesadillas have a special place in our hearts (and stomachs). They’re a reminder that sometimes the simplest things are the most satisfying.
So go ahead, gather your tortillas and cheeses, fire up that skillet, and let your creativity flow. Here’s to many more cheesy escapades in your culinary journey. Until next time, stay cheesy and keep those quesadillas sizzling! 🧀👋
You can. Build them as usual (cook the filling, add cheese and filling and fold over the tortilla. Press until flat, and then wrap them in plastic wrap. They should keep in a freezer for up to 2 months or a fridge for up to 3 days.
When you’re ready to eat them, pop in the fridge at 400° F until the cheese has melted and is warmed through.
Store leftover quesadillas in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. If freezing, wrap them individually in plastic wrap, then foil.
Finding vegan cheeses that melt well is a difficult task, but brands are getting better at it. According to Food52, Violife, Moocho, and Daiaya all offer shredded cheeses that melt and stretch well.
Of course! Choose any type of tortilla that you want. Or get creative and use various other flatbread options such as naan or pita.
Absolutely! In fact, we encourage it.
Sautéed bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, and even spinach can add a burst of color, nutrients, and an extra layer of taste to your quesadilla.
Just be sure not to overload it – you still want that delightful cheese-to-tortilla ratio.
Soggy quesadillas are no fun.
One way to prevent this is by sautéing or cooking any watery veggies (like tomatoes) before adding them to your quesadilla.
Also, allow them to cool slightly before assembling. Lastly, pat them dry with a paper towel if needed.
Ensuring that your quesadilla isn’t overloaded with fillings and is cooked on medium heat can help maintain that desired crispness.
Assembling the quesadilla right before cooking will help prevent it from becoming too soggy.
Absolutely! Pop them in a preheated oven or toaster oven at a low temperature to maintain crispness.
You can also use a non-stick skillet on medium heat, flipping occasionally until warmed through.
Not at all! Quesadillas make fantastic snacks, appetizers, or even a light lunch. Cut them into smaller wedges for easy finger food or serve alongside a fresh salad for a well-rounded meal.
Have a question that isn’t here? Drop us a message, and we’ll happily help you out on your quesadilla adventure! 🧀🌮
Jennifer Hanes MS, RDN, LD is a registered dietitian, mom, wife, and vegetarian in North Texas. She has dedicated Dietitian Jenn to be a source of information, ideas, and inspiration for people like her, vegetarians that live with people with different dietary beliefs and/or needs in a multivore household.