I have to admit, I’m not a fan of most commercially vegan cheeses – at least not the more widely available, inexpensive ones, like Daiya.
So when I became vegan, I assumed I would never enjoy a cheese quesadilla again.
Don’t get me wrong – I had vegan cheese quesadillas, I just didn’t enjoy them. To me, cheeses like Daiya had an odd, sweet-sour aftertaste I just couldn’t get past.
That is, until that fateful winter’s night at Bay Naturals in Myrtle Beach.
It was freezing.
I was starving.
The fireplace on Bay Natural’s patio was extremely inviting.
And because I was chilled and craving comfort food, I took a chance and ordered their spinach quesadilla, served with two salsas – black bean and mango.
To my surprise, the quesadilla was amazing. It took me a moment or two before I figured out the secret – the mango salsa!
Yes, the sweet/sour/spicy taste of the mango salsa perfectly complemented/masked the sweet/sour aftertaste of the Daiya cheese. Instead of noticing the aftertaste, I was now just noticing the creamy mouthfeel of the cheese.
I’ve since discovered almost any sweet/spicy salsa will work – peach as well as mango. You just don’t want a typical tomato salsa.
And since quesadillas are more a technique than a recipe, I’ll share how I replicated Bay Naturals’ spinach quesadillas.
Ingredients for Perfect Vegan Quesadillas:
Cooking Spray, Earth Balance, Canola Oil, or very mild Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Cheese (recommend Daiya or Follow Your Heart) per quesadilla
Handful of Spinach Leaves
Mango or Peach Salsa
Optional: Chopped Green Chili Peppers
Optional: Lightly Sauteed Peppers, Onions, Mushrooms
Directions for Perfect Vegan Quesadillas
Spray a nonstick cooking pan with a little cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat. You could also use use a very small amount of Earth Balance or canola oil. You might think more oil would be better, but instead of making your quesadillas crispy, it will make them soggy. Less is really better!
If you use olive oil, use only an extremely mild olive oil – or the flavor will be too strong.
Use flour tortillas, not corn tortillas. Corn tortillas will be too crispy/crumbly and will make your quesadilla taste like a taco.
Place a tortilla in the pan. Sprinkle vegan cheese over the tortilla – as much or as little as you want. I personally find a little vegan cheese goes a long way, but you do want enough to be gooey. Two tablespoons is a good amount to aim for.
If possible, instead of using pre-shredded vegan cheese, use a vegan cheese block and grate the amount you need. Pre-shredded cheese tends to be drier and takes longer to melt. I like Daiya’s Monterey Jack style block. And Follow Your Heart cheese blocks are awesome, if you are lucky enough to find them.
Add additional filling to one-half of the tortilla. Good choices are spinach – use several layers of leaves, as they will wilt! – or chopped green chilies. You can also use other veggies (such as peppers, onions, mushrooms) but they’ll need to be lightly sauteed first.
Fold the tortilla in half. (Folding the tortilla, as opposed to topping the tortilla with a tortilla “lid,” makes it easier to flip.)
Cook until bottom of the quesadilla is getting brown and crispy, then, using a spatula, flip the tortilla on the other side to cook. Cook until that side is browned, the cheese is gooey, and the spinach wilted.
Remember vegan cheese melts, but it doesn’t melt exactly like dairy cheese. Typically it will take a bit longer. So you may need to cook it longer, over a slightly lower heat, to make sure the cheese melts before the tortilla burns!
If your cheese is refusing to completely melt but your tortilla is in danger of burning, remove from heat and pop in the microwave for a few seconds. This will make your quesadilla a little less crispy, but it will definitely melt the cheese! Don’t worry – after a try or two you will know exactly how long to cook your quesadilla on your own particular stove!
BEWARE: some coconut-oil based cheeses, like Chao, taste wonderful but melt into an oily puddle in the microwave and never really “congeal” back together that well. If you’re using a cheese other than Diaya or Follow Your Heart, monitor the microwave very closely.
Serve with a spicy/sweet salsa – THE secret to a great vegan quesadilla!
Quesadillas are good as a light lunch or snack. Or try them as an alternative to a grilled cheese sandwich with a bowl of soup!
SALSA NOTE: You can certainly make your own salsa! But since I make quesadillas when I’m need something super quick and easy – I usually reach for a bottled sauce. My favorite is Newman’s Own Mango Salsa. Frugal vegan tip: This brand goes on sale frequently, and it’s also fairly easy to find coupons.