Quesadillas With Sweet Potato Instead of Cheese: Worth the Backlash

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[Photographs: J. Kenji López-Alt]

I think it's safe to say that the phrase "They're coming to take away your cheese!" has never been uttered in recorded history—or, at least, uttered and meant. Or, at least, uttered and meant literally.* Yet you'd think it was one of the great fascist plots of our time based on the reaction I got when I suggested that swapping mashed roasted sweet potatoes for cheese in a quesadilla makes for a delicious treat.

* With the arguable exception of a single incident involving a particularly ripe wheel of Stilton and a police department that had quotas to meet. Mrs. Nesbitt of Great Gidding still claims that, as she was house-sitting at the time, it was actually her neighbor's cheese they were coming to take away.

Some responded with poor logic: "Why do you hate cheese?" (As ridiculous as suggesting I hate pepperoni because I decided to put sausage on my pizza.)

Some took nutritional offense: "Cheese is less unhealthy than the empty carbs in effing sweet potatoes. The USDA Food Pyramid has always been a lie." (Someone needs to brush up on both their sweet potato nutrition facts and their "replying with relevant responses" skills.)

Still others tried to confound me with nomenclature-based pedantry: "that's a sweet potato sandwich." (This suggests that a plain old cheese quesadilla is a sandwich, which is as silly as suggesting a hot dog is. Moreover, as I discovered in Mexico City last year, cheese-free quesadillas are indeed a real thing—the name refers to the form rather than the contents, sort of like the American descriptor "chicken-fried," as in chicken-fried steak or chicken-fried chicken.)

Or, as one user simply put it, "Ño."

(Yes.)

Well, I'm here today to tell you three things:

    A) Nobody is taking away your cheese.

    2) "To like" is not a zero-sum game. Liking one new thing doesn't prevent you from liking everything you liked before, including, and perhaps especially, cheese.

    D) Those of you who actually try this sweet potato quesadilla (or batatadilla, if you prefer) will be rewarded with deliciousness and deliciosity combined.

Making it is really easy. You start with a roasted sweet potato. It's always a good idea to have some roasted sweet potato lying around, since you never know when you're going to want to make sweet potato pancakes. If you don't have a ready-roasted sweet potato, that's easily fixed: Just grab a sweet potato from your yam stash; toss it in an ovenproof cooking vessel (a cast iron skillet, small sheet tray, or small casserole will work fine); and pop it into a 425°F (220°C) oven until you can poke through it with a knife tip without meeting any resistance. It takes about 40 minutes. Don't have a yam stash? It may be too late to help you.

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When the sweet potato is done roasting, let it cool a little (or wrap it up and throw it in the fridge for up to a few days), then peel off the skin. It should come right off in a couple of large pieces. Finally, mash up the flesh with the back of a fork.

Now comes the hard part. Bring up your favorite quesadilla recipe, and replace the grated cheese with the mashed-up sweet potato. I've tried this now using sweet potato seasoned with chopped cilantro and pickled jalapeños (delicioso!), sweet potato with ground sautéed chicken and Hatch chilies (rico!), and sweet potato with sautéed corn and crumbled Cotija cheese (yes, cheese! Muy sabroso!). I haven't attempted it yet, but I am certain that it would be delicious with a 50/50 split between sweet potato and grated cheese, and no, nobody, not even the government, will stop you from trying it out.

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As with any great quesadilla, the real trick is to make sure you get that tortilla nice and crispy, so that you get good textural contrast between the soft interior and the crispy crust. This means cooking over moderate heat, with enough oil to really fry the surface.

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I know that some folks are going to have trouble with the mental gymnastics required to conceive of a sweet potato–stuffed tortilla. As the proud daughter of seven generations of cheesemakers, I can't approve of this, we'll hear. (Let me reiterate: Eating this will not prevent you from enjoying cheese.)

Is this...vegan food? Because I don't like vegans or their food, some will say. (They haven't met enough vegans or tried enough of their food.)

I'm sure some will even give a flat Ño.

(Guess what? You weren't invited over for dinner anyway.)

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I urge all of you, except the last group, to get over your hang-ups and join me on the other side. Life is delicious over here, I promise.