June 26, 2010 1:00 PM
Bossed Around at El Bajío: Plantain Quesadillas

Each time I go back to Mexico City, even before the plane lands, I know there are some formal plans that can never, ever, be messed around with. They are all with my father and they all involve eating in the same places. Each single time.

One of the places is El Bajío. If you know my father, you know he doesn't let me order. You also know that he knows the Restaurant manager, waiters, bar servers and valet parking attendants by name. And they all know him too.

He jokes with Elena Quintana Nieto, who has overseen this Restaurant for decades. She monitors the quality of the food with just as much detail as she does the extraordinary service.

See here? Even in the photo, she is eying our proud waiter.

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As they walk us to our table - yes it is OURS, because it is the same one every time - my father starts to loudly recite to the waiter all we are going to eat. Then he turns around and tells me that I am about to have the best meal of my entire lifetime. Though I have eaten it many times before...

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As we pass the bar we grab a glass filled to the rim with one of their freshly made Aguas Frescas. It was tamarind for me, this time.

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Before we sit down, we could taste the delicious mess about to be indulged, as we see the other clients devouring their food. Wearing aprons the Restaurant promptly provides.

Yes they are, scooping up big bowls of Pozole.  

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See? Once we sit down, my father is continuing to boss us around. And it doesn't stop until we are finished...

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Each time, as well, the very first thing that arrives at the table are these plantain masa quesadillas filled with refried beans. They have a special sauce to spread on top, which is made with dried chipotle chiles and piloncillo.

Yes they are.

To die for.

So much so, that I went down to the open kitchen, introduced myself to the cook who was making them, and asked her for the recipe to be able to share with you all. Because there are many plantain quesadillas filled with refried beans throughout Mexico. But there are none like those from El Bajío.  

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I wasn't surprised to find that Sandra Olvera, a cook who has been working there for 37 years, was besides lovely and sweet, happy to give me a little demo.

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The masa is made with plantains. However, for a good dough or masa, plantains must not be green and must not be ripe. Different from bananas, when ripe, plantains are black on the outside. For this masa, they must be in the between stage showed in this photo: Yellow.

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Plantains are simmered in water until soft. Then processed with a bit of sugar until smooth. With that dough, tortilla shapes are formed. You can use a tortilla press, or a roller, pressing the dough in between plastic. Refried beans are placed in the center and folded as quesadillas or turnovers.

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You can make them beforehand and place them covered in the refrigerator.

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They do hold their shape, quite nicely...

And remember, this masa isn't corn, it's plantain masa: Exotic, rich and with a delicious hint of  sweetness. 

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In the Restaurant they have a deep fryer. But you can use a normal deep skillet at home.

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They take just a couple minutes per side, to be ready. They are pulled out when golden and barely crisp on the outside.

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That was just one of the appetizers. We had sopa de fideo, carnitas, barbacoa, chicharrón, red rice, guacamole, arrachera and mole. Then we had a parade of desserts paired with Café de Olla.

Truth is, I can complain about how my father bosses me around each time I go to Mexico and tells me exactly what to eat and how to eat it.

Truth is, he can be eating a quesadilla from the same plate as mine, spread some salsa on top, take a bite and tell me that his quesadilla is oh so much better than mine, and that I NEED to take a bite. As I look at him with skepticism.

But the truth is, that it does taste better.

And the truth is, also, that although I have had that meal one too many times, each and every single time it turns out that it is, right then and there, the best meal of my entire lifetime.

Trust me too, when I say, that these quesadillas...

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...are one of the tasties things you will have eaten in your entire lifetime.

Makes from 6 to 8, 5" quesadillas


1 pound ripe plantains
3 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2/3 cup refried beans(recipe in Basics section)
safflower or corn oil

Place the whole plantains in a large pot filled with boiling water. Simmer, partially covered, for 20 to 30 minutes until they are thoroughly cooked. Remove from the water and let cool. Peel the plantains, slice, and place in a food processor along with the sugar. Process until smooth.

Make round balls of about 1 to 2 inches. Press in between plastic rounds in a tortilla press or roll with a roller until you get a flat disk of about 1/4 inch. Place a tablespoon of refried beans right in the center and fold like a turnover.

In a large deep skillet, heat enough oil to have an inch high. About 3 to 4 minutes later, when it is hot but not smoking, insert the quesadillas a few at a time. Let them fry, about 2 minutes on each side until nice and browned. Remove and place on a paper towel to drain excess oil.

Serve with your favorite salsa.