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Squash Blossom Quesadillas with Saffron Charred Tomato Salsa

September 6, 2012

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!

Print both recipes (Salsa and Quesadillas).
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Print Quesadilla recipe only.


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)

Salsa Ingredients:
~ 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.

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Print both recipes (Salsa and Quesadillas)!

Squash Blossom Quesadillas

(Serves 2)

~ 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.

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Print both recipes (Salsa and Quesadillas)!

Related recipe posts:
> Roasted Tomatillo Salsa (Chilaquiles Verdes recipe)
> Crema de Aguacate (Mexican Avocado Soup)
> Layered Chicken Enchiladas & Spanish Rice

20 Comments leave one →
  1. September 6, 2012 9:40 am

    yay! I have all the ingredients on the recipe list. I will be making Saffron Charred Tomato Salsa very soon. Thinking I’ll be using the Moroccan Cinnamon my friend brought me!

    • September 6, 2012 9:48 am

      Yay! That’s a perfect use for your Moroccan Cinnamon. Hope you like the salsa! :)

  2. September 6, 2012 10:18 am

    That looks out of this world! I want to jump through my computer screen! I just love everything you post :)

  3. September 6, 2012 12:49 pm

    Those squash blossoms are beautiful my friend and must taste perfect with the quaesadillas :)

    Choc Chip Uru

    • September 6, 2012 9:22 pm

      Yep, they were pretty good, but they didn’t quite meet my expectations– maybe just since they got overwhelmed by the also-very-tasty melted cheese… I still felt happy with this dish thanks to the salsa, though! :)

  4. September 6, 2012 6:18 pm

    I love squash, zucchini and pumpkin blossoms. So sad we can’t find them here as easily or none. They are absolutely delicious stuffed. You always come up with the most interesting dishes…I am so impressed with your pairings. Keep it up my blogger friend!

    • September 6, 2012 9:27 pm

      You’re so sweet; thank you! :)

      And if you have a good recipe for stuffed squash blossoms, I’d like to hear it! (Though it seems like I won’t need it again until next summer…) I thought about stuffing the blossoms instead, though most of the recipes I found suggest stuffing them mostly with cheese, breadcrumbs, and/or meat, and none of those seemed that appealing. My most interesting idea was to stuff them with the squash itself (and cheese), but then I got excited about sauteing them for a quesadilla instead. Next summer I’ll try something different!

  5. September 7, 2012 8:38 am

    It’s true, squash blossoms don’t have a ton of flavor. They’re really added for the “wow” factor for presentation because they’re so pretty. Nothing wrong with that, either!

    • September 7, 2012 9:14 am

      That’s true! They definitely add a visual “wow” factor (while there are times when I’ve happened to create a “wow” flavor, but it doesn’t look half as pretty on a plate…). At least I didn’t seek them out with high expectations; my primary goal for anything that shows up in my CSA box is simply for it not to go to waste! :)

  6. Nami | Just One Cookbook permalink
    September 7, 2012 1:54 pm

    I was about to ask where you found the blossom. I’ve been looking for (well, not “actively” looking but think about getting) zucchini blossom for a while, but never came across. So you got those from CSA. Maybe farmer’s market might be the place to check out. And thanks for your honest opinion about it too. I have been very curious how it’s like, is it worth to search and buy… I thought tempura might bring the natural integrity of the blossom but we’ll see. The quesadillas look wonderful, and I love your saffron charred (hmm!!!) salsa!!

    • September 7, 2012 11:20 pm

      I bet tempura with squash blossoms would be great! That would be one of the most similar ways to prepare it to how it’s often done in Mexico too (battered and deep-fried, in a coating made with lots of egg whites).

      I haven’t actually seen any squash blossoms at the farmer’s market around here– maybe they’re too fragile?– but yes I got mine from my CSA. Hope you find some soon… (It shouldn’t be too impossible, right? I thought you could find everything in the bay area!!)

  7. September 8, 2012 9:04 am

    I was always curious about squash blossoms..they always seemed like a fancy ingredient
    I totally know what you mean about when a side dish steals the show but your side dish sounds like an amazing combination of flavors

    • September 8, 2012 9:14 pm

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting! I was curious about squash blossoms before too, and I was planning to stuff them instead of this, but they seemed too small and fragile to have that really work nicely, so I went with the quesadilla/salsa plan instead, and I’m so glad I did! I’ll definitely come back to this salsa recipe, even if I do something fancier with squash blossoms in the future.

  8. September 9, 2012 11:37 pm

    Hi Allison! I’ve nominated you for the Kreativ Blogger award! I really love all these amazing recipes you come up with. You can see the nomination here! :)

    • September 10, 2012 9:04 am

      Thank you, Brandi! What a nice comment to wake up to! :) I’ll check out your award post now…

  9. September 12, 2012 10:08 am

    The salsa sounds great!

    IMHO- the blossoms are best stuffed and deep fried- the blossoms are more attractive than tasty…

    • September 12, 2012 8:34 pm

      Thanks! Yep, that’s what I’ve heard (both before and after making the quesadillas)… I guess stuffed and deep-fried is the way to go! :)


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