Seriously, The Best Homemade Quesadillas

by on January 29, 2014

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Over the years I’ve noticed there’s kind of a “difference”, shall we say, between the quesadillas I get at a Mexican restaurant or taquería and the ones I make at home. The restaurant flour tortillas taste a whole lot better than my store-bought ones (or have flavor at all!) — they’re very savory, with soft and flaky texture. The restaurant cheese, which always seems to melt smoother than the cheddar blend I usually buy, is stretchy, like mozzarella, but still buttery.

I’ve finally figured out why!

I now know how to make Seriously, The Best Homemade Quesadillas and you will too, by the end of this post! And, yes, we’re going to use the panini press to do it. :-)


My friend Angie joined me for margaritas and Mexican food at Cafe Coyote in San Diego's Old TownOnce again, I was inspired by a night out at a local restaurant — this time my friend Angie joined me for margaritas and Mexican food at Cafe Coyote in San Diego’s Old Town.
Cafe Coyote in San Diego's Old Town
Ladies rolling out homemade tortillas, serenading mariachis, margaritas, and traditional Mexican food on a big outdoor patio — that’s Cafe Coyote. It’s a fun place for a night out with friends, and Angie and I were long overdue to catch up. She enjoyed her shrimp fajitas, I went with our server’s good recommendation for the Tierra y Mar (shrimp and carne asada), and we shared a light flan for dessert. But what stood out to us from the meal more than anything were the homemade tortillas.
The key to the very best quesadillas -- homemade tortillas!

I don’t think I’d ever made flour tortillas at home before this past weekend, but if I did I’m quite sure I didn’t use a key traditional ingredient that gives tortillas their gently porky flavor and soft, flaky texture…
Flour tortillas are traditionally made with manteca, aka lard, for a soft, flaky texture

manteca, aka lard. Honestly, I thought if I showed a photo of the other side of the package which says “LARD” in big letters, a lot of you might cringe. I know I did. Modern day wisdom has taught us to steer clear of animal fats. That said…according to Dr. Andrew Weil (whom I tend to trust), lard actually has nearly one-fourth the saturated fat and more than twice the monounsaturated fat as butter. Interesting. Some commercial lard products are hydrogenated, which is pretty bad, but I called Farmer John directly to confirm that theirs is not hydrogenated.

All I know for sure is that lard makes those nice pockets in the dough that become delightfully flaky layers. And that is pretty good!

It’s just four simple ingredients — flour, lard, salt and water — kneaded, rested, rolled and griddled. As you can see above, I opted to griddle the tortillas on my Cuisinart 5-in-1 Griddler, the grill I know many of you have at home. With its flat heated surface, it’s pretty similar to the traditional comal that’s used for making tortillas in Mexico. Advantages to using the Griddler: it’s a large surface area so you can cook two tortillas at a time. A downside: the plates don’t seem to get as hot as the stove (even when you turn the heat all the way up) so instead of taking 30-45 seconds per side, it’s more like 2 minutes per side. But if you happen to be in a place without a stove (e.g., dorm room, office, hotel) you can still make fresh tortillas on your electric griddle!
Queso Quesadilla -- just the right combination of buttery and stretchy

All right, the cheese. Most of us use whatever cheese we happen to have on hand, and that’s great. But I finally wanted to find that stretchy, buttery cheese that they use at the taquería. I went to the grocery store, looking for Oaxaca cheese, but instead I came across something called Queso Quesadilla. I’ll admit, my first reaction was “Oh, please…that sounds so fake!” But it turns out that Queso Quesadilla is actually a thing, and it melts fabulously.

My favorite quesadillas are the simplest ones — just cheese, and maybe a few jalapeños (I used the tamed kind — more tangy than spicy). Soft, flaky homemade flour tortillas + oozy, stretchy cheese = seriously, the best. :-)

Seriously, the BEST quesadillas

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Karly January 29, 2014 at 8:03 pm

I made tortillas with lard once and they were amazing! I’ve been too embarrassed to buy more lard at the store though. Haha! I’m such a weirdo. It just seems so WRONG to buy lard.

Love these gooey, melty quesadillas. Perfect for lunch!
Karly´s last blog post ..What’s Cookin’ Wednesday #53

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2 Kathy Strahs January 29, 2014 at 8:37 pm

I know the feeling, Karly! The first time I bought it I had to ask a store clerk for help finding it — I felt all shy about it. Now I think I’m proud! :-)

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3 Lauren @ Hall Nesting January 30, 2014 at 5:13 am

I cringed at the word lard but can’t help but drool over those tortillas. Definitely will have to get it a try.

