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Salsa (Recipe: chicken, black bean, avocado and cheese quesadillas)

Chicken, black bean, avocado and cheese quesadillas

In the house where I grew up, the cuisine spanned two cultures: eastern European Jewish, and Weight Watchers®.

Neither of those cultures embraced salsa, at least not back in the 1960s, so it was decades before I first tasted the condiment that now might, or might not, be more popular than ketchup.

When tomatoes are in season, I make salsa fresca with fresh tomatoes, onions, jalapeño peppers, lime and salt. For most of the year, though, I also keep jars of several types of store bought (cooked) salsa in my pantry: smoky peach, tomatillo and habanero-lime salsas, from Trader Joe's; medium-hot mango salsa from Costco; mild tomato salsa made by Paul Newman (okay, I know he didn't make it, but I like seeing his face on my pantry shelf, and I can buy his salsa in my local market).

Salsa is low-calorie and diet-friendly. Whirr it in a blender, and you have instant soup. Mix it into ground beef to make your meatloaf perky. Think of salsa as canned tomatoes, onions and pepper, and soon you'll discover lots of ways to use it as an ingredient in your cooking.

Oh -- it's pretty good on my grandmother's brisket, too.

What is salsa?
A chunky sauce made of fresh tomatoes, onion, chile pepper and an acid (lime juice is most common). Commercial salsa is heat treated for longer shelf life and stabilization.

How/where to store:
Unopened, in the pantry cupboard indefinitely (check the use-by date on the jar); once opened, store in the refrigerator for 3-4 weeks.

More facts about salsa, and ingredient photos, on The Perfect Pantry:
Salsa (Recipe: ropa vieja)

Black bean quesadillas

Chicken, black bean, avocado and cheese quesadillas

The treat with this quesadilla (really just a grilled cheese sandwich, using tortillas instead of bread), is that the salsa is inside, warmed by the cheese and flavoring every bite. Proportions are not important here; what's important is the melding of flavors. Omit the chicken if you prefer a vegetarian quesadilla, but don't forget the salsa. It makes all the difference.


2 tortillas per person (I use Joseph's Flax, Oat Bran and Whole Wheat Tortillas, but you can use any whole wheat or white flour tortillas, in any size)
Cooked chicken, torn into small pieces (a rotisserie chicken is perfect for this)
Cooked or canned black beans (if using canned beans, drain and rinse well)
Avocado, peeled and thinly sliced (you'll need a few slices per person)
1/2 cup grated cheese per person (use Monterey Jack or low-fat Mexican shredded cheese mix)
1/4 cup salsa per person


Heat a griddle or nonstick frying pan over low-medium heat. Do not oil the pan.

On the counter top, assemble your quesadillas:

Place one tortilla on the counter top. Sprinkle 1/4 cup grated cheese. Arrange a bit of chicken all around. Sprinkle a handful of black beans here and there. Add some avocado, as much as you like. Spread all of the salsa around, so there will be salsa in every bite. Top with the remaining 1/4 cup of cheese, and then the second tortilla. Press down gently so your quesadilla is the same thickness all over.

Carefully set the quesadilla on the griddle or frying pan. Cook 2-3 minutes, until the bottom layer of cheese has melted and the tortilla is lightly browned. Using a large spatula, flip the quesadilla, and cook 2-3 minutes until the cheese that's now on the bottom is melted, and the tortilla is lightly browned.

Remove the quesadilla to a large cutting board, and let it sit for 2-3 minutes so the cheese has a chance to pull everything together. Using a large knife, cut into wedges. Serve with additional salsa, if desired.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Mock guac
Salsa and shrimp stuffed avocado
Black bean and peach soup
Black bean and brown rice burrito
Mexicali meatloaf
Tequila lime flank steak with cherry tomato salsa

Other recipes that use salsa:
Grilled tri-tip steak with chimol salsa, from Kalyn's Kitchen
Jerk chicken panini with pineapple-black bean salsa, from Panini Happy
Guacamole omelette with salsa, from Closet Cooking
Green beans with tomatillo salsa dressing, from A Veggie Venture
Cumin-grilled tofu with papaya salsa, from Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


I'm fascinated by the way quesadillas have acquired ingredients over time. When I first learned about them they were made of tortillas, hot peppers (from a jar), and cheese. Not even salsa. Now they have been enhanced and improved. Your recipe sounds delicious.

One of our cuisine categories was Swanson TV Dinners. Does that count as cuisine? No salsa there, for sure.

Im making these for breakfast today...mouth watering too much to resist! THANKs!!!

I love the idea of putting the salsa inside the quesadilla. Now I'm wondering why I've never done it that way!

Oh man those look good! I am going to put that on the menu this week!

Ooooh. We may be having these for dinner tonight! These look amazing, Lydia!

Can we add "Betty Crocker" (from the BC cookbook) as another "cuisine" of late 50's?
This book is now in reprint as a classic! (Rodale Press, interestingly)
Easy gluten free, or variety, switch -- use corn tortillas. Might be better for little hands too.

I'd have to say that black bean quesadillas are a favourite of mine Lydia. I have all of the ingredients for a quick supper so better get cracking.

I love quesadillas. Your recipe rocks!

I had to smile when I read that there were two cultures in your house "Eastern European Jewish and Weight Watchers."

I love salsa =)

I've always made salsa on school days for my kids, they love it =)

This is my kind of quick, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink kind of meal. Now I'm craving a quesadilla, with a big bowl of salsa on the side.

Weight Watchers cuisine. That made me chuckle, Lydia. I just love quesadillas, and I'd end up making them twice too! Happy Mother's Day, my dear!

Oh my! This sure looks delicious. Love the combination of black beans and avocado....yummy : )

Have a Happy Weekend.

Mae, it's true. Quesadillas have gone the direction of our traditional grilled cheese sandwiches: first cheese, then a tomato, then bacon... I think it's because we've come to rely on quesadillas as a go-to meal.

TW, I forgot TV dinners. Those were definitely a cuisine in our house, too, though only for treats on weekends. (Was Salisbury steak everyone's favorite, or only mine???)

Milton, these would make the kind of breakfast that holds you until dinner!

Kalyn, the salsa inside really makes this a special quesadilla, and while the salsa doesn't cook, it does get warm and delicious.

Tim, Michelle, Valli, Cookin' Canuck, Mari: Enjoy, enjoy! I keep a container of cooked black beans in the refrigerator all the time, along with a rotisserie chicken, so this is the kind of dish I can throw together in minutes. Maybe I'm getting a bit addicted!

Susan, oh yes, BC was a food group in our house, too. Thanks for the reminder about corn tortillas as a great gluten-free alternative for this dish.

Velva, thanks. It was an interesting way to grow up, from a culinary standpoint, but I surely had a lot to learn about cooking as an adult!

Jenny, I love making salsa too, but here in Rhode Island, we don't get great tomatoes except in the summer, and I love tomato-based salsa. So I have to wait for the season, and rely on good-quality commercial salsa instead.

Susan, thank you. It was a lovely, sunny, but oh-so-windy Mothers Day here.

I especially love fruit flavored salsas. It's a bit of an addiction!

Love this "eastern European Jewish, and Weight Watchers"

You have me craving quesadillas at 8:02am! Hmm...I wonder if I can make it to the grocery store before lunch?!? ;)

I like to combine a jar of my favorite "Caribbean salsa" and a small pork roast in the slow cooker for the day and Voila! instant pulled pork - just add a can of black beans!

(my favorite brand is "better than fred's" made locally in NH!)

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