When I lived in Costa Rica, I conducted research in a beautiful, rural farming town in the mountains of the country’s Pacific side. The woman I lived with would toast sweet corn tortillas by placing them straight on the broiler, flipping them, and setting them on a plate to reveal little grill marks imprinted on each side. She would serve the warm tortillas in the mornings with Turrialba cheese fresh from the neighbor’s farm, gallo pinto (mixed rice and beans), and eggs scrambled with greens and herbs from her garden. I felt like a queen sitting down to breakfast each morning.
Prior to living in Costa Rica, I seldom craved cheese quesadillas. Yet, when I returned to the states, I found myself longing for those warm, corny disks topped with fresh, Turrialba cheese. I spent hours scouring midwestern grocery stores for any cheese with a somewhat similar taste to this Costa Rican staple. Chicago-Suburb-Jewel-Osco-Cheese-Man (he was definitely the butcher, but I like Cheese Man better) directed me to the Queso Fresco, as he believed it to be the closest replica (many thanks, Chicago-Suburb-Jewel-Osco-Cheese-Man, I am sure your know your cheeses very well, but it just wasn’t the same!). While I’ve given up on enjoying a copycat Turrialba, one taste that I can always count on in the U.S. is that sweet, sweet, warm corn tortilla. This summer, I’ve found myself grilling corn tortillas topped with cheese (goat, feta, gouda, mozzarella, whatever I have on hand) almost daily, usually sprinkled with some thyme and pepper, and served with avocado, whatever veggies I have to sauté, and a runny egg.
Back to the midwestern U.S.A, a local Iowa restaurant serves a “grilled cheese and jam” sandwich. While I love the berry and cheese combination, I find the jam they use to be a little too sweet for my liking, and the thick sourdough bread it’s served on, while delicious, often overwhelms the winning fruit and cheese combo. In efforts to both honor the berry-grilled cheese flavor and warm the part of my heart that cries for Costa Rica and all things corn and cheese, I have created my very own cherry grilled cheese on a corn tortilla. The corn adds a unique, grainy flavor without kicking the staring cherry-cheese combo to the sidelines. The honey and cinnamon provide the perfect level of sweetness in the cherry “jam”. This grilled cheese is both homey and decadent at the same time. It can serve as lunch for a sticky summer afternoon, or a late-night snack to munch on while lying on the back porch, gazing at those endless summer stars.
The third and final inspiration for this quesadilla comes from the plump, juicy cherries that are finally in season! A professor of mine recently invited me and a few other students over for a morning of cherry picking. Between the bags of cherries that later filled my fridge and the beautiful pick-your-own raspberry bushes, gooseberry bushes and produce gardens growing throughout my town, I have recently wondering why I don’t just take on the foraging lifestyle. In fact, why don’t we all just take on the foraging lifestyle? But for real, it would solve so many problems, environmental and social. Too bad I like bananas and avocados too much. Ok, and almonds and mangos and coconut oil and tahini and Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Sue me!
If I can’t be the perfect consumer, at least this grilled cheese can be the perfect sandwich. This time, I didn’t pick the cherries myself, but did the next best thing: bought them at the Des Moines Farmers Market!!! Have you been there?! Easily one of my favorite farmers markets ever. I also used a delightful young gouda from the same farmers market. You can be creative with the type of cheese you choose, but keep in mind that the flavor will vary with each one. I try to choose a corn tortilla with as minimal ingredients as possible (such as corn, lime, and a little salt), as that is the simple, preservative-free flavor that I enjoyed in Costa Rica. Perfection.
Without further ado, the simple, delicious, delightful, perfectly sweet, corny, crispy, and warm…
Cherry Grilled Cheese
Makes two ooey, gooey cheese tortillas
2 corn tortillas
Cheese of your choice (for a more classic taste, I prefer mozzarella or gouda. You can change things up with a nice goat cheese if you prefer!)
12 cherries, pitted and halved (can be tart or sweet. I prefer tart, as the honey and cinnamon add enough sweetness for me. But, either is delicious!)
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Melt coconut oil on a medium skillet on medium heat.
To make the cherry “jam”, place cherries on skillet and let sauté for about 2 minutes. Add cinnamon and a drizzle of honey, mix and let sauté for another 3 or so minutes, or until the cherries begin to sizzle slightly and some juice has formed beneath them.
Remove cherries from skillet, and wipe away the juice left on the skillet.
Place tortillas on skillet and let sit for 1-2 minutes, until the bottom sides are bronzed and warm.
Flip tortillas and place cheese, almost covering the surface of each tortilla.
Once the cheese begins to melt, place 6 cherries on top of each cheesy tortilla, and let sit on the skillet for another 2 minutes or so (you do not want the tortillas to burn, so remove if this begins to happen)
Remove tortilla from heat, top with another drizzle of honey, fold over, and enjoy!!!