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4 Kristen January 30, 2014 at 8:34 am

Holy cow… these look AMAZING. Whoa.
Kristen´s last blog post ..Are You Ready? {Recipe: Pepperoni Pizza King’s Hawaiian Bread}

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5 Lori @ RecipeGirl January 30, 2014 at 8:36 am

Okay, I’ll admit that I totally miss Mexican food in San Diego!!! I had no idea that Queso Quesadilla cheese existed. Seriously, how did I not know this??? All looks great. Craving, big time!
Lori @ RecipeGirl´s last blog post ..Stuff I’ve Gotta Share and You’ve Gotta See

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6 MT January 30, 2014 at 8:44 am

Rick’s is the best recipe for tortillas and yes use lard. That’s what my grandmother used…loved!

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7 Katrina @ In Katrina's Kitchen January 30, 2014 at 10:13 am

Holy Mother of Quesadillas! Yes please! Now off to find me some lard… :)
Katrina @ In Katrina’s Kitchen´s last blog post ..Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pretzel Nuggets

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8 Elaine Williams January 30, 2014 at 2:54 pm

Love this site! Making your own tortillas? You are seriously way more ambitious than me. So I have a question. What about the tortillas you can get in the store, the ones that say they have LARD in them – will they do? I have seen the cheese you posted about here in my local Food Lion in old Baltimore, MD but had the same reaction you initially did – and never bought it. I am going this weekend to pick that cheese up.

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9 Kathy Strahs January 30, 2014 at 3:04 pm

Hi Elaine – thanks! Taste-wise, yes, I’d say the store bought tortillas that are made with lard will probably fit the bill. I’ll still probably use the non-lard ones for everyday spur of the moment kinds of needs, but for a once in a while treat lard’s got my vote. :-)

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10 Candace Karu January 30, 2014 at 6:56 pm

I am totally in love with these…on deck for the weekend!

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11 jane January 31, 2014 at 12:49 pm

I can’t believe you made the tortillas – you are amazing! i know they won’t be AS good, but the canasta tortillas at vons are awesome. maybe I’ll try your recipe, though, when I’m not feeling lazy!

I am TOTALLY BUYING THIS CHEESE.
jane´s last blog post ..How to Paint Old Wood Paneling

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12 Kathy Strahs January 31, 2014 at 12:59 pm

I’ve tried the canasta ones – they’re good! :-)

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13 Karen @ The Food Charlatan January 31, 2014 at 11:30 pm

Dude. This is awesome. They look so good! Also: I’m from Manteca. No joke. There is a town in Central California called Manteca, look it up. Born and raised baby. I’ve never actually purchased any Manteca, I think now is the time.
Karen @ The Food Charlatan´s last blog post ..Easy Cheddar Cauliflower Soup

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14 Kathy Strahs February 1, 2014 at 8:03 am

Would that happen to be the home of the Manteca water slides?? I remember going there with my Girl Scout troop when I was 8 or 9 years old! :-) ~Kathy

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15 Karen @ The Food Charlatan February 1, 2014 at 10:05 am

Maaaaanteca water slides! Slip away a day and leave your cares behind, they’re the woooorld’s greatest, so come and ride! Yeah! Manteca Water Slides!

Oh heck yes.
Karen @ The Food Charlatan´s last blog post ..Easy Cheddar Cauliflower Soup

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16 LCW February 2, 2014 at 1:19 pm

It sounds good but not allowed when eating Kosher.

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17 Judi V February 2, 2014 at 4:40 pm

Can you send me the Rick Bayless recipe – my computer won’t let me access his website – states there is a security issue . . .

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18 Kathy Strahs February 2, 2014 at 5:31 pm

Hi Judi — Yeah, I’ve been getting that same message, the site seems fine. I’ll email the recipe to you. ~Kathy

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19 Connie February 4, 2014 at 1:30 pm

Now that you have lard, the best homemade biscuits are just two ingredients away! Two cups of self-rising flour, 1/4 cup lard and one cup of buttermilk (Gasp the other lowly item of kitchens).
Using two knives, cut lard into flour until it is the size of tiny pebbles. Stir in buttermilk. Work mixture delicately until it comes together. Turn out onto floured surface and gently pat out to approximately 3/4″ thickness. Cut into 3-inch rounds. Place on greased baking sheet or 10-inch iron skillet. Bake in preheated 475° oven for 12 to 15 minutes. Butter tops upon removing from oven.

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20 Kathy Strahs February 4, 2014 at 1:33 pm

Sigh…well now I won’t be able to stop thinking about biscuits until I turn on the oven and make some! :-) These sound amazing, Connie – many thanks for sharing.

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21 Nutmeg Nanny February 4, 2014 at 2:50 pm

Will be trying this out soon :) I love quesadillas!!

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22 Christina@A Soulful Twist February 7, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Once you start making your own tortillas at home there’s really no going back. I just make a bunch of dough and use it throughout the month! But that cheese looks awesome I’ll have tot try some!! :)
Christina@A Soulful Twist´s last blog post ..5 Tips for Frying the Perfect Chicken + Fried Chicken Wings Recipe

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