Sunday, July 15, 2012

Roasted Butternut Squash Quesadillas

So it's been quite some time since I've had the pleasure of biting into the blissful deliciousness that is a quesadilla.  This ninja is not only a vegan, but also a huge proponent of eating food in as close to a natural state as possible.  Because of that, I really hate using vegan fake-cheese products (not to mention that they are very expensive).  That's not to say I don't indulge in the occasional box of macaroni and Chreese (Road's End Organics makes some deliciously easy comfort food), but on the regular, when I'm taking the time and effort to make a meal from scratch, I want to avoid pre-packaged foods if at all possible.  So because I never came up with anything that was a decent substitute for creamy, melty cheese to nestle between halves of toasty tortilla, I've just gone without.  But one hit me.....squash!  Roasted butternut squash is creamy, slightly sweet, and gooey enough to hold a quesadilla together.  I decided to try it and these were a huge hit.  My ninja-love Mike was all about them, and his 15-year-old daughter liked them too.  His little ninjas (10 and 5) weren't so keen on them, but I'm unsure if it was due to lack of cheesiness or the fact that they were pretty spicy.  If you're going to feed these to little ninjas, I'd cut out the cayenne entirely and at least halve the other spices.

The squash blossoms in this recipe are entirely optional.  I honestly don't think they added much in the way of flavor.  Maybe I didn't use enough.  I have a squash plant in my garden though and decided to try it.  Pretty much the only way you're ever going to have access to fresh squash blossoms is if you grow squash yourself (because once you pick them you have to use them right away) so if you don't have them, no worries. With or without the blossoms, you'll love the creamy, slightly sweet and spicy filling between halves of crisp fried tortilla.  Just as good, if not better than the cheesy ones!

Roasted Butternut Squash Quesadillas


1 medium-sized whole butternut squash (about 3 lbs)
2 portobello mushroom caps, cut into 1" chunks
1 large sweet onion, sliced into 1/2" thick half-moons
 4 Tablespoons olive oil + more for frying the quesadillas
1 1/4 teaspoons cumin (divided)
1/2 teaspoon oregano
10 large squash blossoms, washed and sliced thinly (optional)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
pinch of cayenne pepper
Juice from 1/2 a lime (about 1 Tablespoon)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
6 - 10" flour tortillas (burrito size)

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F.  Cut the stem off of the butternut squash and slice in half lengthwise.  Scoop out any seeds and stringy stuff and discard.  Using 1 Tablespoon of the oil, coat both halves along the cut (just the flesh, not the skin) liberally with oil.  Place cut-sides down on a baking sheet and bake for 30-45 min or until the squash is pierced easily with a fork.  Meanwhile, toss the mushrooms and onion with another 2 Tablespoons of the oil and place in another baking pan.  Add 1/2 teaspoon of the cumin and the 1/2 teaspoon oregano and toss again to distribute evenly.  Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until the mushrooms are tender and the onions are very soft and starting to brown.  Allow the vegetables to cool enough to handle.
While the vegetables are cooling, heat the remaining 1 Tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over low heat.  Add the minced garlic and squash blossoms (if using) and sautee gently until the garlic is golden and fragrant and the blossoms are wilted.  Remove from heat.
Once the squash is cool, scrape the flesh into a large bowl.  Mash the squash with the nutritional yeast, the remaining 3/4 teaspoon cumin, salt, pepper, cayenne, and lime juice.  Mix in the garlic and squash blossoms (or just the garlic if you don't have the blossoms).  Add in the chopped cilantro and mix again gently.
To assemble: place 1/2 cup of the squash mixture and 1/2 cup of the mushroom/onion mixture on one half of a tortilla, leaving about 1/2" space around the edge (because some of the filling will squish to the edge during cooking).  Fold the other half of the tortilla over the filling.  Heat about 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Fry each quesadilla for about 2 minutes per side, or until golden brown.  Allow to cool slightly and slice each one into three triangles.  Enjoy with lots of fresh pico de gallo and guacamole!

Tips and tricks:

1. If you have extra filling, you can just make more quesadillas (duh) or the filling is delicious on it's own or rolled into a wrap or burrito.

2. Make sure you don't over-fill the tortillas.  The filling stopping 1/2" from the edge is very important unless you want it oozing out everywhere when you're frying.  Use your judgement.  Obviously, if you use smaller tortillas, use less filling.

3. The best way to flip the quesadillas is with two spatulas - slide one underneath and place the other on top to keep the quesadilla from opening while you flip.  Flip gently and your filling will stay where it needs to be!

4. Mike contests that "real" quesadillas need to be fried in butter, not oil.  I haven't tried this with non-dairy butter, but Earth Balance might give you good results so give it a try if you like!

5. Let the quesadillas cool slightly before cutting.  This will allow the filling to firm up a bit.  I let each one cool for about 2-3 minutes and had no problems with filling coming out.  Also, the best way to cut quesadillas into triangles is with kitchen shears rather than a knife....perfect triangles!

And because I love you so much, here's how you make pico de gallo in case any of my readers don't know.  It's not really a recipe since it's all pretty much to taste and uncomplicated:

3 diced tomatoes
1 diced onion
1/2 finely minced jalapeno
to taste:
lime juice
chopped cilantro
Mix everything together and enjoy!  Remember - the fresher the veggies, the better it tastes!

That's all for today, ninjas!  Just had my grandmom-ninjas 90th birthday party this past Saturday and I made seitan hot "wings" with creamy dipping sauce, roasted sweet potato salad, and cashew-caramel brownies with toasted macadamias and coconut for dessert.  Everything was a HUGE hit at the party with both vegans and non-vegans alike, so those recipes up soon.  As always, feedback welcomed and thanks for reading!

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