On this early evening Buena Vista Social Club were playing loudly from the living room. And I was glad that our music could spill onto the street below, adding to the cocktail of the late summer air. The windows were open, but hesitantly, as this was the end of the season in Glasgow. Bright and brisk, the remnants of warmth are driven away by the night breeze. And with this breeze floats the strongest smells of the day; hot pavements, the coaly remnants of a barbeque down the street, tarmac laid out to dry. Mostly, it smelled fresh. In our flat, Hana and I were cleaning absently, awaiting Laurie with ingredients. After a full day at the shop, cleaning and testing a box of ancient cameras John had uncovered at a car boot sale (a more tiring job than you would expect), I was ready to overdose on food. And as usual Laurie was running late. Now and again my stomach would give a grumble and I would go to the window, looking out hopefully like a dog for his owner. Laurie had promised a tasty quesadilla recipe, staple for him and his brother.
Preparation, in my opinion, is always the most appetising part of a meal. Nothing seems more appealing and untouched than the inside of a vegetable, telling secrets of moisture, colour and scent. Even unpacking the ingredients is mouth-watering.
‘Anyone want a beer?’ Asked Laurie, reaching into another bag.
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Here’s what you need:
- A small bunch of fresh coriander (around 30g)
- One big red pepper
- Two or three medium sized red chillies (the heat is up to you)
- Six or so tomatoes (around 600g)
- One large red onion
- Eight flower tortillas (eight tortillas make four quesadillas)
- A fat lime
- A large handful of whole cumin
- Mature cheddar cheese
- Soured cream
- Three or four jalapeños
- Some Sol (or your favourite Mexican beer)
Chop the tomatoes, red pepper and onion so they can be blended. Give them a spin, keeping the consistency fairly chunky (pulsing the blender and stirring at intervals works well). It should end up as a pulpy, thick juice.
Fry the cumin (preferably in a thin bottomed pan) on a low heat until the smell is released and they turn brown.
Finely chop the coriander, two-thirds of the chillies and squeeze half the lime. Add these to the blender and give it a quick whiz.
If your hunger can take it, leave the salsa to sit for half an hour or forty minutes.
While a large frying pan readies itself on a medium heat (no need for oil), cut the jalapeños and remaining chillies, and grate the cheese.
When the pan’s hot, put down a tortilla and slop a healthy helping of salsa into the middle, spreading it out to a few centimetres of the edges.
On top of the now heating salsa sprinkle some jalapeños and cheese. As with the chilli, leave a little of each for later.
Once the cheese starts to melt a little, place a second tortilla on top. If you’re attempting a large one, tamp down the edges of the second tortilla.
It would be a good idea now to slide a spatula under the bottom and make sure it doesn’t burn. Move the quesadilla around regularly so it doesn’t stick and check to see when the underside is starting to brown. You don’t want the tortillas too hard but you do want them cooked nicely – a few minutes will do.
When the time comes, get a second spatula and slide both far under the base (making sure not to rip the tortilla). Were the quesadilla a clock, the spatulas should each be at about three and eight o’clock. I like to position myself diagonally to the pan.
Then, with the least hesitance possible, flip the quesadilla over to the upper side. At this point turn down the heat a little. As before, check the underside regularly to see when it’s ready.
Garnish the frying meal with the left over cheese, jalapeños and chilli (but add the cheese quickly, to give time for it to melt).
Prepare a plate, open a beer and get the soured cream ready.
Remember, this is a quick meal, so preparation helps the taste.
‘No, I don’t really drink,’ said Hana. ‘Oo, Sol. Yeah, alright.’ Me and Laurie followed suit, sipping the yellow liquid as froth filled the necks. ‘Holly and me used to drink these all the time,’ said Hana. ‘In Bahrain. We’d wander around the streets drinking these to cool off.’
I continued decanting the bags; tight skinned tomatoes about to burst from juice; red peppers, their curves as familiar as a lover’s. The smell of coriander caught my nose, reminding me of my earlier commute, cycling through the Botanic Gardens. The whistling, guitar plucking and rolling vocals in El Carretero were playing now, mixing with the sweet beer, tapping feet, and roasting cumin.
As we cut tomatoes into blendable chunks this new smell took over the kitchen, infectiously adding another layer. Fresh and earthy and sweet, I surreptitiously popped a segment into my mouth and let the soft meld with the firm, crunchy.
What appeals most about this meal – apart from the taste of course – is the lack of meat and oil. While it’s filling, you can make it again and again consecutively, with little or no guilt. It feels healthy going in your mouth, but also like quenching a long accepted addiction. The salsa’s great to keep in the fridge for a quick snack and the longer it sits (within reason) the darker and more complex it becomes.
And soon came time for the flip. Luckily, this is a meal that goes well with laughter. I watched in rapture as Laurie expertly edged one spatula round the quesadilla and slid a second under the front.
‘Your local only sold these enormous tortillas,’ explained Laurie with eager regret. Then a stern look of preparation crossed his face and Hana stopped laughing immediately. In an impossible feat the fat bundle flew into the air and seemed to hover. We watched, horrified, as Laurie with eyes and mouth wide, manoeuvred the pancake in mid-air. Then down with a blistering splat escaping salsa browned the edges. All three of us let out a sigh of relief, tense shoulders drooping and faces lighting at the fresh, sizzling sight. Laurie moved slowly on to the next frying pan, spatulas at the ready.