Eat Mexico is a brilliant new cookbook by Lesley Tellez devoted to the street and markets foods of Mexico, particularly Mexico City. Lesley lived in the City for four years, learning about the food, documenting the recipes and even founding a company to take folks on food tours for the most authentic experiences possible. To learn a city, to learn its food, you need to be on your feet.
One of Lesley’s friends introduced her to this recipe and she’s been savoring ever since. If there is one recipe in Eat Mexico that demonstrates the lively imagination and even audacity of this book, here it is. Dried hibiscus flowers, usually employed in making tea, are hydrated, cooked, combined with cheese and offered in lovely quesadillas. It’s an appetizer that will please your guests before they even take the first bite. That photo, by Penny De Los Santos, is talking to you.
In Mexico, Lesley notes, the hydrated hibiscus flowers have chewy texture. Here, they tend to be softer and grittier, needing a thorough rinsing before you steep them.
Hibiscus Flower Quesadilla
Yield: serves 8
2 ½ cups hibiscus flowers
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ medium onion, chopped
2 serrano chiles, minced, with seeds
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
3 to 4 whole wheat pita pockets, or flour tortillas
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, sliced
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Pick over the flowers and remove any twigs or foreign matter. Rinse thoroughly in a colander under cold water.
Fill a medium saucepan with water and set to boil. Add the hibiscus and turn off the heat. Let sit for about 3 minutes, until fully hydrated. Drain and reserve the water for tea, if you like. Rinse the flowers under cold water to wash away any grit. Set aside.
Heat the butter and olive oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and chile and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Stir in the flowers and a pinch of salt, and cook for about 2 minutes, until evenly combined.
Add the sugar and cook a few minutes more, stirring to coat. When the flowers have darkened to a deep-purple color, after about 3 minutes, turn off the heat.
Warm the pita pockets lightly in the oven or on a gently heated comal [flat metal Mexican cooking utensil]. Cut open the top half only, around the edge of the pitas, and tuck in a layer of cheese slices. Top with a layer of hibiscus flower filling. Place the pockets on a sheet pan in the oven until the cheese has melted, about 4 minutes. Cut into quarters and serve immediately, while the cheese is still oozy.
Source: Eat Mexico by Lesley Tellez [Kyle, 2015]