Quesadillas - overflowing with veggies between whole wheat tortillas - are a healthy dinner option.

Quesadillas – overflowing with veggies between whole wheat tortillas – are a healthy dinner option. (Photo/Nina Terrero)

A healthy idea: Veggie quesadillas

Quesadillas have morphed from a humble corn tortilla folded over savory fillings with cheese to a dish of gargantuan proportions popular at Mexican restaurants and American fast-casual chains alike. And while the origins of Mexico’s favorite snack aren’t entirely clear, it’s a dish that best represents south-of-the border fare, despite its simplicity. After all, how could something made with corn (an ancient Mayan staple), cheese (fun fact: dairy was introduced to Mexico in the 16th century by Spanish conquistadores when they brought cows and other livestock with them) and hot sauce (made from chiles indigenous to Mexico) be anything but completely delicious?

But quesadillas – like many Mexican staples – have evolved from a dish that’s not-so-bad for you to a pretty unhealthy one, usually fried and laden with fattening sour cream and cheese. Enter the healthy makeover:  substitute whole wheat tortillas for the white flour version and pack the quesadillas with a colorful blend of vegetables, adding crunch, nutrients and lots of flavor. When you overstuff the quesadillas with a healthy mélange of veggies, you don’t need as much cheese – just a scant handful is enough. And this is just the beginning: you can top your quesadilla with non-fat yogurt instead of sour cream, add a dash of your favorite hot sauce or top with your favorite pico de gallo or salsa. Have leftover pollo guisado or turkey picadillo? Feel free to add that to the quesadillas as well to add some protein. However you slice it, veggie-filled quesadillas are a great way to serve up a traditional favorite, but in guilt-free style.

Veggie Quesadillas

4 large whole-wheat tortillas

1 cup grated, mild reduced-fat cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese; divided

Olive oil

Filling:

½ cup yellow corn kernels (feel free to use frozen)

One medium-sized green zucchini, sliced into half-moons

One red pepper, diced

¼ cup mushrooms, sliced

½ a medium red onion, diced

One green jalapeño, diced

½ cup fresh, green spinach leaves

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

¼ teaspoon chili powder

Salt

Pepper

Optional toppings:

Shredded green lettuce

Chopped fresh tomatoes

Pico de gallo or salsa

Hot sauce

Non-fat, plain yogurt

1. Heat a large saucepan to medium heat, adding just enough olive oil to coat (about ½ teaspoon). Add all of the vegetables but the spinach, sautéing until just crisp.  Add seasonings, adjusting salt and pepper to taste. Remove the vegetables and set aside.

2. Wipe the saucepan clean and add a small amount of olive oil (no more than 1/4 teaspoon) to coat. Add one tortilla and sprinkle with approximately 1/8 cup of grated cheese. Add half of the cooked vegetable mixture, ¼ cup of spinach leaves and top with 1/8 cup of cheese (in total, you should use about ¼ cup of cheese per quesadilla). Cook until the cheese just begins to melt and use a spatula to fold the quesadilla in half. Cook the quesadilla on both sides until golden brown. Slice into wedges and top with your choice of toppings. Serves four.

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