Spicy Chicken Quesadillas with Corn, Black Beans, and Caramelized Onions
I feel uncomfortable around old people for mostly the same reasons that I panic around small children. I never know what to talk about, I’m always afraid I’m going to hug them too hard, and a lot of them smell weird. (You know it’s true.)
I also get nervous and flustered when they ask about my job, and I usually end up explaining blogging like my mom does: “I write an online diary about food. There are pictures!” FML.
So, you can imagine my unease when Logan asked if I would go visit his step-grandmother, Dede, with him in Pennsylvania this past weekend. She is 89. That’s WAY outside my age comfort zone.
But because I’m an excellent girlfriend, and I’m painfully aware that I need to work on my senior-interaction skills, I agreed to accompany him on this adventure.
The car ride to Doylestown was an anxious and sweaty one, despite Logan’s constant assurances that Dede is “the sweetest,” and that I would be “obsessed with her.” I remained skeptical, as that is precisely the same argument that he uses when trying to convince me to get a dog…
However, Logan turned out to be right. Upon meeting Dede, I felt instantly at ease. She was wearing a very fetching bright blue ensemble, and she exuded all kinds of warm, youthful energy. She was also strong enough to hug, did not smell weird in the slightest, and spoke with lovely British accent (a detail Logan had failed to mention), all of which I found comforting. Oh, and Dede lives with her daughter Jacqui, and Jacqui’s husband, Ron, who were equally wonderful and welcoming, so the whole situation was much less terrifying than I had anticipated. Hallelujah.
As you can see, I warmed to Dede pretty quickly (it was hard not to), but it wasn’t until we sat down to lunch that I became a total fangirl.
First of all, she asked the waitress for a Seagram’s on the rocks, which I very much respected at noon on a Sunday. She then proceeded to order a chicken quesadilla, boldly stating, “I don’t care much for salads. They’re rabbit food.” (Logan practically broke his neck nodding in gleeful assent, and I was legitimately nervous he was going to yell something like, “Preach, Dede, PREACH!”)
While waiting for our lunch, Dede regaled us with several humorous stories, ultimately admitting that “Dede” was a nickname that Logan’s grandfather had given her many years ago. Apparently, she told him a dirty story one day, which prompted him to start calling her “Dirty Dorothy,” or “Dede,” for short. She claimed not to remember the dirty story in question, but I think she was holding out us. Dede seems sassy like that.
Anyhoo, when her chicken quesadilla arrived, Dede daintily ate two triangles before graciously offering the rest to the table. When Logan asked how it was, she said, “Delicious. I just love quesadillas, don’t you?”
I don’t know why, but I found Dede’s love of quesadillas very endearing. It probably has something to do with the fact that I too love quesadillas, and I’m always looking for any excuse to make and eat them. (Plus, there’s just something hilarious about a regal British woman eating Mexican finger food.) So, yesterday I capitalized on this opportunity and whipped up some Spicy Chicken Quesadillas with Corn, Black Beans and Caramelized Onions in honor of Dede.
Like Dede, these quesadillas are an absolute delight. Juicy grilled chicken breast, sweet corn, caramelized red onions, scallions, and lots of melted pepper jack cheese between crisped multigrain tortillas is a festive and foolproof combo that’s fun for all ages.
These ‘dillas were so epic that I actually had to stop eating my own dinner to supervise my roommate while he ate them. When he gets overly excited about a delicious meal, Logan tends to take enormous bites in rapid succession before he’s swallowed the preceding mouthful of food (see here). He regularly forgets to breathe and or comes dangerously close to choking, so I have to pay close attention/talk him through it. (You know, “Chew. Noooo, longer. Swallow. Yep. All the way. Take a deep breath. One more. We’re out of Zantac, SLOW DOWN, DAMMIT!”)
Long story short, the awesomeness of these quesadillas almost killed Logan. Highest of compliments!
The best part about quesadillas is that they’re simple to put together and almost impossible to screw up. Even if you forget an ingredient, overstuff the tortillas, or burn them a little bit, they’re still going to be dank. And you should obviously feel free to modify them based on the ingredients that you have on hand. Sub pinto beans for black, steak for chicken, or up the corn and beans and go meatless, if you’re so inclined. Creativity is the best!
That said, please try to get your hands on some pepper jack for this recipe. Cheddar or regular jack cheese will work (duh), but there’s something about the smoky heat of a good pepper jack that takes these ‘dillas to the next level. It’s magical stuff.
While I highly recommend working spicy chicken quesadillas into your weeknight rotation, they’re also a great choice for casual entertaining. The recipe is easily scaled to feed a crowd, and you can assemble the quesadillas up to a day in advance and then just throw them in the pan for a few minutes when your guests arrive. No muss, no fuss.
I last served these at my Cinco de Mayo extravaganza, where they managed to outshine everything else on the fiesta menu. (That’s saying a lot, since Grapefruit Margaritas, Spicy Pulled Chicken, and Chipotle Steak Quesadillas also made an appearance, and you know those are bomb.) In fact, several people asked for the recipe afterwards, which I have shamelessly withheld until today.
You can thank Dede for this one, friends.
Spicy Chicken Quesadillas with Corn, Black Beans and Caramelized Onions: (Makes 2 Quesadillas)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 ear yellow corn, shucked
1 boneless skinless chicken breast (or two thin-sliced chicken cutlets)
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
2 cups grated pepper jack cheese
1/2 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed
2 scallions (white and light green parts only), thinly sliced
2 large (10-12 inch) whole grain tortillas
For garnish: (optional)
Salsa of your choice
Preparing your Spicy Chicken Quesadillas with Corn, Black Beans and Caramelized Onions:
-Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add the sliced red onions and a pinch of kosher salt and white pepper. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly, until the onions are soft and translucent. Remove from the pan and set aside.
-In the same pan you used for the onions, heat the remaining teaspoon of oil over medium heat. When hot, add the corn and a pinch of salt and white pepper. Cook, stirring periodically, for about 6 minutes until the corn is tender and lightly browned. Remove from the pan and set aside.
-Moving on to the chicken! Use a sharp knife to butterfly your chicken breast. Relax, it’s not that hard. Just place the breast on a cutting board, and carefully slice the breast in half widthwise almost to the other edge. Keep that edge intact and then open the breast along the fold.
-Heat a lightly oiled grill or grill pan (yes, you can use a regular pan if you must) over medium-high heat. When hot, add the chicken breast. Cook for 3-4 minutes on each side until the chicken is opaque and cooked through.
-Heat a large skillet or pan over medium heat. When hot, carefully add the quesadillas to the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side until the quesadillas are lightly browned and the cheese has melted.
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