We don’t know what Chef Ingrid Hoffmann is making for Cinco de Mayo, but we’re breakfasting on our adaptation of her Fried Egg Quesadillas.
A simple Mexican snack food. A basic Quesadilla are a Mexican snack food: a turnover (photo #1) made with an uncooked tortilla and a variety of fillings—beans, cheese, meats, potatoes, then folded and toasted on a hot griddle (comal) or fried.
Regional variations abound.
In the northern states, it can be filled simply, with strips of Chihuahua cheese (queso Chihuahua—photo #3), a soft white cheese made in braids, balls or rounds and similar to mild white cheddar or Monterey Jack—all good melters.
The cheese originated in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. (Interestingly, in Chihuahua, where it originated, it is called queso menonita after the Mennonite community that first produced it.)
In central Mexico, the preference is for braided Oaxaca cheese (photo #4), some leaves of fresh epazote, and strips of peeled chile poblano.
A favorite filling is potato and chorizo; the “deluxe” versions contain sautéed squash blossoms or huitlachoche, the highly-esteemed corn blossom fungus.
RECIPE: FRIED EGG & AVOCADO QUESADILLAS
Ingredients For 2 Servings
1 teaspoon oil
2 large eggs
2 large whole-grain tortillas
1 ripe Hass avocado, peeled, seeded and mashed
1 medium tomato, sliced
1 tablespoon pine nuts or pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
Optional: ½ jalapeño, seeded and thinly sliced (optional)
Optional: 1/2 cup grated cheese
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
Freshly ground black pepper
Optional garnishes: crema (sour cream), salsa
There are more complex tortilla recipes, including a “sandwich” style with a top and bottom tortilla, cut into wedges (photo #2).
It can be served with sides of crema (sour cream), guacamole or salsa for customization.
This recipe (photo #1) is a much quicker version.
1. BRUSH a small nonstick skillet with the oil and heat over medium heat.
2. ADD the eggs one at a time and cook sunny side up about 2 minutes. Using a spatula, transfer to a plate. While the eggs are cooking…
3. WARM the tortillas in a separate, hot skillet (no oil needed).
4. ASSEMBLE: Spread the warm tortilla with half of the mashed avocado, tomatoes, pine nuts, cilantro and jalapeño.
5. TOP with an egg, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Fold over and serve.
If you’re making multiples, quesadillas can be kept warm in 300°F oven on a baking sheet, until ready to serve.
THE HISTORY OF MEXICAN COOKING & THE QUESADILLA
The quesadilla was born in New Spain (what is now Mexico) during colonial times: the period from the arrival of the conquistadors in 1519 to the Mexican War of Independence in 1821, which ended Spanish rule.
 Quesadilla, loaded and ready to fold, grab and go (photo courtesy Chef Ingrid Hoffmann).  A more formal quesadilla presentation requires a knife and fork, is made between two tortillas and then cut into triangles (photo courtesy Cabot Cheese).  Queso chihuahua from Mozzarella Company (photo courtesy iGourmet).  Queso oaxaca, braided (photo courtesy Food & Travel Mexico).
For thousands of years, the local cuisine had consisted of the area’s staples: avocados, beans, cacao (available to the rich and famous), chiles, corn (made into a variety of foods, including tortillas), papayas, pineapples, potatoes (which originated in Peru), tomatoes, squash (including pumpkin) and vanilla.
Dishes included corn pancakes; tamales; tortillas with pounded pastes or wrapped around other foods; all flavored with numerous salsas (sauces), intensely flavored and thickened with seeds and nuts.
The Spanish brought with them wheat flour and new types of livestock: cattle, chicken (and their eggs), goat, pigs, sheep. Before then, local animal proteins consisted of fish, quail, turkey and a small, barkless dog bred for food, the itzcuintli, a [plump] relative of the chihuahua.
Cooking oil was scarce until the pigs arrived, yielding lard for frying. Indigenous cooking techniques were limited to baking on a hot griddle, and boiling or steaming in a pot. While olive trees would not grow in New Spain, olive oil arrived by ship from the mother country.
 Basic quesadilla: cheese and beans (here’s the recipe from Taste Of Home).  Grilled flank steak tortillas (photo courtesy Kings Ford Charcoal). Going gourmet: lobster quesadillas from Mackenzie Ltd.
The Spanish brought dairying, which produced butter, cheese and milk.
The sugar cane they planted provided sweetness. Barley, rice and wheat were important new grains. Spices for flavor enhancement included black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, coriander and cilantro (the leaves of the coriander plant), cumin, garlic, oregano, and parsley.
Almonds and other sesame seeds augmented native varieties. Produce additions included apples, carrots, cauliflower, lettuce, onions and oranges.
While grapes, like olive trees, would not grow in the climate, imported raisins became in ingredient in the fusion cuisine—i.e., Mexican cooking.
(Mind you, the peasant diet was still limited to beans, corn tortillas and locally gathered foods like avocados.)
While the Spanish could not make wine locally, they did teach the Aztecs how to distill agave, into what was called mezcal.
The pre-Columbian cultures of Mesoamerica brewed a fermented alcoholic beverage called pulque (think corn based beer). With the barley they brought, the Spanish brewed their home-style beer.
The development of the cuisine was greatly aided by the arrival of Spanish nuns [source].
Experimenting with what was available locally, nuns invented much of the more sophisticated Mexican cuisine, including, but hardly limited to:
Cajeta, a type of dulce de leche made with goat’s milk. It is a type of dulce de leche.
Chiles rellenos, stuffed with beef, cheese or pork.
Escabeche, a variety of marinades for fish.
Guacamole (New Spain had the avocados, tomatoes and chiles, but Spain brought the cilantro (the leaves of the coriander plant) and the onions.
Rompope, an eggnog-like drink.
Lomo en adobo: pork loin in a spicy sauce. [source]
So whence the quintessentially Mexican quesadilla?
It’s half indigenous, half Spanish.
From the New World: the corn tortilla, hot sauce and other salsas.
From Spain, the cheese, beef-chicken-pork and the shredded lettuce…as well as the wheat for flour tortillas and the eggs for breakfast quesadillas.
And it’s very, very popular, from Mexican street food to restaurant far in Mexico and the U.S.