For those fortunate enough to not know what I’m talking about, it involves cutting a slit into a flour tortilla, topping each quadrant with a different ingredient — with cheese usually being one of them — folding the tortilla over on itself, and then toasting it in a skillet or panini press. Sound familiar? That’s because what I’ve just described is basically a quesadilla.
The key difference between this “hack” and your standard quesadilla is the separation of ingredients between layers of tortilla. Food editor Joe Yonan likened it to a club sandwich, while my mind went to Taco Bell’s beloved Crunchwrap Supreme, although inverted with the outside getting toasted to a crisp while the inner layers remain soft and pliant.
People have used all sorts of different ingredient combinations to fill their tortillas. Breakfast versions, like the bacon, egg, cheese, guacamole and jalapeño one that I made (pictured above), seem to be quite popular. A few others I’ve seen evoke pepperoni pizza or cheeseburgers, or make use of fast food ingredients. There are even dessert iterations with Nutella and fruit.
I was initially quite baffled as to the appeal of people rediscovering quesadillas, but a chat with chef and cookbook author Pati Jinich opened my eyes to the trends’ appeal. And then I made one myself — for the sake of journalism, of course — and understood the hype.
“I think it’s brilliant,” Jinich says. “I’m typically very critical when it comes to alternative uses of tortillas. But here I think it’s perfect because what I tend to be skeptical about when it comes to flour tortillas is when people use them cold.” The trend is perfect for families so that each member can customize it to the individual’s taste. It’s also great for the picky eaters that don’t like their food to touch, which Jinich appreciates because it allows you to taste each of the elements as you’re eating them together.
It’s also a great way to make use of leftovers with whatever’s putzing around in your refrigerator. With so many more people cooking at home, this is a fun way to consume that last bit of roast chicken from the other day or those few sad vegetables that are on their way out.
Perhaps even greater than introducing people to another way to feed themselves and cut down on food waste, this social media trend gives people permission to experiment in the kitchen and, dare I say it, have a little bit of fun, which may be in low supply.
In my “research,” I was happy make and eat a quesadilla for breakfast. (Any day that starts with griddled cheese is bound to be a good one.) It came together in a matter of moments to create a tasty handheld meal. Plus, as someone who thinks about ingredient combinations for a living, I can see this four quadrant system as an easy tool to test out the at times wacky flavor combinations that pop into my head.
For those looking to take this trend for a spin themselves, Jinich recommends “that people heat the tortilla first on both sides, just to make it more resilient and pliable” before assembling and toasting. Additionally, “I would just say please let the cheese melt, because many times people will heat the tortilla but not let the cheese completely melt, and I think that is one of the beauties of having cheese in there,” Jinich says.
As for your choice of fillings? There’s no need to go overboard on the number of components. “It naturally allows you to have four things, and one thing that tends to drive some Mexicans like me crazy is when burritos have 30 things in them,” Jinich says. “And I also think some hot sauce seems to be necessary.”
“The beauty of this is that it’s probably pretty hard to mess it up,” she adds. “It looks much more complicated than it is,” likening its appearance to how crepes are served, allowing even the most novice of cooks to feel as if they’ve successfully produced a fancy treat. A small win in a time of so many losses.
“I can’t wait to try it with my family,” Jinich says. “Please congratulate whoever came up with it.”