Squash Blossom Quesadillas with Saffron Charred Tomato Salsa
Have you ever prepared an elaborate entrée only to have some side dish that you just threw together steal the show?
That’s how I felt about these squash blossoms and this salsa.
I was so excited to get squash blossoms in my summer CSA share. I was so determined to take good care of them, to cook them before they’d wilted, to fry them up* in a bit of olive oil and garlic, and to taste the enticing edible flowers that can make even a quesadilla seem fancy.
The flowers tasted fine. I mean, they cooked down quite a bit in their two minutes of frying, so there wasn’t much of them to taste, but they didn’t taste bad; I just wasn’t blown away.
Meanwhile, the salsa that I concocted just to smother over the quesadillas was exquisite!
…thanks to my “Mayan Cuisine” cookbook (as mentioned earlier, in my post about Mexican Avocado Soup). The cookbook starts out with a series of recipes for recados, or spice pastes (blends of herbs, spices, and chiles) that can be used in a variety of ways, though mainly as seasoning rubs or marinades.
According to the cookbook, most recados will keep for up to a year in the fridge (or they can be frozen for longer storage). So the 15 minutes it takes you to make your spice paste will be well worth it, since you can then use that seasoning paste in a variety of other dishes.
I adapted my “Saffron Recado” recipe from one in the cookbook, made a little over half a cup of the spice paste, and then used two teaspoons of it to invent one seriously awesome salsa.
The recado recipe I started with is called “Adobo Blanco o de Puchero,” which Daniel Hoyer writes is great for flavoring soups, stews, and vegetable dishes. (It also differs from another spice paste– “Recado de Especie o Mechado,” used as a rub on meat or poultry– in only one ingredient: it replaces 8 whole allspice berries with 1 teaspoon of coriander seeds.)
I used a coffee grinder (no longer used for coffee) to grind the recado spices.
To make the salsa, I toasted tomatoes and onions on a skillet until they were nicely charred, then blended them up with cilantro and just a touch of the recado paste. But it was a tiny bit watery and a little too strongly garlic-and-peppery; it was still missing something. I improvised with a dash of almond flour (to take care of the extra liquid) and half of a ripe avocado (to add some creaminess and to mellow out the spice).
I loved the result: an intense, smoky flavor from the spice-rich saffron recado and the blackened tomatoes, melded with the subtle nutty sweetness of the avocado and the fresh cilantro.
It was a show-stopper.
Oh and the Squash Blossom Quesadillas? They were even easier to make than the salsa, and– who am I kidding, you cannot go wrong with melted cheese– they tasted pretty good, too!
* I’ve since learned from a friend that the way squash blossoms are most commonly eaten in Mexico is as a vessel for a (chile relleno-style) fluffy, eggy, deep-fried batter. I usually avoid deep-frying at all costs… but now I know what to do with them next time!
Saffron Charred Tomato Salsa
(the Saffron Recado recipe is adapted from “Mayan Cuisine” by Daniel Hoyer.)
(Makes a little over 1 cup of salsa; and ½ cup extra saffron recado spice paste)
Saffron Recado (Spice Paste) Ingredients:
~ 1½ Tbsp. black peppercorns
~ 1 cinnamon stick
~ 1 tsp. coriander seeds
~ 1 tsp. oregano
~ ½ tsp. whole cloves
~ ¼ tsp. cumin seeds
~ 1 generous pinch saffron threads
~ ⅓ – ½ a medium onion, pan-toasted and charred
~ 10 cloves of garlic, pan-toasted and charred
~ 1-2 Tbsp. water (if necessary to help your blender out)
~ 2 tsp. Saffron Recado (spice paste)
~ 2-3 medium tomatoes, pan-toasted (or oven-roasted) and charred
~ ½ a medium onion, pan-toasted and charred
~ ½ bunch fresh cilantro (including stems)
~ ½ a ripe avocado
~ 1 Tbsp. almond flour
~ pinch of salt
How to make it:
1. Make the recado (spice paste): Grind the peppercorns, cinnamon stick, coriander seeds, oregano, cloves, cumin seeds, and saffron threads together in a spice grinder or coffee grinder. Toast and char the onion and garlic in a pan on the stove. Use a blender to puree the onion and garlic, then add the ground spices (and water if necessary) and blend.
The result will be about ½ cup of Saffron Recado Paste that you can use in other recipes, like as a spice rub for meat or to flavor soups and stews.
2. Make the salsa: Roast or toast the tomatoes and onion until charred. Use a blender to combine all salsa ingredients, and puree until smooth.
Squash Blossom Quesadillas
~ 10-15 squash blossoms
~ 4 large tortillas (I used olive oil whole wheat flour tortillas)
~ 2 cups grated jalapeño pepper jack, or soft Oaxacan cheese
~ 1-2 Tbsp. olive oil (plus more for cooking the tortillas)
~ 2 cloves garlic, minced
~ ½ cup of Saffron Charred Tomato Salsa
How to make it:
1. Remove the squash blossom stems and stamens. Gently rinse the blossoms and pat dry.
2. Heat olive oil and garlic in a shallow pan over medium heat. Add the squash blossoms and gently fry for 2-3 minutes, just until they have cooked down. Remove the fried blossoms and set on a paper towel to absorb any excess oil.
3. Add a bit of olive oil to your heated quesadilla pan (I used a cast iron pan and a griddle so I could heat the top and bottom tortillas at the same time), and heat the tortillas in the olive oil. Evenly sprinkle the grated cheese over one of the tortillas, and arrange the squash blossoms over the cheese. Cover with the other tortilla, and flip the quesadilla as necessary until it starts to brown.
4. Cut into thirds or fourths and serve warm with a generous helping of Saffron Charred Tomato Salsa on top.