Meatless Monda–I Mean, Tuesday: Three Sisters Quesadillas

Yeah, I know, I know, Meatless Monday happens on Mondays, which is why they call it “Meatless Monday.” Yeah, well, I’d already written about shallots on Monday, so guess what–we’re going to talk about what we ate for Meatless Monday on Tuesday, which perhaps we shall now call Traife Tuesday.

(I had to go with the alliteration, alright?)

Anyway, now that I’ve thoroughly confused everyone, let’s talk about the meatless dinner I threw together out of my fridge and pantry with no advanced preparation. I was caught out not knowing what we were going to eat at five in the evening, because I’d had so much fun working in the garden I forgot to think up an idea about dinner. These things happen to everyone, so I’ll let you know just how fast one can prepare vegetarian quesadillas with a homemade salsa in a bit more than an hour.

Even with the help of a five year old, I must add.

First, I had to dig around in the fridge and see what was there. Two leftover ears of grilled corn, still on the cob (so there’s one bit of advanced preparation), a block of local sharp cheddar cheese, some multi-grain tortillas, a pale green summer squash, a big bowlful of heirloom tomatoes, the first jalapenos and Thai chilies from our garden, local purple onions, cilantro, and some limes I got to make the Thai Basil Chicken we enjoyed last night. Oh, and the Greek yogurt I made yesterday.

All of these were pulled out of the fridge at top speed and handed off to Kat who shuttled them from Mom’s hand to the counter with all the speed and dexterity that every first grader has, which means one of the tomatoes got a bit bruised and a lime was stepped on, but that’s okay, that just broke the juice sacs so we could get more out of it. Right?

So, quesadillas came right to mind, but looking at the corn and the squash, I thought to myself that we needed some beans. Because if you have two of the traditional three sisters, you’d best invite the third one or something bad will happen along the lines of the fairy who wasn’t invited to that princesses’ christening and she laid a nasty curse on her. (Let’s just mix mythologies into a cocktail of confusion, shall we?)

But my containers of pre-cooked beans perished in the slowly thawing freezer during our long power outage, and I had no canned beans, because I’d been pre-cooking and freezing them for so long, so what to do?

Pull out the pressure cooker and make super quick smoky vegetarian black beans. Nothing to it. Once the pressure cooker is up to pressure, the beans took twenty-five minutes to cook and bam! There they were, ready to be drained and added to the quesadillas.

While the beans cooked, Kat and I made Calico Salsa, which she now insists we call Calico Kat Salsa, since she helped cut the tomatoes, pick the cilantro leaves, squeeze the limes and peel the garlic. So, please note the name change, and keep in mind this is the earliest I’ve made it ever, because the tomatoes are all coming in a month earlier than usual. I planted mine out in late March because out winter was so warm. I only had to cover them twice. So, yeah. Weird climate change stuff.

Anyway, on to happier thoughts.

Like sauteing squash.

It’s simple–I cut it up into thick julienne pieces (with Kat’s help, I might add), and heated some olive oil in a pan and sprinkled salt on the squash and tossed it around, seasoning it with Aleppo pepper flakes and a sprinkle of garlic halfway through cooking, then tossed it around some more. I let it get nice and toasty brown in spots, caramelizing the sugars nicely, then dumped it in a bowl to cool off.

Then, I shredded the cheese and Kat picked cilantro leaves from the stems and in a flash, we were good to go.

All that was left to do was assemble the quesadillas, fry them lightly in olive oil, cut them up and pass the salsa and yogurt as toppings, and there was dinner. Took Kat and I about an hour and fifteen minutes. (I would have been faster working alone, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun.)

Now, this all said, you can do this even faster if you cook beans ahead of time and keep them in your fridge or freezer, have salsa made ahead or get it from a jar, and keep pre-shredded cheese around your house. Whatever shortcuts you like, do them! Just try and start out from fresh ingredients and you can’t go wrong with this simple, flavorful vegetarian dinner.

These taste great–the earthy richness of the beans, the sweet corn and soft, and the mellow squash are tied together with the tangy cheese and yogurt and the sparkle of the salsa. Well worth the trouble of making, whether are you meditating in the kitchen alone or are helped by little ones and friends.

Three Sisters Quesadilla

1 pound dried black beans, rinsed and picked over then drained
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 zucchini or other summer squash, cut into thick julienne slices
pinch of Aleppo Pepper flakes
2 ears of grilled corn, kernels cut from the cob
cilantro leaves to taste
whole grain mixed grain flour tortillas
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
olive oil as needed for pan frying
Greek yogurt or sour cream for serving1 recipe of Calico (Kat) Salsa


To cook the beans in a pressure cooker, after picking over them and washing and draining them, add them to the pressure cooker, along with smoked paprika, bay leaf, cumin and fresh rosemary leaves. Add one tablespoon of the oil and then add water to cover the beans by two inches.

Lock on the lid, turn the pressure valve to high, and put over high heat and bring to a boil so that the lid lock button pops up indicating full pressure. Turn the heat down to low and cook for twenty five minutes. Remove from heat, release pressure using the quick release method and when the pressure is released, unlock the lid and open the cooker. Drain out two cups of the beans, saving the rest of the beans and bean broth, if you wish, for another purpose. (I stuck mine in the freezer.) You may season the drained beans as you like–I added extra cumin, some salt and some more smoked paprika, and stirred them up well.

Add three tablespoons of olive oil to saute pan and heat on high. Add the squash pieces and sprinkle with the salt, then cook, stirring and tossing until the pieces go limp and start to turn golden. Sprinkle with the pepper flakes and keep cooking until the squash has released most of its water and has caramelized with some edges becoming crispy and brown. Set the squash aside in a bowl to cool.

To assemble the quesadillas, lay out one tortilla, and sprinkle with enough cheese to lightly cover the surface, excluding a 3/4 inch border around the edges of the tortilla. Add beans, corn, and squash to taste along with cilantro leaves, then sprinkle a small amount of cheese over the vegetables.

Top with another tortilla, and press the layers together gently but firmly with your hands. Heat in a microwave briefly–for about 12 seconds to melt the cheese slightly, then press the tortillas together so they are kind of “glued” into a single quesadilla unit.

Assemble all quesadillas before cooking.

Heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a frying pan that will fit the tortillas. Test the heat of the oil with a bamboo chopstick or wooden utensil. When fine bubbles form around the edges of the chopstick or implement, the oil is hot enough. Carefully slide a quesadilla into the pan and cook until the edges turn brown–about 1 minute, then carefully, with two spatulas, one on the bottom and one on the top, flip the quesadilla and cook until the underside is golden brown and the edges are crispy, about another minute.

Drain on paper towels and cut into wedges. Serve with salsa and yogurt or sour cream.


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  1. For some reason, I always tend to think of winter squash in “Three Sisters” combinations, but this sounds tasty too. I’d love to some day have a three sisters garden, something like this one.

    Comment by Laura B. — July 10, 2012 #

  2. I often have meatless Monday on Tuesday or Wednesday. When the weekend leftovers should be eaten sooner rather than later, I go meatless another night in the week. The whole point is to be green, and wasting is never green.

    Comment by jeri — July 11, 2012 #

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