Way More Than Cheesy: Grilled Quesadillas

I like spicy food. I like spicy hot food. So it goes to follow that I like Mexican food. But I’ll tell you something. Mexican food does not have to be spicy hot.

Here in Los Angeles we get some of the best Mexican food in this country. As much as I like spicy versions of authentic Mexican cuisine. I have eaten enough really great Mexcican food to know that the best of it uses heat in a very beguiling way. That’s because there are all sorts of chilis used in Mexican cooking and not all of them are blazing hot.

In fact the best recipes layer the flavors of more than one chili pepper in complex ways in order to build a ceratin taste sensation.

I am going to attempt something like this today. I am making quesdaillas. But rather than starting with and emphasising the heat in chili I am going to use three different chili peppers and bring a distinctive chili flavor, but it’s not going to be overtly “hot”.

Though it will be spicy and there is a difference.

anaheim chiliI am choosing three chilis: The very mild Anaheim chili, which has a very fresh, green flavor. Jalapeno chilis, which are indeed fairly hot. I am using mine raw, which will emphasize it’s heat. And lastly Chipotle chilis. Which are, in fact, jalapenos that have been roasted. In this case they were also canned with a smoky adobo sauce.

I am going to use each of these chilis in a separate area of the dish which I hope will help distinguish their separate qualities. But I still need a unifying factor. Something that makes this recipe come together and become one.

That unifying factor will be smokiness. I will get most of this smokiness from the grill.

Smoky Grilled Quesadilla with Anaheim Chilis and Chicken.

quesadilla making 1These quesadillas are way more than just cheesy. That’s because they are grilled. Grilling adds a mildly smoky quality to most foods. I think it’s a great compliment to big, diverse flavors. It can add a unifying element to the boldness of lime, cilantro and chili peppers. So I am going to grill, not only the Anaheim chili, but I am going to grill the quesadilla itself as well.

I am serving this with a home-made pico de gallo. Nothing in this salsa will be grilled. I am leaving it fresh, bright and acidic, with a hint of raw heat from the jalapenos. It will be a wonderful partner to the rich, creamy, melted cheese of the quesadilla with all it’s levels of smoky chili pepper nuances.

  4 boneless chicken breast cutlets

  2 tablespoon canola oil

quesadilla making 2  2 large Anaheim chili peppers

  salt and pepper

  1 chipotle chili pepper, canned in adobo sauce, minced

  1/4 cup sour cream

  1/4 cup mayonaisse

  2 tablespoons lime juice

  1 tabelspoon fresh cilantro minced

  8 (6‑inch) corn tortillas

quesadilla making 3  2 cups Monterey jack and cheddar cheese, grated and mixed

  home-made pico de gallo (see recipe)

SERVES 4 Pre-heat the grill to medium high heat. 4 or 5 seconds of hand holding above the grate before pain ensues is perfect. Brush chicken breasts with about 1/2 of the canola oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook the chicken 4 to 5 minutes per side. It should be cooked through, but barely. Remove them from heat and let rest 3 or 4 minutes.

Slice the cooked chicken on the diagonal into about 1/4‑inch thick slices. Keep the grill hot.

Brush the Aneheim chilis with the remaining oil and place them on the grill, covered. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes per side. Once you quesadilla making 4remove them from the grill, they should be quite charred. Put them in a paper bag and allow them to steam for 10 or 12 minutes. Then remove them from the bag, and slice them in half, lengthwise. Peel off all the skin, and slice them into 1‑inch slices. Set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together the minced chipotle, sour cream, mayonaisse, lime juice, and cilantro.

Spread 1 scant tablespoon of the chipotle sauce onto each of the 8 tortillas. Working one at a time, top 4 ofthe tortillas with about 1/2 cup of the cheese mixture. Then about 1/4 of the chicken slices. Top this with about 1/4 of the Anaheim chili slices and then cover with the remaining chipotle sauced tortillas, suaced side facing inwards.

Again, working 1 at a time, slide each quesadilla onto a rimless plate. Then slide each quesadilla onto the grates. You may need to work in quesadilla making 5batches. These need your attention. Grill them, turning once, until the cheese has melted and the grill marks are gorgeous! About 2 minutes per side.

If you are working in batches, and you probably are, you may keep the finished quesadillas in a 200 degree F oven until ready to serve.

Slice each quesadilla into 4 wedges and serve them while still warm, with the home-made pico de gallo on the side.

Home-Made Pico De Gallo

(makes about 3 cups)



  • pico de gallo ingredients2 cups tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup red onion, chopped in 1/4 inch dice
  • 2 tablespoons jalapeno chilis, minced
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, peeled and minced
  • salt to taste

In a bowl, mix all the ingredients. Set aside at least one hour. It will keep, covered in the refrigerator, up to 1 week.


Greg Henry