Quesadillas with Kale & Queso Fresco

I've been wanting to do a kale recipe for awhile now, but I just haven't been able to actually pick one. Every time I pass the greens at the farmers' market or the grocery store, I think about how popular kale has become. People love it in salads, as a side, and even in smoothies. As for me, I usually just buy green Tuscan kale and put it in soups.

I've heard nothing but good things about kale. It's extremely healthy for you...high in iron, high in vitamins, high in antioxidants...and it's apparently a great food for "detoxing", as well. But, kale isn't just rich in nutrients. This leafy green is also rich in flavor, so I wanted to make something that really lets the kale shine, but without leaving it raw in a salad or floating plainly in a soup.

I went to a Nugget Market yesterday, in search of ingredients for a late afternoon lunch, and I needed something that would be quick and easy to cook. After cruising through the produce section and the cheese counter, I finally had what I needed to satisfy my hunger pains and my kale craving...ingredients for Quesadillas with Kale & Queso Fresco.

For this recipe, I chose this red kale (the label says red, I say purple) because its vibrant color caught my eye, but you can use any type of kale that you prefer.

The stems can be tough and fibrous, so I simply tore the leaves off of the thick stalks. To help the cooking process along, I also tore the leaves into smaller, chip-size pieces.

Next, I diced up a 1/2 pound of bacon. I am an "Everything is better with bacon!" kind of girl, and I really love sauteing greens in bacon fat. (Not to mention, it adds a little motivation for the veggie-phobes to give this dish a try.)

After taking photos for this recipe, I realized that I had two dozen of the bacon alone.

I guess I felt that a "birds-eye" view of this smoky, salty, pork belly goodness was necessary...Just in case...

Oh, but this? Crispy. Bacon. Sizzling away in its own fat. Ah, such magical words.

Alright, alright... After the fat is good and rendered, remove the crispy bacon from the pan and set it aside. If you feel that the fat left in the pan is a little too much for your liking, take some out. (You can save it, though, for sauteing other vegetables or even for pan-roasting potatoes.)

Saute sliced red onions and sliced garlic cloves in the bacon fat for about 1 minute. Then, add the kale. Saute everything for another couple of minutes, just until the kale has begun to wilt. Next, add enough water to cover the bottom of the pan, cover with the lid, and steam the kale for 3-4 minutes. After uncovering, cook 2-3 more minutes until the liquid has completely evaporated and the kale is tender. Season with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper. (I usually go heavy on the black pepper because pepper + dark greens is one of those simple-yet-amazing pairings.)

The last ingredient, but arguably the most important, is the cheese.  

You can't have a quesadilla without the queso.

I used 5 oz. of queso fresco and 5 oz. of asadero (which is, appropriately, alternately known as "queso quesadilla").

Queso fresco and asadero are both mild-in-flavor cheeses. Similar to mozzarella, they're creamy and taste just like the milk that they're made from. They also soften and melt very well.

To assemble the quesadilla, grease a hot cast-iron skillet or griddle pan with butter or cooking oil (or bacon fat!), then warm a large flour tortilla. 

On one side of the tortilla, layer on 1/2 of the kale mixture, 1/2 of the cheeses, and 1/2 of the crispy bacon. Then, fold the empty side of the tortilla over the filling to make a half-moon shaped quesadilla. Cook until the tortilla is slightly browned and crisp on one side, flip, and then cook until the other side is crisp. The cheese should be melted and gooey.

Bacon, onion, garlic, kale, and cheese... They may seem like 5 ordinary ingredients, but this quesadilla is packed with flavor. The cheese is rich and creamy but doesn't overpower, the salty and smoky bacon livens up the dish, and the garlic-infused kale brings a hearty flavor and texture. I was so happy I finally got my kale fix! Try it the next time you want a light-yet-satisfying lunch or snack! Enjoy :)

Quesadillas with Kale & Queso Fresco (makes 2 quesadillas)

Print Recipe
1/2 lb Thick-Cut Bacon, diced (5 strips)
1 Shallot or Small Red Onion, sliced
4 Garlic Cloves, sliced
1 bunch Kale, leaves trimmed from stems
Water, to steam
Salt & Pepper, to taste
5 oz. Queso Fresco, crumbled
5 oz. Queso Asadero (or a melting cheese of your choice, such as mozzarella or pepper jack), crumbled or shredded
2 large Flour Tortillas
Butter, Oil, or Bacon Fat, for frying
  1. In a dry saute pan over medium-high heat, cook the diced bacon to render the fat. Once the bacon is browned and crispy, remove from the pan and set aside. Remove as much bacon fat as desired, but leave some.
  2. Add the sliced garlic and saute until the garlic begins to brown. Add the sliced onions and cook for 1 minute.
  3. Add the kale leaves to the pan, and saute for an additional 2 minutes until lightly wilted. Then, add enough water to cover the bottom of the pan, cover with the lid, and steam for 3-4 minutes. After uncovering, cook the vegetables for 2-3 more minutes until the liquid has evaporated and the kale is tender. Remove from the heat, adjust seasoning with salt & pepper, and set aside.
  4. To assemble the quesadilla, warm a tortilla on a cast-iron skillet or griddle pan greased with melted butter or bacon fat. Next, layer 1/2 of the kale mixture, 1/2 of the cheeses, and 1/2 of the crispy bacon on one side of the tortilla. Fold the empty side of the tortilla over the filling. Cook the quesadilla until it is crisp and lightly browned on one side, flip, and then cook until the other side has also lightly browned and crisped. Remove from pan. Then, repeat this process with the remaining filling ingredients and tortilla.
  5. Slice the quesadillas, and serve immediately. Enjoy!